Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Just like my own mother, Maggie did it her way to the very end

A funeral allows all sorts of emotions to bubble to the surface, and Baroness Thatcher's was no different.

Watching the formal procession, the strangely militant hymns and the studied composure of the congregation in St Paul's, memories came flooding back. Thatcher's final outing was watched by up to 4.3 million on television, as well as the thousands who lined the streets of London.

It dominated the media for days, and sharply divided opinion. In some parts of the country, people celebrated, made placards, wheeled out effigies and got drunk. More watched Maggie's coffin go past on telly than tuned in to Jeremy Kyle – nothing to do with her legacy or their politics.

Funerals remind us all that we are mortal. Funerals are all about us, as much as the dead person they honour. People watching this funeral will have lost family members and close friends not too long ago, and a funeral makes you confront quite a lot of your own baggage. It even made George Osborne shed a tear.

Mrs Thatcher was a mother – even if she often put her job first – and a highly successful working woman. Her death brought people together under one roof who normally loathe each other; bitter rivals who set their differences aside for an hour.

In that small way, this funeral served a useful purpose, showing the world that occasionally the great and good can do something without scoring points or sniping. As for the rowdy demonstrations, they are part of a great British tradition of irreverence stretching back to Chaucer, Rowlandson and Cruikshank. If you wield power, you deserve to be picked apart and pilloried. Comment and protest is the right of every citizen, no matter what legislation lurks in the wings designed to curtail freedom of speech and muzzle the press.

Maggie herself would have agreed with the right to demonstrate, 100%. Who can forget her gracious demeanour when confronted with Katharine Hamnett wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed "58% DON'T WANT PERSHING" at a Downing Street reception in 1984?

Giles Fraser, the former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's (who resigned over the church's handling of the Occupy demonstration), made a fool of himself, opining that the church should not have hosted the funeral because the building symbolises national unity, not discord. I disagree.

Lady Thatcher's funeral was an opportunity for the nation to express its solidarity – not because we agreed with her policies, which were undeniably divisive and unfair, but because most of us are tolerant, which she conspicuously wasn't. During her time in power, anyone who didn't sign up to her policies was considered a "lefty", a barmy dissenter. Thank goodness we've moved on.

Cathedrals have hosted markets, courts, schools, gambling – all sorts of high and low cultural events, and a funeral is no big deal. I reckon Jesus would have been astounded by Giles Fraser's simplistic view.

Watching the ceremony reminded me of my own mother's send-off. Like Mrs Thatcher, she was highly irritating, patronising and single-minded.

There was only one way to do things – her way. The service was largely in Welsh, at her request, meaning my sister and I understood little. Like Mrs Thatcher, she managed to control everything, even after her death. I loathed Mrs Thatcher's failure to help other women – she was a traitor to her sex – but I admired what her funeral achieved.

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