UK Politics

It’s Your Funeral

The Daily Telegraph and a couple of Conservative MPs have been reacting angrily to the news that Lady Thatcher, like every other 20th century Prime Minister except one, is unlikely to be given a state funeral. The Telegraph reports that:

Tony Blair was accused last night of appeasing Left-wing Labour MPs after Downing Street confirmed that it did not intend to recommend a state funeral for Lady Thatcher, the country’s first woman prime minister. Senior Conservative MPs expressed anger over a letter from one of Mr Blair’s aides to a Labour backbencher setting out No 10’s position. They accused Mr Blair of provoking an “unseemly” political row by entering into a discussion about Lady Thatcher’s funeral arrangements at a time when she was in good health.

The question arose following an enquiry from Labour MP for Lancashire West Rosie Cooper. The Telegraph’s leader column adds that “It was with very bad taste that the Prime Minister’s political secretary, John McTernan, rejected the idea of a state funeral for Lady Thatcher. Mr McTernan reassured Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who said her constituents were upset by the idea, that there are “no such plans”. Lady Thatcher, to whom such talk must be distressing, is still alive and well.”

I’m sure most Harry’s Place readers share the Daily Telegraph’s aversion towards very bad taste, as of course do I, but I wanted to know exactly how unseemly Mr Blair had been, and to what depths he’d plummeted this time. In the Guardian I discovered the following shocking quote from a spokeswoman for Number 10: “All that we can confirm is that there are no such plans and it is not appropriate to comment further.”

No wonder that Tory MP for Aldershot Gerald Howarth was so keen to distance himself from the unseemly political row this callous and undignified remark had so spitefully provoked, as the Telegraph report makes clear:

Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot and Lady Thatcher’s former parliamentary aide, said that the No 10 letter showed that when Mr Blair was in trouble with his party he made a gesture to appease his Left-wing MPs – such as the ban on foxhunting. “That is Blair all over,” Mr Howarth said. “It is contemptible. He claimed the mantle of Thatcher but when the going gets tough with Labour MPs, he throws them a bone.”

And no wonder a man called Iain Duncan Smith, who apparently used to be leader of the Conservative Party, was so anxious to avoid entering into a discussion about Lady Thatcher’s funeral arrangements at a time when she was in good health: “Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said there were “lots of reasons” why Lady Thatcher should become the first prime minister since Winston Churchill to be accorded a state funeral. She turned round the British economy and victory in the Falklands conflict restored the country’s international prestige, he said”.

Well I trust that Lady Thatcher won’t find this too distressing, but since the unseemly political row has been provoked whether we like it or not, I’m going to add to it by saying that whatever this Duncan Smith chap might have said, I think there are lots of reasons why she shouldn’t be given a state funeral. Other than heads of state, it’s an honour that has only ever been given to six people. These include Nelson, Wellington, Gladstone and Churchill, who was a national figure in a way that Lady Thatcher isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact – whatever the merits or otherwise of her governments, I suspect that even the Telegraph would concede that as Prime Minister she was a fairly divisive character. I wouldn’t go as far the commenter on the Telegraph site who said “Her head should be outside the Tower of London for what she did to this country”, but for a partisan newspaper to suggest giving such an honour to such a partisan figure does strike me as, well, unseemly.