A quintessentially British protest: Margaret Thatcher’s detractors opt for loud but peaceful dissent
Yes there were shouts of anger and outrage. Banners were held aloft and the streets occasionally echoed to sound of whistles, booing and catcalls.
But no-one threw any paint bombs and no-one tried to bring the final journey of Britain’s most divisive prime minister to a halt.
After days of press speculation that London would be plunged into unedifying pitched battles, Thatcher’s detractors instead opted for a loud but nonetheless coherently British from of dissent to bid her farewell.
It was at Ludgate Circus and outside St Paul’s itself where the largest and most vocal collection of protesters gathered. Throughout the morning those opposed to the funeral had made their feelings known with shouts of “Waste of money!” and “End Thatcherism!” whenever police or the military walked past.
By the time the horse-drawn gun carriage honed into view a well-orchestrated cry of “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie; dead, dead, dead!” went up from around 90 protesters gathered on the north side of the road. They knew they were outnumbered and Ludgate Circus, in the heart of London’s financial district, was always going to be a tough crowd to win over.
Almost immediately they were met with an even louder chorus of applause and cries of “We love you Maggie!”. On the south side of the junction, where hundreds of predominantly City workers gathered, one visitor from Greece who was over on business cried out: "Alive, alive! Immortal, immortal!". Asked his thoughts on Thatcher he replied: "I think my words speak for themselves."
Nonetheless those who made the journey into town to make their anger known all recognised the importance of having their voices heard. The police seemed to recognise it too, placing officers in calming baby blue vests with the words “Police liaison officers” to “facilitate” peaceful protest.
While some could name specific policies that made them loathe Thatcher, many more were angry at the taxpayers money being used to honour a politician who not only deeply divided opinion but also strongly discouraged any profligate waste of public funds.
Deborah Samuel, 48, said she intended to turn her back as the former Prime Minister passed. “Personally, I feel it is too much money being spent at a time when the country is suffering,” she said. “I have a 13-year-old son who is deaf and the support is being cut in his school. He is suffering and this money could be better spent. I won’t yell abuse because Margaret Thatcher has a family. However, that does not change the facts and I will turn my back. I feel that is the right balance.”
Over the Strand, Sid Smith, 39, a temporary worker from London was talking to a commemorative guide vendor. He wears an ‘NHS is not for sale’ badge. He said: “I couldn’t tell you what I thought of her, the air would be blue. I had been wondering whether to come down; it’s not an everyday event. It’s ludicrous they’re spending all this money, it’s a pantomime.”
Even amongst self-confessed Thatcher fans there was a sense of unease at the cost to the tax-payer at a time of deep economic uncertainty and budget cuts.
David Griffith, a 57-year-old chauffeur from Sutton, left his office to see the procession. “She was good for this country,” he said. “She changed it at a time when it needed changing. I remember the streets of London full of rubbish, the country was going to rack and ruin. Something had to be done and unfortunately it hurt a lot of people.”
But he added: “The money could have been spent more wisely. It’s a lot more than she would have expected. It’s nice but ‘OTT’.”
Others came to protest for more specific or personal reasons. Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Phil Williams, 58, of Shotton, Flintshire, held a banner saying "Rest in Shame". "No one's ever heard of Shotton apart from the fact that they lost 8,000 jobs when the steelworks closed in the early 80s," he said. "This was not a good government. They were only interested in anybody living south of Watford Gap."
Sian Davies arrived wearing a red t-shirt commemorating the 96 who died during the Hillsborough disaster. “Ninety-six people died going to a football match and she helped cover it up,” she said, fighting back tears. “They messed up and it’s disgraceful people waited so long for the truth. She makes me very angry. I’m planning to stand and observe and make sure they see both sides of the story.”
Other protesters held aloft banners with “Section 28” written on them in reference to the Tory policy – which now feels hopefully outdated – that banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools.
Close by another woman, carrying her newborn in her arms, held a placard which seemed to sum up in both a succinct and polite way what so many of dissenters wanted above all else. “If only her ideas had died,” it read.
Belfast Telegraph Digital