Margaret Thatcher's funeral was a political broadcast

We all deserve a dignified send-off. Instead, this occasion was hijacked and turned into a state-endorsed celebration of a legacy bitterly detested by millions

Owen Jones
Wednesday 17 April 2013 14:24 BST
Members of the Cabinet, alongside former Prime Ministers and members of the opposition on the front row at today's service
Members of the Cabinet, alongside former Prime Ministers and members of the opposition on the front row at today's service (Getty Images)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This wasn't simply a funeral. It was a political stunt; a taxpayer funded political broadcast; a triumphalist victory parade. A state funeral in all but name, with Big Ben silenced, Prime Ministers' Questions cancelled, much of central London shut down, the Queen in attendance, a service at St Paul's Cathedral, and even running televised commentary from David Dimbleby. The most divisive Prime Minister modern Britain has known, her legacy unashamedly officially celebrated and endorsed by the British Establishment. And yes, not just the out-and-out class warriors of the Tory Party: it was Blair and Brown's New Labour who signed this off, too.

“We're all Thatcherites now,” said David Cameron to kick off the day, in case the calculated insult of the occasion was too subtle for some. Right on cue, the jobs figures were released: unemployment up by 70,000, the number of young people without work up to nearly a million, real wages falling. Thatcherism lives on indeed.

“Watching the funeral, finding it hard not to feel we are today somehow burying England,” tweeted Melanie Philipps as if to bludgeon satire to death. Her supporters, in truth, have much to be cheerful about. The Iron Lady passed away in the Britain that her governments built.

Along with her friends, loved ones and Britain's political elite, some of the most repellent figures on Earth had generously turned up to pay their respects. One was Henry Kissinger.

Contrast all this pomp to Clement Attlee: Churchill's deputy prime minister when the country was at war with Hitler, whose party won a higher share of a vote than anything ever achieved by Thatcher's Tories, whose government rebuilt war-ravaged Britain and founded the NHS and welfare state. His was a modest funeral, attended by 140 guests, which “epitomised Attlee's love of simplicity and directness,” as newspapers put it at the time. Harold Wilson led Labour to four election victories, and was quietly buried in an Isle of Scilly churchyard. But today, Britain's Age of Austerity was suspended for a day – to remind us which side won.

And yet I could not help but feel some sorrow for Margaret Thatcher. We all deserve a dignified send-off, to have our close ones remember our lives, to share beloved memories. But the occasion was hijacked, turned into a state-endorsed celebration of a legacy bitterly detested by millions.

Some may consider these complaints tasteless: that this is no time for politics, but a time to mourn someone's passing. It amounts to a call for her supporters to make political capital out of her death, while her opponents are silenced. The legacy of Thatcherism cannot be forgotten, because it is our present: a housing crisis, a lack of secure work, declining real wages, monstrous inequality, a booming rich elite, rip-off privatised utilities, the poorest demonised, workers stripped of rights, the aftermath of financial disaster.

This is not a time for the opponents of Thatcherism to be silent. It's time to be louder than ever. David Cameron must learn that triumphalism is nothing but smug complacency. Thatcherism reigns supreme now, for sure. But it too shall pass, however desperately its supporters suggest otherwise.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in