So there were no demonstrations worth mentioning after all. Apparently somewhere around Ludgate Circus, a few idiots threw things at the horses (a particularly nasty, gratutious gesture) but it scarcely touched the atmosphere of the procession to St Paul’s. The crowds, which a few doubters had predicted might be disappointing, were larger than expected and they applauded and cheered as the coffin went past both before and after the service. In the end, for all the talk of divisiveness and hostility, respect and admiration won the day.
Over the past week both Mrs Thatcher’s opponents and supporters have let themselves – and her – down. The debate over whether we should toll or muffle our bells, build statues, rename airports, buy pop songs, open libraries or silence our football crowds was trite and unseemly.
Her funeral service, in contrast, was solemn, and at times moving. If there were those who sought to protest they appear to have been in a minority, their boos effectively drowned out by the spontaneous applause of the crowds lining the route.
My own view before today was that the whole event would be seen to be over the top, grating against austere times. But in fact, it contained a strange simplicity.
It was also oddly apolitical. That’s partly because the assembled politicians and dignitaries were subordinated by Mrs Thatcher’s immediate family, in particular the dignity of Mark Thatcher, and a poignant reading by her granddaughter Amanda. And partly because the flag-draped coffin acted as a reminder that death has no party affiliation
MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. British politics is in abeyance in the run-up to Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Despite the intervention of the Bishop of Grantham and the Guardian‘s report that Scotland Yard has approved an organised protest at the funeral, the respective party leaderships have largely set aside ventures into tribal territory to play the statesmen. As Nicholas Watt writes, the Prime Minister has done well to unite his party, a process which included meeting with a group of “sane Thatcherites” consisting of John Wittingdale, Sir Gerald Howarth, Conor Burns and John Redwood, and offering his condolences that “their leader” had passed away. The suggestion that a museum dedicated to Lady Thatcher might be housed in the former Lib Dem HQ on Cowley Street has delighted some on the Tory benches, as the Times (£) reports, but as mischief making goes, it’s fairly restrained.
Not everybody labours under the restraints of office, however. Nigel Farage tells the Times (£) that Ukip would have been unnecessary had Lady Thatcher survived the leadership contest of 1990, a pointed attempt to paint Dave as firmly in the tradition of the Tory wets. This sounds optimistic, and ignores Mrs Thatcher’s capacity for compromising at home and abroad. Boris, meanwhile, is in rumbustious form in his column for us:
“Ding dong, the Soviet Union is dead! Ding dong, communism is dead! And so is the British disease. They are all dead as doornails…Ding dong! Old Labour’s dead! The Labour Party has given up its ridiculous belief in the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange – the slogan that used to be printed on the back of every party membership card. Ding dong, Clause Four is dead as a dodo.”
Our report on Dame Mary Archer’s relationship with Lady Thatcher is also notable for the comments from Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood on the former Prime Minister’s relationship with Whitehall. She would be remembered as “kindly and unswervingly loyal to her team…the best kind of boss” they said. Surely not a very discreet dig at Francis Maude?
It never rains but it pours. Under bombardment from friendly fire, confronted by blanket coverage of Lady Thatcher’s death which must seem at times like a Tory greatest hits parade, Ed Miliband also had a broken wrist to contend with which was operated on over the weekend. The Mirror gamely pays tribute to Ed the “iron man” who delivered his Lady Thatcher tribute despite his fracture, but you can’t help but feel that there’s something about fracturing a wrist while on a walking holiday in Devon that fits Ed’s Mr Milibean image perfectly.
Of more significant strategic concern is the leader’s increasing isolation from the big beasts of the Blair years. Mr Tony, of course, started the ball rolling last week. As we report, John Reid has echoed his former boss, arguing on the Sunday Politics that Labour needed to “move from being a vote of protest to offering solutions” and adding that Ed had yet to “set out the direction of a future Labour government.” In yesterday’s Observer, David Blunkett also got in on the act, writing that Labour needs to move beyond “politics built on grievance”. All of which raises the question – if the old guard are like this with a near double digit poll lead, what will they be like when the gap narrows near polling day? It’s not just the Conservatives who need worry about internal divisions come 2015.
Despite the good behaviour, two reports of Tory revolts in this morning’s papers are a sure sign that normal service is ready to resume soon at Westminster . As we report, MPs from both halves of the Coalition are likely to oppose the relaxation of planning laws in a vote on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill on Thursday. Zac Goldsmith is leading the Tory dissenters, backed by Anne Main and Bob Blackman. On the Lib Dem side, Paul Burstow is also planning to either abstain or join Labour in opposing the measures.
Britain’s stay at home mothers are the beneficiary of the second Tory revolt. The Mail reports that dozens of Conservatives will vote for an amendment to the Finance Bill being pushed by Tim Loughton which would introduce a tax break for married couples. This, of course, is Tory policy in any case, but it would seem a shame to waste it so far out from an election year.
The Mail reports that Dave’s back office team, gently hemorrhaging modernisers midway through parliament, has lost Andrew Cooper, the brains behind the party’s gay marriage stance. Following a power struggle with Lynton Crosby, the paper reports that Mr Cooper will return to his old job at Populus, the polling firm he co-founded, doing a little part time work on the side for CCHQ.
I’m doubtful. As the Independent reports, Downing Street says the story is nonsense, while Mr Cooper and Mr Crosby get on fine behind the scenes. Although Mr Cooper was always planning to go at some point in this parliament, talk is of the date not being for another nine months.
TWIN TRACK DIPLOMACY
Tired with the Foreign Office’s lack of ambition, Dave has set the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs the task of conducting parallel negotiations on EU reform, Bloomberg reports. Angela Leadsom will visit Berlin later this month, with other delegations heading to Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain. Hardly a vote of confidence in the Civil Service, but rest assured, there’s no risk of confusion. As Chris Heaton-Harris explains “we’re not negotiating. We’re putting ideas forward and listening to the reaction to them.” Quite different.
LET THE BOOM TIMES ROLL
The Ernst & Young ITEM Club report out this morning predicts a swift recovery in 2014 fuelled by improving real incomes and a stimulated housing market. Growth of 0.6pc this year will be followed by 1.9pc in 2014 and 2.5pc in 2015, the report predicts. Added to the positive BCC report earlier this month, there may be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel for the Treasury.
OLD WARS REVISITED #213
Any future coalition negotiations between the Tories and the Lib Dems will be contingent on the former accepting Lords reform, Simon Hughes tells the FT (£). Given the state of relations between the parties, the prospect of another union won’t thrill Tory backbenchers no matter what form it takes, but given the common belief in the parliamentary party that a semi-elected second chamber would threaten a constitutional crisis, the Lib Dem leadership would be asking Dave to write a cheque his party might not honour.
60, THE NEW 20
Pensioners of Britain, your country needs you! We report Steve Webb’s remarks that, with a projected 13.5m job vacancies in the coming 10 years and only 7m young people coming into the workplace, those close to retirement are going to have to keep going for longer. The “untapped resource” of a generation of older workers will “tackle ageist attitudes” as employers come to rely on them, the pensions minister added. Unfortunately for Mr Webb, David Willetts already has plans to send the 60+ generation back to university. Perhaps they’ll have time for both, provided, that is, they survive Fresher’s Week…
ON THE WRONG TRACKS
The new and responsible attitude to expenses and the public purse found Jim McGovern in court last month challenging IPSA’s decision not to reimburse a £23.90 rail fare between Dundee and Glasgow, which he claimed was the first leg of a journey between his constituency and Westminster, and which the independent claims body found was for a Labour Party meeting unrelated to his work as an MP. As the Sunday Herald reported, IPSA won the day, but with each side meeting their own legal costs, the taxpayer is responsible for the £27,000 in costs run up defending the decision. Mr McGovern’s costs were met by the GMB.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Cutting, from Douglas Carswell:
@DouglasCarswell: “Just read John Prescott comments re funeral of former Prime Minister. For such a large man, he is really very small.”
In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson – Thatcherism is no museum piece – it’s alive and kicking
Mary Archer with Peter Stanford – My unique chemistry with the Iron Lady
Telegraph View – Secret arrests would be an affront to justice
Best of the Rest
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – The Right won on economics. Now for Act II
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – Unions that Maggie crushed are on the rise
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – Has Cameron at last leant Blair’s lesson that the British are NOT naturally Left-wing?
John Harris in The Guardian – Spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory
09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending breakdown figures for February.
11:30 am: Foreign Secretary William Hague launches the annual Foreign Office human rights report.
Horatio Nelson was a divisive figure, certainly so to Fanny (his wife) and possibly Sir William Hamilton (husband of his mistress, Emma). Apart from those two, whose hearts he and Emma may have broken, he was also fairly divisive with regard to proponents of European integration (Napoleon, for example, the Herman Van Rompuy of his day).
The year 1805 (in which Nelson died) was a backward time compared with our own in many ways, but one gracefully free of the various methods by which we now allow the foolish to parade themselves in public: on Facebook, or through the generous subsidies Radio 4 offers Left-wing comedians. Had social media existed then, you may well have been able to locate some idiot drama teacher in France, gleefully dancing around her town’s square. “I’m not celebrating his death,” she would have said, between mouthfuls of celebratory baguette, “I just want a discussion of his legacy.” And the early 19th-century version of the BBC reporter would nod his head, solemnly.
In death as in life, Margaret Thatcher remains firmly in charge. The woman whose premiership was marked by ramrod certainty and whipcrack decision-making had, it turns out, a characteristically needle-sharp idea about how her funeral must proceed. Today, the details of that idea emerge.
From the singing of I Vow to Thee, My Country to the choice of readings, every aspect of the occasion will reflect some part of Baroness Thatcher’s character: her love of Britain, her Christian faith, her belief in tradition.
One of her chief orders was that David Cameron give a reading. This is not, it seems, because he is David Cameron, or because he is the leader of Lady Thatcher’s party, but simply because he is Prime Minister: her instructions were that there should be a reading by whoever was the prime minister at the time of her death, regardless of political affiliation. It could have been Ed Miliband. (Mr Miliband, and indeed Mr Cameron, will no doubt be grateful that it isn’t.)
Officers will have to deal with three protests by left-wing groups on Saturday alongside trying to maintain order at the FA Cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan.
Tomorrow night thousands have vowed to “celebrate” the death of Baroness Thatcher in Trafalgar Square.
On the same day, UK Uncut, the anti-austerity protest group, have promised to hold a day of “civil disobedience” in protest to reforms to welfare, in which they will “evict” the “architects of austerity”. It could mean the homes of Cabinet ministers are targeted.
And separately, the TUC is leading a march from 11am of “one thousand mothers” against benefit cuts in Tottenham – the scene of the worst disorder in London eighteen months ago.
On Saturday night, 50,000 fans from Millwall and Wigan are due to convene on Wembley, north west London, for the FA Cup Semi Final.
One evening not long ago, Conor Burns — the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West and for years a close friend of Baroness Thatcher — was taking a taxi to her home in Belgravia, London. The driver asked him to pass on a message.
“You tell her from me,” said the driver, “that we haven’t had a good prime minister since!”
The Commons – including David Cameron – roared with delight at this story. But there was more of it to come. “Mr Speaker,” continued Mr Burns soberly, “I imparted this message to Margaret. She looked at me and said, ‘Well, he’s quite right.’”
The Commons – and Mr Cameron – roared all the louder.
Isn’t it about time we stopped devoting ridiculously disproportionate amounts of news coverage to the handful (and I do mean handful, in proportion to the national population) of youthful idiots and embittered misfits who are “celebrating” the death of the greatest peacetime British prime minister? The recorded events in Glasgow, Bristol and Brixton – which all occurred on Monday night and so far as I can tell were not greeted with mass approbation even in their own neighbourhoods – seem to be on a looped tape on the broadcast news, even though they were not replicated in the rest of the country.
While many of her reforms fortunately live on, she can be held responsible neither for the state of today’s manufacturing sector, nor for the financial crisis. To claim otherwise is to misunderstand history, her own philosophy and the nature of our present problems.
She inherited a basket case of an economy, crippled by obsolete state-owned firms, a legacy of decades of poor policies. Management was insular and demoralised, the workforce used as pawns by militant union leaders who would call strikes at every opportunity, customers treated like dirt and production techniques stuck in the past.
Productivity was appalling, overmanning the norm and the quality of UK-made goods notoriously poor. Britain was sclerotic, anti-entrepreneurial and anti-innovation, often specialising in industries with no long-term future.
The scene in the office of the local Conservative Association said it all.
Inside, a large but demure portrait hung on the wall; beneath it, on a shelf, stood a little row of framed photos of her smiling or cutting a cake. At either side of the photos were vases containing little Union flags. Draped beneath the shelf, dangling against the radiator, was a string of bunting. Outside, just a few bouquets.
Finchley, the constituency she served for 33 years, from 1959 to 1992, was paying its respects to Baroness Thatcher in a manner she would have surely approved: patriotically but quietly, without extravagance or hysteria. This was nothing like the instantaneous gushing that swept the country upon the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Such an outpouring may have been suitable for the Princess, who was scarcely averse to outpourings of emotion herself; but for Baroness Thatcher, a woman who embodied the old middle-class virtues of thrift and modesty, something quiet and dignified felt much more fitting.