This week saw the opening of the much-heralded play, ‘Maggie’s End’, at the Shaw Theatre in London. The production envisages a Britain in 2010 where Charles sits on the throne and New Labour is back in power for a fourth term. During the year Margaret Thatcher passes away, leading to a decision to award her a state funeral - causing outrage amongst the assembled celebrating masses.
May 4th 2009 will mark the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. Her spectre still looms large over British politics. She is as celebrated on the right as she is hated on the left. Since her frailty became apparent there has been intermittent speculation that the Labour government would consider awarding her a state funeral upon her death – reports which are met with derision and horror by many Labour voters, and then swiftly denied. But why shouldn’t a Labour Government, or indeed any government, mark the contribution a Prime Minister has made to the nation by awarding them a state funeral?
Having been born in 1985 I did not become interested in politics predisposed with the standard wrath reserved for Thatcher. I grew up in a family that was at best apolitical, at worst Conservative. It is only over the years that I have grasped the enormous amount of damage she inflicted on this country – how she decimated entire industries; how she sought to destroy the trade union movement; how she supported South Africa’s racist apartheid regime and branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist. All of these are deplorable actions by a deplorable Prime Minister.
But whether we like the actions of a Prime Minister or not we recognise that they have been democratically elected to the highest level of the profession of politics and enacted policies that have shaped our nation. Our Prime Ministers have represented Great Britain around the globe and been bestowed with the powers of the Crown.
Typically state funerals are reserved exclusively for monarchs. If granted, it would make Lady Thatcher the first premier since Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 to be given the honour. In the 20th Century there were two other state funerals for non-royals: military commander Frederick Roberts and ex-Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson. In the 19th Century, five state funerals were granted to non-royal personages. The exceptional cases were Lord Nelson after his death at Trafalgar; Charles Darwin; and the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston and William Gladstone, three former prime ministers.
But why should the highest honour upon death generally be reserved for members of the Royal Family who have been born in to privilege and power and not be awarded to those who have deliberately dedicated their lives to public service – for better or worse.
Thatcher was, after all, Prime Minister for 11 years, our first female Prime Minister and the longest serving PM of the post-war period. Even those who want to disagree with just about everything she did have to recognise that she was an important historical figure.
The fact that Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure should not deter us from marking her time as Prime Minister. Winston Churchill was unceremoniously turfed from office at the first opportunity following the Second World War yet he received the ceremonial honour.
I don’t simply wish to make the case for Margaret Thatcher to be bestowed this honour as I believe there are many who are far more deserving than she. I believe that it is a recognition that should be given to all Prime Ministers.
By marking the contribution that our Prime Minister makes we can begin to establish a better link between politicians and society. It would be an attempt to stop the public seeing all politicians as the ‘enemy’ and help to change the generally cynical attitude that is so prevalent towards those who enter political public service.
It is simply about acknowledging someone who served and led their country even if you do not agree with the approach that they took. It also clearly states that we believe any citizen should be able to recieve the high honours of society, not just those who are of Royal birth.
I personally will happily mark the passing of Thatcherism at the same time we as a nation mark the passing of Thatcher.