By a Newsnet reporter
The House of Commons returned from its Easter break on Wednesday for a special session to pay tribute to the late Margaret Thatcher.
After a number of speeches gushing praise for the late Conservative leader, Angus Robertson MP for Moray and the Scottish National Party leader at Westminster, was the first to attack the Thatcher record.
Prime Minister David Cameron opened the session, praising Mrs Thatcher for her leadership, and claimed that she had “rescued Britain” and had “made Britain great again”.
Mr Cameron said:
“They say that cometh the hour, cometh the man. Well in 1979 came the hour, and came The Lady. She made the political weather. She made history. And let this be her epitaph: that she made Britain great again.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband also praised the former Conservative leader, albeit in more measured terms. The Labour leader spoke in front of half empty opposition benches, as many Labour MPs chose not to attend in protest against Mrs Thatcher’s policies and what she stood for.
However Mr Miliband praised parts of Mrs Thatcher’s record in office, particularly the Falklands campaign and the privatisation programme which her government introduced.
Mr Miliband said:
“She was right to understand the sense of aspiration of people across the country. She was right to recognise our economy needed to change.
“She said in 1982: ‘How absurd it will seem in a few years time that the state ran Pickfords removals and the Gleneagles Hotel.’ She was right.
“And in foreign policy, she was right to defend the Falklands and bravely reach out to new leadership in the Soviet Union.”
However the Labour leader added that it would be “dishonest” not to mention Labour’s many disagreements with Mrs Thatcher, saying that her government “stigmatised gay people”, and that mining communities felt “angry and abandoned” by her economic policies. He also said that she “made the wrong judgement about Nelson Mandela and about sanctions in South Africa.”
Speaking for the SNP and Plaid Cymru, Mr Robertson was the first to articulate the visceral loathing which many in Scotland, Wales and Northern England have for Mrs Thatcher, and the lasting negative effects of her policies.
Mr Robertson said:
“It’s right to acknowledge that Margaret Thatcher was one of the most formidible politicians of recent times. To her family, to her friends, to her colleagues, to her supporters, I extend the condolences of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.
“It would be wrong however not to put on record our profound disagreement with her socially and economically divisive policies, which were particularly opposed in Scotland and Wales.
“We will never forget, we will never forgive the poll tax being imposed on Scots a year before the rest of UK. No country should have such policies imposed upon them when they were rejected at the ballot box, and the existence of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh National Assembly follows this experience.
“Margaret Thatcher will be remembered for a long time in Scotland and Wales, she helped remind us that we have a national consensus that values society, values solidarity and values community, for that at least we can be grateful.”
Mr Robertson’s comments were followed by an attack on the late premier by Labour MP Glenda Jackson, the former actress. In a scathing speech, Ms Jackson denounced Mrs Thatcher’s “heinous” record, and said:
“There was a heinous social, economic and spiritual damage wreaked upon this country, upon my constituency and my constituents.”
Ms Jackson said that for many, Thatcherism meant “greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker. Sharp elbows and sharp knees, this was the way forward.”
Mrs Thatcher’s funeral will be held on Wednesday. There will be a large police presence at the event to forestall protests.