Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Cameron leads tributes to Thatcher

Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a tribute to Baroness Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons
A general view of the House of Commons chamber as MP's pay tributes to Baroness Margaret Thatcher
Lord Howard speaks during a tribute to Baroness Margaret Thatcher in the House of Lords in London

Baroness Thatcher overcame the great challenges of her age, David Cameron said as MPs cut short their Easter break to return to Westminster to pay tribute to the former prime minister.

Mr Cameron told MPs that Lady Thatcher "made the political weather" as he described the former Conservative leader, who died at the Ritz Hotel in central London on Monday at the age of 87, as an "extraordinary leader and extraordinary woman".

With MPs able to claim up to £3,750 to return early from their Easter break, Mr Cameron insisted he was right to ask for Parliament to be recalled despite concerns about the costs.

In the past, eulogies in the Commons to former prime ministers have barely lasted longer than an hour at most. MPs spent only 58 minutes paying tribute to Jim Callaghan while Edward Heath's death merited only 73 minutes of MPs' time in the Commons. But during today's sitting, 80 MPs spoke over nearly seven-and-a-half hours.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Lady Thatcher was a "unique and towering figure" in politics, while the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said she made an "indelible imprint both on the nation and the wider world".

But some Labour MPs were not happy at the effusive praise for Lady Thatcher. Veteran Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) caused uproar on the Tory benches when she claimed Lady Thatcher wreaked "heinous social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country". And her Labour colleague Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) accused the former prime minister of embarking on a "scorched earth policy" to destroy her opponents.

There were far warmer words from former colleagues on the Conservative backbenches. Close friend and confidant Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), who visited her almost every Sunday evening at her home, said she was "a robust, principled and confrontational character". And Mike Freer, the Tory MP who now represents her constituency of Finchley and Golders Green, said the former prime minister always remembered the names and concerns of her constituents.

A number of veteran Labour MPs also paid tribute to Lady Thatcher. Left-winger Paul Flynn (Newport West) said she was one of the two best politicians of the 20th century - the other being former Labour prime minister Clement Attlee. "I believe history will judge her as a great prime minister," he said.

Concluding the contributions, Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley said: "The tributes to Margaret Thatcher in this House give a compelling testimony to her remarkable character and achievements."

Mr Lansley spoke of her patriotism and love of Britain as well as her private warmth and kindness. He said: "She was a radical, she was a reformer and her achievements were the result of turning that conviction into a determination to achieve change."

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