By a Newsnet reporter
The protests anticipated for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today largely failed to materialise as the centre of London was swamped by a massive police presence.
Meanwhile, speaking during an interview with BBC Radio 4 prior to the funeral service, Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that: “We are all Thatcherites now.”
During the interview, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that rather than opening divisions in British society, Mrs Thatcher had actually settled them. He went on to claim that her rule had fundamentally altered the political, social and economic landscape of the UK, and had turned everyone into a Thatcherite, a veiled reference to how the Labour party has adopted many of the economic and social policies introduced during Thatcher’s term in office.
Mr Cameron said:
“In a way we are all Thatcherites now. It is inevitable some people take a different view, but the point about division is important because she was a bold politician who recognised that consensus was failing … she created a new consensus.”
In comments which are likely to be contested by many who opposed Mrs Thatcher, the Prime Minister added:
“One of the things about her legacy is some of those big arguments that she had had, you know, everyone now accepts.”
Despite well publicised attempts on social media to organise protests during the funeral procession to St Paul’s Cathedral, the vast majority of the crowd lining the route were supporters of the late Prime Minister. Some threw blue roses in the path of the funeral cortege.
The Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps had written to local Conservative constituency parties asking party members to line the route of the funeral to ensure that there was a good turn out. Mr Shapps wrote:
“I encourage all Party supporters – and all Margaret Thatcher supporters – to make every effort to come to London and pay your own respects to her memory by lining the Procession route. I can think of no better way to show our profound gratitude.”
The only sign of protest came from isolated boos and a small group of protesters who turned their back on the funeral procession as it passed by. There were no reported arrests.
The service in St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by 2,300 official mourners, including members of Mrs Thatcher’s family, and all cabinet ministers. The Queen and Prince Philip attended the service, the first time the head of state has attended the funeral of a former prime minister since the state funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965.
All living former Prime Ministers were also present. Ed Miliband was in attendance as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and Alex Salmond in his capacity as First Minister of Scotland.
Mr Salmond said in a statement prior to the service:
“It is important we [the Scottish government] attend the funeral, I do on behalf of the people of Scotland and do so properly because that is the right thing to do in terms of the funeral – but I can well understand why many, many people would see that sort of cost as disproportionate.
“I don’t think anyone should celebrate anybody’s death and I say people shouldn’t celebrate anybody’s passing but people are entitled absolutely, absolutely entitled, to put forward their point of view.”
Mr Salmond described Lady Thatcher as the unwitting “hand maiden of a return of Scottish democracy” because the Scottish Parliament was re-established in no small measure in reaction to her term in office.
The plans for the full ceremonial funeral complete with military honours were first approved by Tony Blair. Some newspapers and commentators have speculated that he wished to set a precedent for his own funeral.
Although for many of those watching on televsion, and even the official mourners, the funeral was a curiously unemotional affair, Chancellor George Osborne was seen to shed tears during the service.
Meanwhile Samantha Cameron was seen to giggle as she chatted with other mourners, while former South African Prime Minister FW de Clerk chewed gum.
In his eulogy the Bishop of London likened Mrs Thatcher to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of early workers rights activists who were transported to Australia in chains for attempting to set up a trade union to protest against the lowering of their wages, after being convicted under a law which banned the taking of “secret oaths”.
The Right Reverend Richard Chartres said:
“After the storm of a life led in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ism.
“Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service.
“Her upbringing was in the Methodism to which this country owes a huge debt. When it was time to challenge the political and economic status quo in nineteenth century Britain, it was so often the Methodists who took the lead. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example, were led not by proto-Marxists but by Methodist lay preachers.”
A debate in the Scottish Parliament about the legacy of Thatcher to Scotland has been postponed so as not to coincide with the funeral. The debate had been called by Green and independent MSPs who had put forward the motion “There is still such a thing as society”.
The Scottish Conservatives branded the timing “provocative and insensitive”, and after a meeting of Holyrood’s business bureau the debate has been rescheduled for tomorrow.