News crews gather outside Parliament in London, where lawmakers met in… (Ben Stansall / Agence France-Presse/Getty…)
LONDON -- British lawmakers interrupted their Easter vacation Wednesday to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday at 87.
At a special session of the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron called Thatcher "an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary woman" who rescued Britain from decline and “made our country great again.”
"Those who grew up while she was in office … can sometimes fail to appreciate the thickness of the glass ceiling that she broke through,” he said.
Her ascent took place at a time when it was difficult for a woman to become a member of Parliament, let alone lead the Conservative Party and the country, said Cameron, who belongs to the same party.
In a lighter moment, Cameron recalled that Thatcher once received a job rejection that said, “This woman is headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.”
Her friends would agree, he said, “but she used that conviction and resolve in the service of our country, and we are all the better for that.”
Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor party, called Thatcher a “towering figure” who “defined her age.” But he added that some communities felt angry and abandoned when her government closed the country’s mines, while gay and lesbian people felt stigmatized by a now-repealed measure that barred local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality.
“I disagree with much of what she did,” Miliband said. “But I respect what her death means to the many, many people who admired her. And I honor her personal achievements.”
One of Miliband's fellow Labor lawmakers was less circumspect in her criticism. Glenda Jackson, an Oscar-winning actress, accused Thatcher of inflicting “the most heinous social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country, upon my constituency and my constituents” in North London, drawing shouts of “sit down, sit down” from the late prime minister’s supporters.
Several lawmakers refused to attend Wednesday’s session, saying Thatcher's conservative, free-market policies destroyed jobs and deepened social inequalities.
“I couldn’t bear sitting in the chamber” to hear the tributes, Ronnie Campbell, a lawmaker from northeast England, told the BBC. “She did a lot of damage."
John Healey, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair’s Labor government, accused Cameron of using the occasion “for narrow political gain.”
“Individual, family and community lives have been broken then blighted for years by Margaret Thatcher’s determination to destroy a proud British industry and its trade union,” he wrote on a political website. “In areas like South Yorkshire, we can’t forget. Or forgive. So many abhorred her government’s actions and detest her memory.”
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Stobart is a news assistant in the Times' London bureau.