LONDON — Borne aloft on the shoulders of eight military servicemen, the coffin of Margaret Thatcher was carried up the steps of London’s main cathedral today for a funeral service attended by Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s political elite, and global dignitaries.
In life, the woman the Soviet Union christened the “Iron Lady” divided the British public with her free-market policies which sometimes wrought wrenching change on communities. In death it is no different.
Thousands of supporters lined the streets of London as her casket made its final journey from the centre of British political power in Westminster to the service on top of a gun carriage draped in the red, white and blue British flag.
Most people clapped in respect but about two dozen opponents turned their backs on the procession.
One man held up a placard reading “Boo!” and some shouted “scum”, while supporters threw flowers along the route and cheered for Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.
Thatcher, who governed Britain from 1979 to 1990, died on April 8 after suffering a stroke.
Polls have shown that many are unhappy that the estimated 10 million bill for the ceremonial funeral is being picked up by the taxpayer, while some left-wing lawmakers say the pomp-filled event is excessive.
Honoured with a gun salute from the Tower of London every minute and the silencing of the Big Ben bell, British soldiers played Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin to accompany the grandest funeral for a British politician since that of Thatcher’s hero, Winston Churchill, in 1965.
“She was the first woman prime minister, she served for longer in the job than anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her life,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of Thatcher’s Conservative Party.
“What is happening today is absolutely fitting and right,” he said, dismissing concerns by some Thatcher critics about the cost and pomp of the event.
A handwritten note placed on a wreath of white flowers on her coffin read: “Beloved mother – always in our hearts”.
More than 700 armed forces personnel from units Thatcher led to victory in the 1982 Falklands War lined the streets. Police stood every five to ten metres along the route.
People gathered along the funeral procession route early in the morning with placards that reflected a range of views.
“You gave millions of us hope, freedom, ambition,” read a placard held up by one man, while a short distance away another man held one that read: “Over 10 million pounds of our money for a Tory funeral”. Tory is another word for Conservative.
“This country was pretty well down on its knees in the ’70s,” said Roger Johnson, who stood in central London.
“Margaret Thatcher came along and sorted everything out. Her legacy is that she put the word “great” back into Great Britain,” he said. (Reuters)