Editorial: The Thatcher funeral will allow the country to move on

There must have been many sighs of relief today when the chimes of Big Ben returned

Share

For all the elaborate preparations that went into Margaret Thatcher’s funeral over the years, there must still have been many sighs of relief yesterday when the chimes of Big Ben returned to pronounce the public observances over. In the end, everything passed off almost as well as was possible for a national occasion that was solemnly commemorative and contentious at once.

Much of the reason it ran so smoothly, of course, lay in the planning. With each major   national event of recent years – the funeral of the Queen Mother, the wedding of Prince William, last year’s Diamond Jubilee – has come trepidation that modern Britain might have lost the art of staging a grand national spectacle, or even of judging the right tone. Then it turns out, all over again, that yes, we can. Baroness Thatcher’s last journey was the latest proof.

The size of the crowds lining the route, and their good humour, both exceeded expectations. Threats that lumps of coal or milk bottles would be thrown did not materialise. There was  no pitched battle between supporters and protesters. The style of policing remained generally light. The schedule was kept. The horses did not bolt. And no one could object to the weather, which remained a sombre, neutral grey throughout.

The prevailing mood in the crowd was one of quiet respect and dignity, with ripples of applause as the cortège passed. The only projectiles were flowers, Diana-style. The cathedral looked resplendent; the music was glorious; the Bishop of London skirted, not always elegantly, around the politics, and BBC Television recovered its gravitas. Everything seemed, miraculously, to fall into place.

Given the celebrations that had erupted within minutes of the announcement of Lady Thatcher’s death and that recurred sporadically through the week, it was not only inevitable, but entirely proper, that there were also protests – silent and shouted, written and choreographed. Anything else would have smacked of repression. But when the shouts grew loud, they were hushed by the majority. This was democracy policing itself in the best possible way, and a reminder that Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, even as she made bitter enemies, was three times elected to power by British voters. 

A funeral, though – any funeral – marks a passing. And yesterday’s tone was set not only by those who were present – on the streets of London, in St Paul’s, and in the commemorative and protest events around the country – but by those who were not. The absence of Mikhail Gorbachev, Nancy Reagan and George Bush Snr, for reasons of ill health, underlined the truth that a whole generation of leaders – the generation that knew global conflict and ended the Cold War – will soon be no more.  

There are perils in the loss of that experience and of those memories. Political leaders who  knew war tend always to be more circumspect about embarking on military conflict than those, such as Tony Blair and George W Bush, who did not. But the Thatcher-era divisions, still so raw, that came back to haunt British political debate over the past week could be corrosive if they became entrenched again.

More than 20 years have passed since Margaret Thatcher left office. Yesterday showed that Britain can still do national ceremony and still knows how to behave at a funeral. In almost every other respect, though, these are different times, with different mores and different dilemmas. The strangeness of the past nine days, in which old battles were revisited and old passions inflamed, should provide the impetus for everyone – starting with our politicians – to put the past in its place and look forward.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone