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Thatcher funeral marked by passionate debate about legacy

John Alvey wasn't going to miss Margaret Thatcher's funeral, even if it meant checking out of the hospital, driving more than four hours to London and getting up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday to stand among thousands of people outside St. Paul's Cathedral on a cool, grey morning.

Mr. Alvey, 70, barely got a glimpse of the former prime minister's casket as it was carried into the church by a military guard. It was worth it. "She's the last of a type," he said afterward. "We don't have anyone who has got leadership like her any more."

He met Lady Thatcher in the 1980s through some charity work and remains a staunch supporter. There was no doubt he would drive from his home in Shropshire, near the Welsh border, to be at the funeral. "My family is a little worried about me," he confided as he stood with a group of friends holding up a sign with a picture of Lady Thatcher and a caption: "You gave millions of us hope, freedom and ambition. Thank you."

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Graduate student Hannah Matthews, who lives in London, wasn't going to miss the funeral either. She arrived at Trafalgar Square wearing a T-shirt that said on the front: "The values don't represent me" and on the back: "This funeral is a political symbol."

"I don't think this event is representative of the nation as a whole," she said. "Margaret Thatcher has caused huge divided opinion and today is about manipulating a legacy to show that this is representing England as a whole and I don't think that's necessarily fair."

Although out of office for more than 20 years, Lady Thatcher still evokes strong passions and that was clear Wednesday, before, during and after her funeral.

As Ms. Matthews spoke, an elderly woman shook her head and said: "You don't know what you are talking about." Soon a heated debate broke out, with one man angrily reproaching Ms. Matthews and decrying the unions Lady Thatcher took on in the 1980s.

Shruti Choudhary jumped to Ms. Matthews's defence, explaining the deep divisions caused by Thatcherism. Then Hugo van Randwyck stepped in, explaining how Lady Thatcher helped end the Cold War and bring down communism in Eastern Europe. "She stood for freedom," he said.

Back at St. Paul's, Mr. Alvey and his friends were quickly surrounded by anti-Thatcher protesters, prompting another fierce debate about her legacy. "The best thing she did was die last week," yelled one man. A group of union leaders stood nearby and held a banner that read: "No Mourning Here."

It went on like that long after the funeral ended at noon and the 2,300 dignitaries left St. Paul's. As bells rang out and the sky cleared, small groups of people argued about the pros and cons of Lady Thatcher. One man held a megaphone, offered his views and then took questions from the crowd. Another just sang Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead over and over.

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Not everyone had something to say. Neil Horn showed up at Trafalgar Square with a giant loudspeaker. He put it down, flipped a switch to start some accordion music. And then he danced a jig.

Not a state funeral, but a grand one

Technically, Lady Thatcher's funeral was not a state funeral, but it had trappings not seen since the death of Winston Churchill in 1965.

The bells of Big Ben and the great clock at Westminster were silenced during Wednesday's ceremony, something that hadn't happened since the death of Mr. Churchill. The funeral also included roughly 800 soldiers, who stood along the streets as Lady Thatcher's coffin made its way from Westminster to St. Paul's Cathedral on a horse-drawn gun carriage accompanied by a military escort. The scale of the event and its cost, about $15-million, has drawn some criticism. On Tuesday, a handful of MPs, mostly Labour, tried to block a move by the government to suspend parliamentary proceedings during the funeral. George Galloway, a leftist MP from the Respect Party, called the funeral "farcical" during a debate on a motion not to suspend proceedings, which was easily defeated.

The funeral service contained several hymns, prayers and Bible readings, but no eulogies, at Lady Thatcher's request. There was a passage from T.S. Eliot, a section of Gabriel Fauré's Requiem and the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country.

"The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs. Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ism," the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, told the congregation. "There is an important place for debating policies and legacy … but here and today is neither the time nor the place."

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Glory days

Margaret Thatcher's funeral was a chance for old Tories to meet and swap stories about the glory days of the 1980s, when conservatives were in power in Britain, the United States and Canada.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Tory, held a private dinner Tuesday evening at his official residence at 10 Downing St. for a few of the old guard. Among those invited were Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who was in power during part of Lady Thatcher's tenure. The guests also included former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney and former secretary of state James Baker, who was Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. It's not clear what was discussed during the dinner, but one insider said: "It was a night to tell stories." After the funeral on Wednesday, Mr. Harper had lunch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife.

The guest list

The funeral had more than 2,300 guests. Here are some of the notables:

Royals:Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip; Greece's Crown Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of the Hellenes

World dignitaries and public figures:Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former prime minister Brian Mulroney; former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney; former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger; British Prime Minister David Cameron; former British prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major; German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era South African president; U.S. presidential delegation, led by former secretaries of state George Schultz and James Baker; three-member delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives, comprised of Republican Representatives Marsha Blackburn, Michele Bachmann and George Holding; former U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; Poland's Lech Walesa and Prime Minister Donald Tusk; Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos; Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Necas and former president Vaclav Klaus; former Australian prime minister John Howard; former prime minister Mahathir of Malaysia; London Olympics chief Sebastian Coe.

Celebrities:Dynasty star Joan Collins; singer Shirley Bassey; designer Anya Hindmarch; actor and singer Michael Crawford; Top Gear TV personality Jeremy Clarkson; composer Andrew Lloyd Webber; best-selling novelist Jeffrey Archer; Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee; advertising magnate Maurice Saatchi; classical singer Katherine Jenkins.

Notables who turned down their invitations:Former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton; former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan, who asked Fred Ryan, chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, to represent her; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; former U.S. president George W. Bush; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto; Alicia Castro, Argentina's ambassador to the U.K.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More


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