The Iron Lady’s Final Farewell
Mourners and protesters say goodbye to Baroness Thatcher
LONDON, Asharq Al-Awsat—Crowds assembled in Westminster and along the Strand early on Wednesday morning to witness Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession. Her coffin left The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in a hearse at 10:00 BST on a foggy morning in the UK capital.
The hearse made its way along Whitehall, past Downing Street and along the Strand and on to St Clement Danes Church in Aldwych, the central church of the RAF. At the church the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and taken in procession to St Paul’s Cathedral where the funeral service took place.
Along the route thousands of spectators packed in tightly to catch a glimpse of the coffin. Office workers hung out of windows and some climbed up onto roadwork machinery to get a better view. The crowd was overwhelmingly good-humored and an excitement rippled through the throng as the sound of the processional band grew louder. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause as the funeral procession passed through central London.
For some, Margaret Thatcher’s life and legacy were cause for protest. At Ludgate Circus a group gathered to express their opposition to Thatcher and the cost of the funeral, shouting “All the wasted money!”
Some of Margaret Thatcher’s supporters were equally vocal in their defense of the Iron Lady. One spectator rebuffed a protestor by shouting, “I’m working class too!”
A group of five individuals gathered for a peaceful protest at St Paul’s where they stood with their backs to the funeral procession. One of the protestors, Mary Walsh, told Asharq Al-Awsat that she chose to protest because she “had to mark this total waste,” referring to the GBP 10 million spent on the ceremonial funeral. Sean Watson, another protestor said it was “very important to make a stand in a peaceful way.”
However the vast majority of those gathered had come to pay their respects to Margaret Thatcher. One woman had traveled from Devon to watch the funeral procession, “she was a great person for Great Britain,” she said of Thatcher, adding that she wanted to be here for this “historic occasion.”
At Trafalgar Square, previously the site of parties celebrating the death of Baroness Thatcher, the gathering was relatively muted.
Bystanders lined the roadside barricades erected by the police, but in numbers that were dwarfed by later stages of the funeral procession, rarely reaching more than two people deep. The square was largely empty, despite a heavy police presence, while a number of the spectators appeared to be tourists.
However, a number of protesters were also present at this stage of the funeral, though they were outnumbered by both police officers and journalists.
One demonstrator, Goldsmiths University lecturer Charmian Kenner, lined the route holding a sign that read “If there’s no such things as society pay for your own funeral,” a paraphrasing of Baroness Thatcher’s famous assertion that “there is no such thing as society.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, she said: “Margaret Thatcher was a politician who promoted policies which I have a horror of, which is individualistic materialism. And she destroyed many communities, many industries in this country, and we now have the legacy of poverty that she left behind her, because we now have a minimal welfare state, run by rich bankers basically. And, to add insult to injury, we are expected to pay for her funeral.”
One of the spectators, Duncan Goode, defended her legacy saying: “I just wanted to pay my respects to her . . . I think she left a very good legacy. She did an awful lot that was unpopular, but she did an awful lot that was good for Britain. She had a great attitude. You may not have agreed with everything that she did and the policies she followed, but she would never waver from them. She always stood up for Britain.”
“I don’t think there are many politicians these days that would.”
As a news helicopter hovered overhead, the gun carriage on which Baroness Thatcher’s casket would be carried for the final leg of its journey made its way through the square and the early morning drizzle, preceded by several chauffeured cars carrying mourners and dignitaries on their way to Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Honorable guests and members of the royal family began to arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral early this morning. The crowd cheered as Queen Elizabeth II arrived shortly before the funeral commenced.
At around 11 a.m. as the bells chimed and the crowd grew silent, Thatcher’s coffin, carried by a gun carriage drawn by six horses, reached the Cathedral, the final terminus of the funeral procession.
The service began with readings from the Bible by current British Prime Minister David Cameron and Baroness Thatcher’s granddaughter and ended with a word from the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Almost 2000 guests from all over the world attended the funeral and four thousand police officers were employed for the day to ensure security. Many streets were sealed off by the police and Transport for London instructed drivers and commuters to avoid Westminster and the City of London.
It was reported that vast demonstrations were expected but only small protests took place. Within the Churchyard, opinions varied and many onlookers discussed Thatcher’s legacy and policies. “She was a true leader and wanted the best for Britain,” a spectator told Asharq Al-Awsat.
A small group of protestors in the Churchyard carried banners reading “No Mourning Here” and “Our Thoughts go to the victims of Thatcherism,” criticizing Thatcher for her policies and claiming that tax payer’s money is being wasted on what they view as an ostentatious funeral.
A spectator responded to this by saying: “It’s impossible in politics to be everything to everybody. We live in a democracy and everyone has the right to protest but we will turn our back on them and show our respect”.
What the BBC called “the biggest such occasion since the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002” went smoothly and without much difficulty—contrary to what some had predicted—and proved to be a grand commemoration of a great woman and historical figure.
By Alex Edwards, Nadine Makarem and Grace Perriman