NY Times Doesn't Let 'Costly' Funeral Halt Criticism of 'Deeply Polarizing...Divisive' Thatcher

The New York Times marked the day of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's funeral with disrespect, with London bureau chief John Burns reporting from one of the last places on earth likely to offer sympathetic tribute to the prime minister who broke the left-wing coal miners' union: A mining town in the middle of England. And the paper's post-funeral story today offered left-wing "complaints about its cost and appropriateness" of the funeral sandwiched around accounts of ghoulish lefty celebrations of Thatcher's passing.

The old miner walks with a stick now, depleted in body and spirit, but with a pool of resentment that still surges whenever talk turns to the losing battle nearly 30 years ago to save the local coal mine from the economizing zeal of Margaret Thatcher.

“Ten million pounds for a funeral! That’s disgusting,” he said as he picked his way across the rubble-strewn wasteland that was once the Whitwell colliery, contemplating the elaborate, $15 million rites planned on Wednesday for Mrs. Thatcher, the former prime minister, who died last week at the age of 87. “Ten million pounds! And not 10 pounds for people like me who did all the dirty work here!”

In death as in life, Mrs. Thatcher, whose union-busting battle to close unprofitable coal mines in 1984 and 1985 was one of the hallmarks of her 11 years in power, has proved a deeply polarizing figure -- so much so that the funeral pomp itself, scheduled to play out in the streets of central London, has become a matter of bitter dispute.

Having committed to rites on a scale not seen for a prime minister since the death of Winston Churchill in 1965, the Conservative-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron has said it will not disclose the costs until after the funeral is over. But senior officials have said $15 million is a reasonable estimate.

That has lent ammunition to unforgiving survivors of the battles of the 1980s like the coal miners, many of them from long-closed mines in the industrialized Midlands and the north like Whitwell, who lost their jobs as Mrs. Thatcher privatized nationalized industries like coal and steel that she saw as a dead weight on the economy.

The anger of those who were losers in the Thatcher revolution has found voice in leftist and anarchist groups, including one calling itself Good Riddance Maggie Thatcher. They have promised to lead protests as the flag-draped gun carriage bearing the former prime minister’s coffin proceeds to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where 2,300 invited guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, will attend the funeral.

The Times refused to let the solemn occasion of the funeral itself stop the partisan sniping, shown by the headline to Wednesday's post by Alan Cowell and John Burns: "Thatcher Funeral Draws Dignitaries and Complaints."

A horse-drawn gun carriage bore the coffin of Margaret Thatcher to St. Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday for a ceremonial funeral that divided British opinion, much as the former prime minister known as the Iron Lady stirred deep and conflicting emotions during her lifetime and, in death, set off an equally passionate debate over her legacy.


Mrs. Thatcher was the country’s first female prime minister. Her radical, market-driven policies and determination to crush labor union power made her one of its most divisive leaders. She died of a stroke last week at age 87.


The nature of Wednesday’s 55-minute ceremony -- a state funeral in all but name -- provoked complaints about its cost and appropriateness. The last British politician to be accorded such a parting accolade was Winston Churchill in 1965, whose funeral also took place at St. Paul’s. But the authorities sought to avoid a politicized event.


At Ludgate Circus, close to St. Paul’s, a small group of protesters gathered, some with banners reading, “Now bury Thatcherism.” Some jeered and shouted, “good riddance.” Others chanted, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie -- dead, dead, dead.”


While some Britons protested the fanfare surrounding the funeral of Mrs. Thatcher -- whose death certificate listed her occupation as “retired stateswoman” -- Prime Minister David Cameron said in a BBC interview before the service that it would be “quite a somber event but it is a fitting tribute to a great prime minister, respected around the world.”


Critics have claimed that the authorities have sought to cloak the cost of the ceremony by not accounting for the deployment of the police and the military. One protester, standing in a persistent drizzle along with around 1,000 spectators outside St. Paul’s on Wednesday, held up a placard complaining that the funeral would cost the equivalent of $15 million at a time when many Britons are facing hard times under the government’s austerity program.

“Thatcher started a lot of the rot in our society,” said Andrew Holder, an electrical engineer, who wore a T-shirt with the slogan “Maggie’s Dead.com” to protest against the funeral.

“This is a fitting place to demonstrate because this is where she started the age of Porsches and champagne,” he said, referring to the cathedral’s location close to Britain’s traditional financial district. “She brought us to where we are today. She bred that age of personal greed.”