Has Britain 'got it right' with Margaret Thatcher's $15 million funeral?
The late prime minister's London funeral Wednesday, while falling just short of a full state ceremony, will command a hefty price tag, leaving some Britons less than pleased.
In life she polarized a nation, and in death Margaret Thatcher has been no different.
Since her passing was announced by her former PR manager last Monday, Britain has again been divided by her politics, with public protests attended by some people not even born during her 11 years in power from 1979 to 1990.
And further splitting the divide will be tomorrow's almost state-like funeral arrangements which, coming with a £10 million ($15 million) price tag have angered some Britons.
Tomorrow morning, the grocer’s daughter from the middle England town of Grantham in Lincolnshire will be given a de facto state funeral, with her body carried on a gun carriage along London streets lined by 700 members of the Armed Forces. Falkland veterans will carry her coffin into St. Paul’s Cathedral, where around 2,000 guests have been invited to the service in a farewell meticulously planned by Mrs. Thatcher in her later years.
But the elaborate arrangements have their critics, among them the bishop of Thatcher's home town, the Right Rev. Dr. Tim Ellis. Asked by BBC Radio Lincolnshire whether the organizers had "got it right" in spending £10 million on the funeral, he said: “I personally don't think that they have. It plays into the hands of those more extreme people who will use the funeral as an opportunity to promote certain political views.”
Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians also called for a more modest funeral, but senior Tories such as Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague said the current plans are appropriate. Last week, Mr. Hague argued that a £75 billion EU rebate she negotiated in the 1980s would more than cover the cost.
However groups, like the economic equality movement Occupy, say the funeral has been imposed upon the population. “The Conservative Party and a group of tabloid editors have foisted this vulgar funeral on us and I think the vast majority of British people do not want it," says Occupy's London spokesman Richard Paton, who would have attended and turned his back on the cortege in protest had he not been working as a teacher tomorrow.
“Quite apart from the rebate, Margaret Thatcher wasted the North Sea oil windfall which came on tap in 1980, [and she created] a housing bubble which we still suffer from," Mr. Paton says, referring to the easier credit available in the mid-80s which fueled house-buying, pushing up prices. "Why should she have this funeral?”
But former national Tory spokeswoman Jo-Anne Nadler, who was a Young Conservative in the 1980s and now a London councillor, says it is justified. “I think it reflects well on our nation. It’s not just Britain watching the funeral, it’s the whole world."
“Outside Britain, she had a huge international profile alongside Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, effectively ending the cold war. If we didn’t acknowledge that with a dignified, elegant, and grand funeral, it would not reflect well on Britain.”
Edwina Currie, a former junior health minister during Thatcher's term, agrees. “I think Mrs. Thatcher would have been thrilled to bits with the funeral plans. Of course, she would never say that – she would probably have said ‘No, no, no, don’t make a fuss.’ But that was more about the way she was brought up as a Methodist."
“But I think she would secretly been very flattered and proud that her political achievements got the recognition.”