As someone who lived through the Thatcher government and disagreed with virtually everything she did. And for that matter had my school milk taken away from me by Margaret Thatcher when I was just 3 years old I am possibly one of the least likely people to support the idea of her having a state funeral.
What she did to nature of British industry by laying waste to the industrial heartlands of the country and the contempt which she gave those people who were thrown on the scrap-heap as a consequence were arrogant and uncaring. Her consistent jingoistic responses to other governments made her a parody of the great leaders of the past, although to be honest I did support the liberation of the Falkland Islands from the dictator Galtieri.
So you might be surprised to hear me say that I think she ought to have a state funeral, I wouldn’t, for example, support one for any of her successors. I was going to stay silent on the subject and let the discussion around it wash over me, but I have recently received so many requests to join ‘causes’ to oppose her state funeral that I thought I ought to explain why I actually support the absolute opposite. Is Margaret Thatcher deserving of a state funeral?
There are, of course, some rather ephemeral reasons to support it, mainly that she was the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century even, some might argue, that she won the last war of empire, though I haven’t really heard this one. But, the main reason, surely, is that she was the first female Prime Minister of this country. In itself people may not think that her sex is sufficient to make her stand out to justify this high accolade, though let’s ignore the fact that generally the people who get state funerals are unelected and achieve the honour through birth rather than achievement. However, it frankly astounds me that people don’t realise the sheer bias in our political system and culture against the rise of women politicians to the summit of our government. It is, with the benefit of hindsight, possible to think that women politicians do OK now, being approximately a quarter of MPs, there are a sprinkling of cabinet ministers and we’ve had a woman Foreign Secretary and now a female Home Secretary, but these appointments occurred 30 or more years after Margaret Thatcher grasped the leadership of the Conservative Party, against all the vested interests and misogynistic views of the time. When she became a Member of Parliament in 1959 there were only 25 women MPs, in 1975 when she became Conservative leader there were only 27 and when she became Prime Minister there were only 19. (Stats)
She has been criticised for not promoting women within government, but this hardly a credible attack when you consider there were, in fact, only 8 Conservative women MPs elected in 1979 compared to 331 men!
So her achievement, which we now look back on, was enormous. She was not just fighting the other parties, the establishment and prejudice that she wasn’t up to the job, but she was also unique. Those of us on the left of British politics would, no doubt, prefer that Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams would have become the first woman Prime Minister and that that Prime Minister had shown more feminine qualities in government. Well sorry, we can’t. I never voted for her and partly as a consequence of her my politics were cast long ago in the values of the left.
However, she was the first British female Prime Minister and she was part of the process of our country becoming a more modern nation in accepting the equality of women, and we should respect and possibly even celebrate that.