9 Apr 2013

In death, Margaret Thatcher finally knew her limits

Mrs Thatcher never set out to be popular. Having covered more of her “progress” through politics than I can actually even remember, close to, she didn’t give a fig whether you liked her or not. And indeed for that, at least, I sort of did. Perhaps she appealed to that streak of sado-masochism in us all.

Consequently she revelled in the controversy, the hatred, and the fan-base that she stirred. As I reported in Maggie and Me on Channel 4 last night, Mrs T didn’t appear to have many really close friends.

“Crawfie”, her loyal aide throughout most of her premiership, told me that when it came to Christmas, her family – beyond her husband Denis and her tested children, Mark and Carol – were her domestic staff, who would sit round and eat Christmas lunch together.

Mrs Thatcher would have hated to be universally loved in death. Indeed, it would be completely impossible that she could be. She was as hated as she was admired. In this sense, she was no Winston Churchill, who for all his faults was loved for leading Britain forward in her hour of wartime need.

So we come to her funeral. And here, for once, we can thank the complex, arcane processes of governance under which we live. For there will be no state funeral such as was accorded to Churchill.

To anyone who knew her, it will come as no surprise that she played a role in sorting her own disposal. In this she seems to have recognised the divisions she has left in the society that she presided over for 11 and a half years.

A state funeral would have required the monarch, no less, to bless the divisions she wrought. A “state” funeral might well attract noisy protest from the very forces most alienated by her rule. And, ever the thrifty housewife, Mrs Thatcher could not abide the cost of the jet fuel and man-hours that would be expended in the required “fly-past” that a state funeral would have necessitated.

So it will be a plain old “ceremonial” funeral for Maggie. Not so plain. Streets lined with troops; seamen; airmen; a gun carriage for the coffin; a procession from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul’s, and all the full organ, choir and pageantry that that place can muster.

We won’t notice the difference. But her agreement to avoid that state funeral would seem to recognise that, in death at least, she did finally know her limits.

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