If there is one day in all our lives on which we are entitled to expect unqualified praise, then surely it is the day of our funeral.
Who amongst us would anticipate, on that day, people to say ‘he was a nice chap, but made some stupid decisions and not many people liked him’ or ‘nice woman, but she was really rude and screwed up badly at work’?
So let it be for Baroness Thatcher. This is not the day to examine her record as Prime Minister, about which anyone who lived through the era will have strong views, either for or against. That’s not to say I won’t return to this at a later date.
No; what I want to consider is the appropriateness of her ceremonial funeral, with military honours, largely funded by the nation (us). I have read, but failed to grasp, the distinction between what happened this morning and a state funeral. It was certainly the only funeral of a former Prime Minister attended by the Queen since that of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, and few would begrudge Sir Winston the unique honour of his state funeral.
However, I believe that the decision taken by the Queen upon the advice, we are led to believe, of Gordon Brown, to grant Lady Thatcher a funeral of the same status as that of the Queen Mother and the Princess of Wales, raises a serious constitutional issue.
There have always been great Prime Ministers, average Prime Ministers and some who frankly will scarcely trouble the computer keyboards of future historians, and hopefully, as long as we have a democracy, there always will be. We, the voters, will decide which is which.
And that’s the point. The voters, not the monarch, are empowered to discern the wheat from the chaff. As soon as the sovereign head of state starts to decide that one Prime Minister is greater than another – in this case greater than all but one – we are on a slippery slope. One of the principal justifications of a constitutional monarch is her/his political neutrality, their ability to deal with Labour and Conservative leaders and to ‘treat those two imposters just the same’. I felt the same unease at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, when Tony Blair – Prime Minister for a decade – was disgracefully omitted from the guest list when all other serving Prime Ministers were invited.
Once the Queen gives the appearance of being politically biased, it must fundamentally change the relationship between her and future Prime Ministers of all hues. And that would be bad for the country.
Now that the pomp and circumstance – immaculately executed as always –is over, a protocol needs to be drawn up on how the deaths of current or former Prime Ministers should be handled in future. I don’t mind particularly what send-off is decided upon by those democratically elected to make such judgments, but what is essential is that they all get the same treatment. That’s what democracy is about.