Friday, April 19, 2013

Margaret Thatcher funeral procession: How applause drowned out the jeers

The woman who saved Britain was applauded by her people

It seemed to come out of nowhere. No one knew who’d started it – perhaps it was purely instinctual. But as the hearse came into view, the crowds found themselves breaking into applause – applause that followed the hearse all the way along the route, until it drew up at the church of St Clement Danes. Then, once the coffin had been loaded on to the gun carriage, and the horses moved off, the applause started again – and followed the procession all the way to St Paul’s.

Down the roads it spread and spread, gently rippling, a long impromptu chain of respect and appreciation.

The applause wasn’t rowdy; there were no whoops or whistles. It was steady, warm, dignified. But it was also, somehow, determined. At Ludgate Circus, protesters began to boo and jeer – only to find the rest of the crowd applauding all the more loudly to drown them out.

It has often been said that Baroness Thatcher appealed to the silent majority. They weren’t silent now.

Ever since the news of her death last Monday, we have been told one thing above all else about the former Prime Minister: that she was divisive. Well, maybe she was. But you wouldn’t necessarily have known it yesterday along the route of her funeral procession. From Westminster to St Paul’s, mourners crammed the pavements, in places standing 12 deep.

In the build-up there’d been rumours of violent protests: lumps of coal, symbolising the fury of the miners, would be thrown at her coffin.

In the event, all that was thrown was roses.

Some estimates put the number of people on the streets at 100,000. A low figure, perhaps, if compared with a major Royal occasion; the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is thought to have attracted a million. But this was for a Prime Minister, and on a working day.

On the pavements of the Strand, outside St Clement Danes – the church of the RAF – there was barely room to breathe. Behind the barriers, the crowd had been swelling for over an hour before the hearse was due to arrive. Men climbed railings to see above the massed heads. Children clambered on to the bench of the bus shelter. Office balconies thronged. People shifted restlessly, desperate for a view.

Many people wore suits or dark dress; some were in bowler hats and tweed. One man had brought his pet Chihuahua, Cindy; even she was in black, clad in a tiny coat with “Good night” inscribed across it.

All along the barriers and around the church stood police, hundreds of police. On first glance an intimidating sight, but the effect was somehow softened by the fact that every one of them was wearing spotless white gloves, like magicians’. In front of the church loomed the statue of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, chief of RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War. Glaring sternly, hands folded behind his back, he seemed to be wearing a look that said anyone intent on violence would have him to answer to.

The hearse arrived to applause. Then, as the coffin was carried into the church by the bearer party, there rose a sea of arms, as each mourner struggled to establish a clear view for his or her cameraphone.

While the service was under way inside, the crowds stood silent. A breeze fluttered through their hair. Raindrops dabbed their cheeks.

Then there sounded the dolorous clang of the bell. The coffin was carried out of the church and placed on the gun carriage. And, as the procession began – to the pound, pound, pound of a cloth-muffled drum – there was applause once more.

I glanced at the elderly woman standing alongside me. Her face was a mask of tears.

After the procession had moved on, many people stayed where they were, reflecting on what they’d seen. “It was wonderful,” said Richard Barnes, 69, a retired farmer. “From all the stories this week you’d have thought there’d be twice as many protesters as supporters – but it’s been nothing like it. I saw one [anti-Thatcher] placard across the road, and that’s it.”

He’d have seen more protesters further along the route – but not many. Some turned their backs on the procession. Some brandished placards, attacking the cost of the funeral. Some waved milk bottles, as a reminder of the old taunt, “Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher”. Some shouted, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead.” A few, bizarrely, squabbled with each other (“You’ve ruined this protest!”).

Baroness Thatcher’s enemies, fighting among themselves: it was like the 1980s all over again.

For each and every minute of the journey from St Clement Danes, a gun salute was fired. At last the procession came to a halt at St Paul’s. At 11am sharp, the 2,000 guests inside the cathedral – including the Queen, the Prime Minister, and Lady Thatcher’s children, Sir Mark and Carol Thatcher – rose as one. Lady Thatcher’s grandchildren – Michael, 24, and Amanda, 19 – walked ahead of the coffin.

Following the first hymn, He Who Would Valiant Be, Amanda Thatcher gave a reading, from Ephesians 6 10-18. How young she looked up there, tiny and alone. To begin with, her voice cracked and quavered – but she did not let the occasion, or the emotion, overcome her. “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” she read, voice strengthening with every line. Her words echoed through the huge, booming silence.

The second reading came from David Cameron, John 14 1-6 (“I am the way, the truth and the life”). He read steadily and solemnly. His wife Samantha, wearing a pussy-bow blouse in tribute to Lady Thatcher, watched him from the pews.

The address was given by The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. It was well judged, well written, well spoken. “After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy,” he said, “there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ‘ism’. Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us.”

The television camera cut to George Osborne, the Chancellor. Down his cheeks, tears glistened.

Out in Ludgate Hill, while all this was going on, a small group of the most dedicated admirers gathered round a portable radio. Clutching printed copies of the order of service, they sang along to every hymn.

After the prayers, the choir in St Paul’s sang In Paradisum, from the Requiem Mass by Gabriel Fauré; then the congregation joined them for the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave the blessing. “Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life,” he intoned, “until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

Finally, as the Queen looked on, the coffin was carried out of the cathedral by the bearer party.

Then, something remarkable. As the coffin was borne down the steps into the light of the day, the crowds outside gave three cheers. Like the applause that had followed the coffin on its journey to St Paul’s, the cheers were spontaneous.

As much as appreciation, they may have been an expression of relief – relief that a day that had been threatened by protest and violence had instead passed with dignity. A respectful procession followed by a moving service. No hysteria, no hyperbole. Of course there had been pomp and pageantry: the uniforms, the military bands, the towering grandeur of St Paul’s. But in its own way the occasion was understated – or as close to understated as a ceremonial funeral can be.

In late afternoon, when the hearse arrived at Mortlake Crematorium in south-west London, it was met, for one final time, with mourners’ quiet applause.

This was a day, in short, of tributes untarnished. A day when, to a far greater degree than expected, abuse was overcome by respect, violence by decency, and hatred by love.



A new Iron Lady?

She may be only 20-years-old, but Baroness Thatcher's granddaughter captivated mourners on Wednesday as she delivered a flawless reading at the former prime minister's funeral.

Amanda Thatcher, a US college student, appeared unfazed as she gave a lesson from Ephesians which called on the righteous to "put on the whole armour of God".

Her deeply felt delivery put her firmly on the world stage before a global television audience of millions.

She later told an MP that she had not felt nervous, adding: "It's sort of in the blood."

The other lesson was read by David Cameron, the Prime Minister.

Mourners including Boris Johnson and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were unanimous in their praise of Ms Thatcher afterwards.

"I thought she read absolutely beautifully and she has that attractive mid-Atlantic accent," said Dame Mary Archer, the wife of Lord Archer, the former Conservative Party deputy chairman. "She was splendid."

Ms Thatcher and her brother, Michael, 24, are the children of Sir Mark Thatcher and his first wife, Diane Beckett.

They live with their mother in Dallas, Texas, where, according to her high school reports, Ms Thatcher is a talented sportswoman who excels in athletics and was voted "most likely to change the world" by her peers.

She and her brother are dedicated evangelical Christians, and were Baroness Thatcher's "greatest delight" in later life. They sat in the front row of St Paul's between their father and stepmother.

Before the service, they preceded Lady Thatcher's coffin into the cathedral, carrying cushions bearing the insignias of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit.

Wearing a black coat and dress, a wide-brimmed hat and pearls, Ms Thatcher then read from Ephesians 6: 10-18. The passage calls on Christians to stand against the "wiles of the devil": "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

A family friend said: "She and her brother are both committed Christians and it gives them an inner confidence. They know they believe."

Lady Thatcher adored her grandchildren, telling an interviewer in the late 1990s: "When my daughter-in-law sends me photographs of the grandchildren, apart from seeing them in the flesh, that is the greatest pleasure I have in the whole year, far exceeding everything else."

Michael, an accomplished American football player at high school, studied at Texas A&M University, and has recently worked for a Republican-aligned political organisation that aims to "educate and empower the Hispanic community with conservative values".

The siblings were born in America but spent much of their childhood in South Africa. They lived in a large house in Cape Town, where Michael played cricket and Amanda had riding lessons.

But after Sir Mark was arrested in 2004 for involvement in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, his wife moved back to Dallas with the children. The couple later divorced and both remarried.

The move, however, cut the children off from their father, who was barred from the US because of a conviction over the coup.

The 12-year-old Amanda reportedly wrote to President George W. Bush asking him to intervene. "You know how you feel about your daughters," she asked. "I want my daddy back in America."  She did not receive a reply.

By last night hundreds of people on Twitter, the social media website, had praised her "captivating" and "pitch perfect" reading.

Nigel Evans, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, said: "If she had been speaking at just a family funeral people can break down and cry but her composure was perfect."



Obama Administration SLASHED Budget for Domestic Bombing Prevention

Barack Obama's administration has cut the budget nearly in half for preventing domestic bombings, MailOnline can reveal.

Under President George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security had $20 million allocated for preventing the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by terrorists working inside the United States. The current White House has cut that funding down to $11 million.

That assessment comes from Robert Liscouski, a former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 that killed three Americans and injured at least 173 others.

He told MailOnline that the Obama-era DHS is, on the whole, about as well-positioned as it was during the Bush administration to handle the aftermath of the April 15 bombings in Boston, 'but the Obama administration has continued to cut the budget for offices such as the Office for Bombing Prevention from $20 million started under Bush, to $11 million today.'



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