The Velcro of History
There was a funeral today. I'm really very bad at ceremony. I giggled at both my marriage ceremonies, and for grief I much prefer to be alone than in a crowd. But there wasn't much grief at this funeral. For one thing Margaret Thatcher had been felled long ago by strokes. She lingered. And it's not sad when people in that condition die; if they are old, it's a relief. Funerals are a time for memories. I cherish the memory of Thatcher ousted by her own party, leaving Number Ten. The miners will remember her making sure that the strikers' families didn't get any benefits. We are all beholden to her for beginning the boom in private greed and the rampant capitalism that has got us where we are today.
There were hats, lots of them, black, big-brimmed and tipsy-on-the-forehead hats worn by the fashionable, including Carol Thatcher who hadn't fastened hers very well so she had to keep pushing it back in place. It wasn't quite clear to me, as she stood on the steps of St Paul's watching her mother's coffin be put into the hearse, whether her hand was raised to straighten her hat or if she held a phone to her ear. Other observers had a clearer view and said it was an iPhone ('I'm at a funeral... I said I'm at a funeral'). I liked the look of her curly-headed companion though. Companions were useful. Kissinger's gave him a nudge to wake him during the Bishop of London's sermon. And although I sent out an emergency tweet, no one managed to lip read the words of the Queen to the Duke of Edinburgh as the coffin passed her in the aisle. The Queen looked rather jolly, not her usual grumpy self at all. Also her hat remained just where she had had it put.
There were suits. Hundreds of them. Dark, dull and filled with white-haired, crumbling, portly, puffy men. All of them ugly, one way or another. Yesterday's men. And some men who will be soon. George Osborne for example. He provided the photo of the day, a fallen tear staining his cheek, while Cameron and his wife grinned heartily in front. It may have been his grief at the loss of a human being, or the effect of the hymns (what Giles Fraser called 'all a bit of an ecclesiastical Magic FM'). Or perhaps it was the fact that yesterday the IMF declared his austerity programme a disaster, and today, along the bottom of the BBC coverage, throughout the proceedings, a news ticker recorded an unemployment rise of 70,000 to 2.56 million, with 900,000 unemployed for over a year.
The day began with Cameron declaring on Radio 4 that 'we are all Thatcherites now.' That strikes a blow to the heart. I've got an old poster from 1968, in the days before we could even imagine Thatcher, which has the original of that phrase, 'We are all foreign scum,' a response to right-wing politicians and newspapers railing against foreigners joining the demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Simply everyone was there in St Paul's: Jeremy Clarkson, Shirley Bassey, Tony Blair, Terry Wogan (undaunted by Thatcher's comment to Mandelson: 'You cannot trust the Irish, they are all liars'). Melanie Phillips couldn't be there, but tweeted: 'finding it hard not to feel we are today somehow burying England'. And Shirley Willams, sitting with David Dimbleby, and reminded by him that she, like Thatcher, was a woman, agreed, and recalled how once Thatcher had been doing the ironing while she spoke to her. She was 'in tune with popular opinion'. Oh, Shirley!
While Danny Baker wondered over on Twitter how we could have the cheek to laugh at North Korea's pompous posturings, the BBC's chief reporter, Nick Robinson, crooned how wonderful we are at putting on grand occasions. He's so right. Weddings, funerals, Olympics. We should hire ourselves out. It would surely help the deficit. We can put on a properly good show for £10 million. A ceremonial theme park. And there are more to look forward to: the Queen, the Duke, the next coronation. If we can't afford a proper blow out after the Thatcher funeral, perhaps we could get some sponsorship. 'This funeral was brought to you by Choco-Leibniz. Who's guarding yours?'
Over and over again we were told by Dimbleby, interviewees and clerics that politics had to be put aside on a day like this. There were the army, navy, air force paying their respects to the woman who went to war with Argentina when her popularity rating was dangerously low coming up to an election. A gun used during the Falklands War was fired at one minute intervals from the Tower of London. But Dimbleby gave the game away, summing up: it was, he said, a celebration of a politician by politicians, wanting to see grandeur in their profession. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
There were cheers and clapping from the populace lining the streets. And if there were boos, the BBC made sure that they were kept out of sight and hearing. It did her proud. I doubt that there'll be a cut in the licence fee after today's unctuous performance. But most of all I will cherish Peter Hennessy's final assessment of Thatcher's place in history: 'More of Margaret Thatcher... will cling to the velcro of our collective memory than any other politician of recent times.'