Cameron: "Iron Lady" Thatcher Made Britain Great Again

by
Reuters
British Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday, remembering a divisive and combative leader who transformed the country and set a political course still followed today.

* Parliament debates her legacy after rare recall

* Funeral next week poses security challenge

* Reactions to death range from reverence to revulsion

* Questions over cost, grandiose style of funeral

British Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday, remembering a divisive and combative leader who transformed the country and set a political course still followed today.

In a special session of parliament, Cameron said his fellow Conservative "defined and overcame the great challenges of her age" after a remarkable journey from the family grocer's shop to the highest office in the land.

It was the first time parliament had been recalled from holiday for the death of a public figure since Queen Elizabeth's mother died in 2002, underlining the enduring legacy of a leader who won three elections and reshaped British politics.

"She drew the lines on a political map that we here are still navigating today," said Cameron, wearing a dark suit and tie. "She made the political weather, she made history and let this be her epitaph ... she made our country great again."

Thatcher, who died at 87 on Monday from a stroke, overturned post-war political consensus, winning battles over union reform, nuclear arms and state ownership of industries, Cameron added.

"She certainly did not shy from the fight and that led to arguments, to conflict, yes even to division," Cameron said. "But what is remarkable, looking back now, is how many of those arguments are no longer arguments at all."

In an emotional session scheduled to last for up to seven hours, lawmakers still bitterly split over Thatcher traded anecdotes and jokes about Britain's first female prime minister, who served from 1979 to 1990.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband described Thatcher as a "unique and towering figure". However, some Labour members of parliament refused to attend.

"I'd rather be put in a torture chamber," Ronnie Campbell, whose parliamentary district in northern England was hard-hit by Thatcher's reforms, told BBC radio.

Flowers were placed at the foot of a Thatcher statue outside the parliamentary chamber she dominated for years and which was the scene of a devastating resignation speech by her deputy Geoffrey Howe that precipitated her downfall in 1990.

'TRUE BLUE'

Plans for Thatcher's funeral next Wednesday have turned into a security headache and a national talking point as the former Conservative leader divided Britain in death as she did in life.

Parties in several cities to celebrate her death ended in arrests and media reported police may pre-emptively arrest known trouble-makers before they travel to her funeral next week.

Codenamed "Operation True Blue", the ceremonial funeral with military honours will begin with a procession through central London to a service at St Paul's Cathedral.

In a break with protocol, marking Thatcher's stature, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip will attend. The last time the monarch attended a prime minister's funeral was when Winston Churchill died in 1965.

Thatcher's son Mark said she would have been "enormously proud and grateful" that the monarch was going to her funeral.

"My mother would be greatly honoured as well as humbled by her presence," he said. "By any measure, my mother was blessed with a long life and a very full one."

Many opposed to Thatcher's free-market ideology say she was too divisive a figure to be sent off in a style usually reserved for royals like Princess Diana or the Queen Mother.

"Let's privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It's what she'd have wanted," said filmmaker Ken Loach, whose movies denounce the impact of Thatcher's policies on working class communities.

Members of the public launched an e-petition on a government website calling for the funeral to be privatised as "an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded".

The petition gathered close to 34,000 signatures before it was shut down without explanation on Wednesday morning.

"THE WITCH IS DEAD"

The Official Charts Company said the song "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead", from "The Wizard of Oz", had climbed to number 10 in the singles chart after a campaign by Thatcher haters.

Such reactions were condemned by Conservatives as well as by some Labour figures such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In Brixton, a south London area hit during the Thatcher era by huge riots in 1981, protesters scaled a cinema and replaced movie titles with the words "Margaret Thatchers dead LOL" (sic). They also hung a banner that read "The bitch is dead".

Disturbances took place in Liverpool and Glasgow, two cities ravaged by Thatcher's dismantling of state industries.

The Independent and The Evening Standard reported police may pre-emptively arrest trouble-makers ahead of the funeral. Police declined comment, saying they would use "appropriate tactics"

Security forces will also be mindful of any action from dissident groups from northern Ireland.

Thatcher escaped assassination in 1984 when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) blew up a hotel where she was staying. The IRA laid down arms as part of a peace deal, but Thatcher remains a hate figure to many on the other side of the Irish Sea.