“Even an ism” – Thatcher’s Ten Million Pound Funeral

So yesterday they buried Margaret Thatcher.

You may recall from my previous post – Ding Dong The Witch is Dead – that I am no fan of Maggie Thatcher. Yet, I have been worried and dismayed by some of the comments I’ve seen on the News and Social media on the internet. It seems to me that some see Thatcher through ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ while others hold her responsible for all evils.

Numerous conversations have taken place on my Facebook and all of them have been very interesting but overall the feeling seems to be that Thatcher’s funeral should not have had ten million pounds ‘lavished’ on it. There is a feeling of irony that the woman who is considered by so many to have destroyed much of the British industry should have so much ‘taxpayer’s money’ spent on a funeral that was, in all but name, a state funeral.

Despite my dislike of the woman and my belief that her biggest crime was making greed a virtue in Britain – something we Brits still live with – I have to say that I disagree with the voices of dissent about the cost and scale of the funeral.

Margaret Thatcher, it must be remembered by all of us who disliked her, was voted back into power numerous times and was the longest-serving Prime Minister as well as the first and only female PM. The public could have taken her out during any of the elections and didn’t – so somebody liked her and agreed with her policies. She was, by this definition then, a popular leader and it took her own party to finally oust her. The public never did.

What’s more, whatever she did that you or I might consider immoral or otherwise wrong, she was not alone. Her army of ministers, civil servants and advisors guided, helped and put into practice her policies. She was not one woman – she was the figurehead of an entire Government. A Government voted in by the Great British Public.

If blames lies with her, it also lies with all of us.

Such a historically important person then, should very definitely have a large and ceremonious affair for their funeral. I think it would have been quite wrong not to.

What’s more, when we think that there are around 30 million taxpayers in the UK (according to some figures and depending on how you define ‘tax’ – it’s higher than that with other definitions) so I make it that three people paid one pound between them to cover Thatcher’s expenses. That ignores the fact I believe her estate paid for some of it. That’s just over 30p folks! I give more than that to beggars in the street for whom I care little and know nothing of. I don’t think – really don’t think – it was unreasonable of us to pay this.

For the Tax year 2011-12 the UK Government took in 543 billion pounds in taxes. Billion you note please. By comparison, Ten million is a sniff. Thatcher’s legacy will be debated for years but there is no doubt that she was a major figure in UK history – for better or worse – and she did what she considered to be her duty with honour and dignity. She was no fascist dictator who should be reviled. This expense is not unwarranted.

Amazingly, much though it pains me to agree with a Church minister who was friends with the woman (something I deeply distrust), I find myself thinking that the Right Rev Richard Chartres who gave her address yesterday hit exactly the right tone. According to The Guardian he said:

“Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.” He continued: “There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place.”

I agree. This day was a day to pay respect if you respected her. In death, at least, she was one of us. I don’t care how much you disliked her, she was a human being and had worth as a mother, grandmother, wife, daughter and person. Death is the one statistic that meets us all and in this funeral we remembered her as a fellow human being.

That said, this was a woman who was bigger than herself. She became an ‘ism’ as Chartres also said:

“The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ‘ism’.”

As I said above, we made her into this. We voted her back in (I refer to all British readers here of course). We gave her the power to do what she did. Her legacy is our legacy – like it or lump it.

So, despite the fact that those who protested did so with quiet respect (turning their backs on the coffin as it passed by) I’m not sure I even agree that was the right thing to do. I think the best way to have protested against who she was as a leader was to do what millions did – don’t attend or watch the funeral on TV. Let those who loved her honour her.

The rest of us can quietly respect her as a human being. But from a distance.

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
This entry was posted in British, community and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to “Even an ism” – Thatcher’s Ten Million Pound Funeral

  1. Tracy B says:

    Kev and I had the same conversation about the Falklands just the other day – too young at the time to understand what was going on and now as it rears its head again with Margaret Thatcher’s death, we were saying we knew very little about the Falklands conflict but surely the fact they are SO far away means we must have ‘nicked’ them at some point in history??!! I think Blair’s undoing – when it’s his turn for a funeral (cheery thought I know!) – could be the Iraq issue, the whole evidence (or not) of them having weapons of mass destruction – think a lot of people, lefties included, hold that against him. Scarily he’s not THAT much older than us – guess there’s a chance we may never find out! :

    Like

    • You’re not THAT much younger than me young lady! I remember the Falklands pretty well – but then I was always much more interested in ‘real people in real situations’ than you were😉

      I think the Falklands and Iraq are probably both equally sticky. There’s little justification for us keeping the islands EXCEPT that there are something like 2,900 British people living there who have only ever known those islands for their entire lives. Could we kick them out to give the islands back? There’s certainly no safe way they could stay!

      Likewise, the WMDs may have proved false but the West was just itching to get Hussein out and there IS huge evidence that he was a cruel and vicious dictator who caused mass genocide in his own country. Will Blair be seen as a hero for that? Certainly before 9/11 there were constant calls for Britain to ‘liberate the Iraqi people’ and widespread disgust that we were doing nothing. Then when Brtain and America went in there was widespread condemnation that they did! It reminds me of when Diana died and one national newspaper had failed to get its morning adition recalled in time and was the only one reporting what a horrible woman she was as the entire press at that time were ‘Diana-bashing’. They all about-faced when she died and she became ‘the people’s Princess’. I wonder just where the Press will go with Blair when it is his time to be remembered.

      I do think he will be forgiven a great deal though as he was probably the most ‘human’ PM we’ve ever had. Films like ‘The Queen’ can’t have done his reputation any harm either. He may have made mistakes but he wore his heart on his sleeve. I didn’t agree with a lot of his policies and decisions but I respect him for that openness and honesty at least.

      Like

  2. Once again I find myself agreeing with you. I haven’t given any serious thoughts to how much tax payer money was spent on her funeral, I simply don’t care because 10 million isn’t allot. I also stopped participating in discussions about her political decisions and views, like you said and is my view – she was just a face for an entire government, she was a women, a courages one if I may add operating in a male dominated government party – it couldn’t have been easy, so to blame her alone isn’t right, and to disrespect someone who tried fulfilling her duty bestowed upon her is wrong – we should be respecting her, especially when death is a certainty we will all face. I like to reiterate that I may disagree with her political views – there is a time and place for these discussions, and a funeral isn’t one of those places.

    Like

    • I entirely agree with your response too! There are times and places for those of us who were not fans of the ‘Iron Lady’ to talk of her policies and legacies but this was a time of respecting a major historic figure and one who was courageous ‘for all the right reasons’ even if many of us think her philosophy was fundamentally flawed. Good to have a brother in agreement here – I’m used to taking the kind of views that manage to annoy both sides of any argument and I’m certainly managing that here so to have a few voices that basically align with mine is encouraging – thanks for writing!🙂

      Like

      • I feel I am in the same situation as you. I have been discussing this (and not debating) these very points with people of different mentalities and views, and although I may have ruffled up some feathers by how I see this whole situation – some people are simply not willing to change – it seems they hold her directly responsible – I then give up with a smile😉

        Like

        • That is, in the end, the British way isn’t it? And that is not all that bad a thing in reality. One of the commenters on this post is actually a very close friend of mine in the ‘real world’ but here the two of us are not agreeing. When things become more important than they really are then arguments ensue and friendships end needlessly. But the ability to ‘agree to disagree’ even if we continue to enjoy debating with one another is very important. This used to be something the Brits were especially good at but I fear, over the decades, it is slowly slipping. All to often we forget that whatever our view may be, there is a human being on the other end of the conversation who needs to be respected – very much like we are saying about Thatcher right here!

          Like

  3. stephen macleod says:

    I think that most of the “hate thatcher” lot are jumping on the band wagon to be honest. I mean, I am only 18, so I do not know the direct effects of Thatcher and life during her regime as PM, however I do know from research, that the mining situation was not all her fault. Arthur Scargill was holding this country over a barrel, he thought he could do as he pleased, and if I am completely honest, looking at it from an unbiased point of view, she did the right thing. she had the balls to stand up to this crook, and give power back to the nation. There were strikes left right and centre, and sympathy strikes were rife throughout the country.

    The fact that she was voted in 3 times, the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century, means she must have been doing some things right. She fought for the Falklands for example, She was the one that tied up the deal with the EU that banks us around £75 billion a year, She was the PM that was in charge when Ofsted and the National curriculum were set up. Every great leader has their flaws, Churchill let Coventry burn for the greater good of the country, he was forgiven. Hitler, a great German leader, failed by his beliefs of a perfect race and scapegoating jews and homosexuals, was responsible for turning a poverty stricken germany into a world superpower that it still is today, He invented the autobahn if I am not mistaken as well.

    The poll tax was a farce, We can all agree with that, however she was the one that cut debt and gave this country a backbone.

    If we were to blame anyone for the suffering some areas of the country suffered, should it not be scargill? or James Callaghan? Edward Heath? Maybe harold wilson? They did nothing during their terms to stop the power of the unions from over-running the country.

    This should leave a taste more sour than the precious milk that maggie took away.

    RIP Margaret Thatcher, love her or loathe her, she is a human being, that should not receive the hatred and posthumeous degredation that she is receiving.

    From a neutral perspective.

    Stephen Macleod

    Like

    • Thanks for your comments Stephen – good to hear from you again! You made a lot of points I want to comment on so I think I will respond in the order you wrote – sorry if this is confusing to follow as a result!

      I hope you didn’t include me in that ‘Hate Thatcher’ group you feel jump on the bandwagon. I’m not sure I would say ‘hate’ for me though I thoroughly disliked her and wholeheartedly disapprove of everything she stood for. But I have no bandwagon and I think most of us who grew up during her era have memories that are too raw to just go with a flow on this. I think most of us who are 40+ have a definite opinion one way or another of our own.

      That said, I agree with much of what you said about Scargill who, I always felt, was a bit of a prat to be honest. I can’t agree with you that he thought he ‘could do as he pleased’. The man gave hope to a whole group of communities who needed it and was the only one standing up for the common man even if, in the harsh economic reality of life, it was always doomed to failure. I also can’t go with you about Thatcher ‘having the balls’ to stand up to him. She never backed down on anything with anyone and that is a very dangerous thing to do as a PM. She is not known for her loving concern for people. She is known for tight economic drive. This is not necessarily a bad thing but the extreme to which she took it I think was morally wrong (and remember – I DID live through it!).

      I agree with some of your next points though I have to tell you that OFSTED proved to be one of the worst things ever to hit Britain’s schools and has caused more trauma and disillusionment in the teaching community than anything else I’ve ever encountered in 22 years as a teacher (soon to be ex-teacher!). Nevertheless, it is true she did some good things. But then you can’t stay in power for three terms and not be doing something at least a few people think is correct…

      Can’t go with you on the Hitler thing though. Actually, Germany was rebuilding its economy very well after WWI because of the Dawes plan which saw loans from the USA going to Germany which built its economy and repaid France and the UK who then repaid the US. This saw the ‘Golden Age of Weimar’ in Germany which only ended because of the Wall Street Crash in 1929. THAT was where Hitler seized his chance and gradually, over the next four years, gave false hope to an increasingly depressed nation playing on their strong sense of nationalism. Rather like the ‘Golden Dawn’ movement in Greece right now who are gaining power day by day in a country that is on the brink of ruin by offering hope if people will awallow their bitter pill of facism. Hitler didn’t turn Germany into a superpower – he took advantage in a time of crisis and used it for his own ends. You can’t detach who a person is from their ideals and philosophies.

      As for your comment about the unions and the previous Government – well you have some valid points there to an extent though I think you should consider why unions are there in the first place. Before them the aristocracy ruled the factories supreme and could treat the poor labourers as they pleased. Unions prevented a great deal of abuse. Here in Bangladesh we see these kinds of abuses today in the garment factories where there is little recourse to the law for the girls who work within. Unions play a valuable role but Thatcher destroyed the credibility and power of unions and they have never really recovered. Britain is no longer a safe place to work because, once again – but only this time hiding behind the legislation they themselves create – it is the ‘new aristocracy’ who control the workers. It is the managers and the directors who now pull all the strings. The unions are all but useless.

      I strongly agree with your last sentiments for Thatcher – something this post was all about in the first place. There is a place to discuss Thatcher’s legacy but it wasn’t around her funeral.

      Thanks for writing Stephen – you may only be 18 but your arguments were lucid and well-informed – even where I disagree with them! Thank you for your contribution and I hope you take my comments in the spirit in which they are intended which is one of ongoing debate and not one of personal criticism. Your views, in part and places, are held by many and I am sure there are many more views out there beyond the ones you and I have put forward here.

      Best wishes my friend

      Like

  4. Tracy B says:

    Tony Blair was voted in in 1997, 2001 and 2005 – are you saying he should get the same recognition? Do you think he will?

    Like

    • It’s a very good question Tracy and part of me thinks he will have a similar funeral and that perhaps he should. I think it is a matter of historicity. Churchill is remembered as the leader who lead us to victory in WWII. Thatcher is remembered by many as the leader who beat Argentina in the Falklands War. Will Blair be remembered as the leader who took us into Afghanistan and Iraq ultimately leading to the end of both Hussein and Bin Laden? I’m not sure.

      We live in a post-modern world where we no longer believe anything is pure, clean, innocent and without ulterior motive. We can certainly look at Churchill and see him as an egotistically meglomanaic who really wasn’t that effective in peacetime. There are mixed feelings about the Falklands. I, for one, think it is ridiculous they don’t belong to Argentina! But I understand that for many this is not the thinking and the Falklands War was a major achievement in our own lifetime. It waits to be seen how people will view Blair’s contribution…

      Like

  5. Heather says:

    Quite so.

    Like

  6. Very well put, especially considering your views. I think the £10m was blown all out of proportion: as you say, a small amount per tax payer and some of that would have been policemen’s wages, security etc: costs that are incurred anyway (albeit they would have been doing something perhaps more useful otherwise). I’m too young to be a supporter or a hater of Thatcher but I agree that any Prime Minister that was voted in for three terms deserves recognition.

    Like

Over to you! What do YOU think? Comment here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s