Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral In Context

paupers_funeral08:10 Wednesday 17th April 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: We can speak now to Dr Richard Carr, political historian at Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University. Morning Richard.
RICHARD CARR: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s on a par really with the funeral of Winston Churchill. Is that how this will be remembered, for some people?
RICHARD CARR: Well yes. The comparisons with Churchill’s funeral have come up a lot. Churchill’s funeral, you were talking about cost this morning, of course cost a lot less, about £650,000 in today’s money. compared to a reported £10 million for Margaret Thatcher. And there were differences in setup too. Three hundred thousand passed by Winston Churchill’s coffin, whereas Margaret Thatcher will not lie in state. Churchill’s funeral was politically important at the time. It was the last great funeral of .. the last great occasion of Imperial Britain. It wasn’t just a memorial to a World War II, but to an idea of Britannia ruling the waves if you like. And by the ’60s the Uk was exporting the Beatles, but it wasn’t really exporting British civilisation. And Margaret Thatcher’s has a political significance too. The route of the funeral today passes by Parliament, but also by the City of London, and some protesters have argued that the loads of money culture that Harry Enfield was talking about in the ’80s has arguably moved beyond satire, with things like LIBOR of late. So people have pointed to the political significance of today’s actions too.
PAUL STAINTON: As we mentioned, there will be protests. Have there ever been protests at big political figures’ funerals in the past?
RICHARD CARR: Well, there’s no one way to do a Prime Minister’s funeral really. They’re not all these grand set piece occasions as people have pointed out.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we mentioned Churchill. What did other people get? Was there any grand ceremony for Ted Heath, or Harold Wilson, Callaghan?
RICHARD CARR: Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and others had relatively small scale memorials, a couple of months after they’d died. Some of these occasions take place in London. But people like Lloyd George, MacMillan, They had funerals outside London. They do vary. You mentioned how the cost is clearly a big issue this morning. The £10 million is a huge amount by British Prime Ministerial funeral standards. Even the Duke of Wellington in the 19th century, the great Tory aristocrat, cost about half that in today’s money. But if you look at American funerals, JFK’s cost about 90 million, or Reagan’s cost 250 million. So it’s a lot of money, clearly, but not perhaps in the global context.
PAUL STAINTON: It does put it in context. Well Carol Gerrard, the Cambridge Branch President of the PCS Union is with us. Morning Carol.
CAROL GERRARD: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you think this is money well spent?
CAROL GERRARD: No, I think it’s an absolute disgrace. £10 million in this so-called time of austerity. William Hague said that Britain can well afford this cost. Well I don’t think we can. If we take the current administration’s mantra to heart, then really speaking this money could be better spent. We could employ maybe an extra 300 nurses, or more than 300 firefighters. I think that’s a better use of taxpayers’ money, than spending it on somebody who has divided the nation, again. When she was in power she divided the nation, and now she’s dead she’s continuing to be divisive.
PAUL STAINTON: But didn’t she provide great service to the nation?
CAROL GERRARD: In what way?
PAUL STAINTON: Well didn’t she change, whatever you think of her, didn’t she change this country for ever? Didn’t she run it for thirteen years?
CAROL GERRARD: Well she did change the country for ever, but it depends which side of the fence you’re on, whether you’re rich or poor. Because for some people, particularly in the North where I’m from originally, it was decimated. You only have to look at Orgreave, that community. You only have to look at Corby, what happened with the steel works. That community still hasn’t recovered today because of Thatcher and her policies. So you ask those people what they feel, and what she did for them. And the answer would be very very little. However, the City of London, she did a great deal for the City of London, and created the Loads of Money culture, which we’re seeing continued today, where we are still paying for the excesses of the City of London through cuts to public services, pay freezes, attacks on terms and conditions of the public sector, attacks on benefit payments. One figure I found from the Guardian, this £10 million could pay the Jobseeker’s Allowance, based on £56.25 a week, of over 170,000 people. In comparison, it would only pay 152 MPs basic salaries. So to me that is more important where our money goes.
PAUL STAINTON: What sort of funeral should she have had?
CAROL GERRARD: They should have privatised it. It would have been very fitting. Put it out to the highest tender and privatise it.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s Carol Gerrard, Cambridge Branch President of the PCS, Cambridge Revenue and Customs. She is obviously from a union. But that’s her view this morning.