The week in review: A battle over Maggie’s corpse
For most dead people, there would be something unseemly about a political battle over their still-warm corpse. Not for Maggie, who was a seasoned political warrior, a frontline politician who got down and dirty with the best of them. "Yes, I'm rather enjoying this," she observed once, during a Commons fight. There was plenty for her to savour in the week of her death.
The week saw plenty of carefully-worded diplomatic statements but its biggest falsehood was that the reaction was personal, not political. In actual fact, it was profoundly political. Supporters and opponents knew her death was their last chance to cement their interpretation of her legacy in the national consciousness.
From the moment the news broke, conservatives tried to elevate this most partisan of leaders to the status of a national unity figure. Any criticism was ruled out of order. A statue was suggested for Trafalgar Square. A new airport would be named in her memory. The funeral would need to be an official state occasion. It was quite excessive.
Sections of the left behaved as we always knew they would – dancing in the street and smashing up charity shops. It's a bizarre way to handle the death of someone they dislike for her lack of compassion, admittedly. It was predictable and unseemly, but the relatively few party-goers were handed far more media coverage than they had any right to expect.
More respectable opponents of the Iron Lady restricted themselves to commenting on aspects of her character no-one could disagree with. Hundreds of responses could be summarised as: 'I may not have agreed with what she believed, but she definitely did believe in it.' It became tiresome very quickly.
By the end of the first day, it was plain that Britain was as divided over Thatcher as it had ever been.
Parliament was recalled despite being only a few days away from returning from recess anyway. Tory MPs filled their benches, making long dinner party speeches with apparently humorous anecdotes about the former PM. On the Labour side, half the MPs stayed away and half tried to present their blatant hatred in sombre, respectful tones. Apart from Glenda Jackson, who just went a little mad and started shouting about how she wasn't a woman.
Cameron and Miliband found precisely the right tone by the way – especially the Labour leader, who had a particularly tricky road to navigate and did so commendably.
Despite all the editorialising and wall-to-wall coverage, the Tories weren't benefitting from the focus on their most electorally successful leader. Three polls put them at an all-time low.
Meanwhile, plans for the funeral were put in place. The Queen, rather unusually, said she would attend, along with a phalanx of international leaders. Also: Jeremy Clarkson.
What begins as tragedy is always replayed as farce. The end of the week was dominated by calls from the Telegraph and the Daily Mail to have the BBC censor Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead. The old Judy Garland jingle was crawling its way to number one in the singles chart, and the grand opponents of Leveson didn't believe the nation could handle it.
The corporation responded as only it can: endless meetings followed by a ridiculous compromise which pleased no-one. It would not be played, they decided, but it would feature for five seconds in a news story. Basically, the national broadcaster was treating film music from eighty years ago like depleted uranium.
Thatcher. You have to give her credit. Even in death, she provoked the most angry, silly British nonsense imaginable.