The funeral for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher takes place today in London with full military honors. Not since Sir Winston Churchill, the famous Second World War leader, has the British state bestowed such an honor on a deceased prime minister.
British monarch Queen Elizabeth II will attend the funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral for Thatcher, who died last week at the age of 87. The last time the head of the British state attended such an occasion was nearly 60 years ago, in 1965, for the funeral of Churchill. On that occasion, the British public was largely supportive of the farewell ceremony, as Winston Churchill was seen as the redoubtable leader of a national unity government during a period of great crisis.
But why such an honor is being afforded to Lady Thatcher – a partisan and bitterly divisive politician – is an inflammatory issue. What’s more, despite the widespread public contempt for Thatcher, the British state is foisting a high-profile day of mourning, at an estimated cost of $16 million – exceeding that of the funerals for the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.
The forced mourning and the military trappings is, of course, an ideological, propaganda stunt by the British state. In the face of public opposition to the stately honoring of Thatcher, today’s proceedings smack of dictatorship by Britain’s ruling elite. The occasion – paid for by the austerity-clobbered British taxpayer – is also being seen as an indulgence in British jingoism and imperialism.
In that way, the late Baroness Thatcher is to receive a funeral fit for a dictator. Amid gun salutes and a horse-drawn carriage, her flag-draped coffin will be given a full military guard of honor. Regiments and armed-service personnel will be drawn from the ranks of the Royal Air Force, Navy and Army. Personnel from regiments and warsships that featured prominently in Britain’s 1982 war with Argentina over Las Malvinas will carry her coffin up the steps of St Paul’s.
Other late British prime ministers of equal and more stature to Thatcher, such as Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Edward Heath, were consigned to history without any of the pageantry on display today. Why is the so-called Iron Lady being given such special privilege, especially when her public esteem is so low? It is all to do with British statecraft subtly elevating the pillars of the British state – class oppression and militarism.
In another symbol of state deification of Thatcher, the iconic Big Ben clock tower at Westminster Palace will be silenced during the funeral proceedings. Again, the last and only time Big Ben was silenced during its 155 years was for the funeral of Winston Churchill.
Churchill was a drunk, a racist and a mass-murdering imperialist, but at least he had a veneer of respect among the British public. Whereas Thatcher’s memory is one of an unvarnished demagogue who destroyed British industry and society more than German Luftwaffe bombers ever did, and yet the public is being dragooned into paying final respects. Her state-forced funeral is therefore a glaring insight into the unilateral rule of the British oligarchy.
The pomp and ceremony over Thatcher’s passing through the streets of the British capital today, including tight security arrangements for hundreds of international dignitaries, would be nowhere afforded, and therefore staged, if it weren’t for the taxpayer stumping the bill. The irony of that is that Thatcher supposedly stood for private financing and enterprise and against any form of state economic intervention. If her funeral were carried out strictly in accord with her supposed ideological principles, the occasion would pass off today as a minor footnote. Instead, the British ruling class is closing ranks to ensure that one of its dutiful political defenders is elevated to national and world stature – and, to boot, getting the oppressed working people of Britain to pay for the propaganda stunt.
As in life, so too in death, Margaret Thatcher continues to incite controversy and public outrage. Britain’s only female premier, she was elected three consecutive times between 1979-1990 before she was ousted from Downing Street by her own rat-like Conservative Party to appease growing public anger over her sinister policies.
Despite successive elections, her victories in the polls never commanded an outright majority among the British electorate, and her success was more to do with political weakness among Britain’s other main parties, Labor and the Liberals. Even members among her own party referred to her rule as “elected dictatorships.”
More than 20 years after her ouster, millions of Britons detest her memory for the mass unemployment and poverty that Thatcher inflicted with her apocryphal ideology of unfettered capitalism. Millions, too, detested her militarism, which cynically used war over the remote British colonial possession in the South Atlantic – Las Malvinas Islands – as a re-election stunt. Her covert war in Ireland in which she sanctioned the use of death squads and shoot-to-kill policing to terrorize Irish citizens also remains a source of ignominy.
The South Atlantic connection is rather appropriate. During Thatcher’s war with Argentina over Las Malvinas, also known as the Falklands, Britain received crucial military assistance from Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s regime afforded Britain surveillance and territorial cover to defeat neighboring Argentine sea and air forces.
That is why Thatcher remained life-long friends with the Chilean dictator and ensured that his junta received British military contracts despite its appalling human rights record.
When Pinochet died in 2006, he was facing hundreds of indictments for human rights violations, murder and embezzlement of millions of dollars. During his 17-year reign of terror, which began as a US-backed military coup against elected President Salvadore Allende in 1973, more than 3,000 Chileans were murdered, thousands were disappeared, 30,000 were imprisoned and tortured, and some 200,000 political opponents were forced into exile. Many of the latter, accused of being communist subversives, would be later hunted down and killed by Pinochet’s death squads in Operation Condor – with the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency.
That is the kind of person Thatcher associated with. Not those who aspired for democracy in society, but those who aspired to crush democracy. As one Chilean woman living in Britain told media on the news of Thatcher’s death last week:
The Thatcher government directly supported Pinochet’s murderous regime, financially, via military support, even military training. Members of my family were tortured and murdered under Pinochet, who was one of Thatcher’s closest allies and friend. Those of us celebrating are the ones who suffered deeply.
Fittingly, among the hundreds of foreign dignitaries at Thatcher’s funeral today will be FW de Klerk, the last white leader of the apartheid South African state. Thatcher was an ardent supporter of the racist regime that for decades brutally suppressed democratic majority black rule. In her support, Thatcher defied international sanctions imposed on the regime and she denounced the black leader Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist.”
Also in attendance in St Paul’s Cathedral today will be former US vice president Dick Cheney, who was one of the main architects of the American-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, which have destroyed over 1.5 million civilian lives and have turned two sovereign nations into smoldering ruins. Henry Kissinger and James A Baker III, two other wanted US war criminals and figureheads of American imperialism, will be among the mourners lending a touch of solemnity to the passing of Britain’s dictator prime minister.
Like her close friend, Augusto Pinochet, Lady Thatcher’s bodily remains are to be cremated. Pinochet’s family said that procedure was taken in 2006 to avoid vandalism of his burial site – such was the hatred of the fascist dictator. Despite the pomp being afforded by the British state for Thatcher, perhaps the same concerns about public anger underlie the reason for her discreet disposal.
She once arrogantly and famously said of her own intransigent policies, “The Lady is not for turning”. But, the Lady is for burning.