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Thatcher critics in Britain counter her official funeral with parties

April 17, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • An effigy of the late Margaret Thatcher is burned in northern England on Wednesday as the former British prime minister's funeral is being held in London.
An effigy of the late Margaret Thatcher is burned in northern England on… (Andrew Yates / AFP/Getty…)

As Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest in London, scattered protests and parties cheering her death were reported around Britain, a sign of the persistent divisions over her legacy.

"I ignore people who say it's in bad taste,” Durham Miners Assn. General Secretary David Hopper told the British Press Assn. as dozens of former miners arrived at a club to celebrate. “It was in bad taste what she did in our communities."

A new poll released Wednesday, the day of Thatcher's funeral, found that 47% of British adults thought she helped the country, while 42% thought she hurt it, according to the Ipsos MORI research group.

Thatcher was seen as more capable than any of her successors at lifting Britain out of an economic crisis, beating out Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Major and current Prime Minister David Cameron in the poll. Blue-collar workers were the most likely to say her government was good for the country.

Yet slightly more than half of those polled disagreed with the statement, “I wish more politicians today were like Margaret Thatcher.”

In South Yorkshire, former miners staged a mock funeral procession and chanted songs in celebration before burning a Thatcher effigy. In Glasgow, a vigil for Scotland's lost industries was reportedly planned. Others tweeted that they were partying in pubs.

Protests at the London funeral were smaller than expected, The Times’ Henry Chu reported. The ceremony and its public costs were sharply criticized by Thatcher critics, who saw it as a stamp of national approval on the polarizing former prime minister. Two students interviewed and photographed by the Guardian wore homemade T-shirts saying “This funeral is a political symbol.”

“We all deserve a dignified send-off, to have our close ones remember our lives, to share beloved memories,” columnist Owen Jones wrote in the Independent. “But the occasion was hijacked, turned into a state-endorsed celebration of a legacy bitterly detested by millions.”

Meanwhile, the gleeful, anti-Thatcher parties repulsed her supporters and even some of her critics, who argued it was tasteless to revel in her death. Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke told Sky News that partygoers were “adolescents making silly points.” South Wales Argus news editor Maria Williams wrote that although she abhorred what Thatcher stood for, parties celebrating her death were “a crass, distasteful way of making a protest.”

Ultimately, “this isn’t about Thatcher. … Actually, it’s about us,” wrote Laurie Penny, a columnist for the New Statesman. Both the funeral and the protests are political statements, she argued. “Thatcher’s death has become the occasion for a grand psychodrama of a vicious and divided nation.”

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