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Ian Swanson: Getting the politics right for the final farewell

  • by Ian Swanson
 

TOMORROW’S funeral for former prime minister Baroness Thatcher has been surrounded by controversy – long before she died.

The event has been years in the planning and as long ago as 2006 there were reports that the then prime minister, Tony Blair, was backing the idea of a full state funeral, despite Lady Thatcher’s status as a hate figure for many in his party.

In the end, the funeral is officially described as “ceremonial” – the same as for the Queen Mother – but many see it as a state funeral in all but name, with 700 military personnel and a horse-drawn gun carriage for the coffin. In reply to critics, Government sources have dismissed claims the cost will be £10 million and stressed the Thatcher family will be making a 
contribution.

Sir Winston Churchill, who died in 1965, was the last prime minister to be given a state funeral. Other leading politicians have been given much more modest send-offs, but the funerals of people such as Labour leader John Smith and First Minister Donald Dewar were emotional national occasions 
nonetheless.

DEATH THAT SHOCKED THE NATION

THE death in May 1994 of Labour leader John Smith, aged 55, after just two years in the job, shocked the nation. His funeral took place at Edinburgh’s Cluny Parish Church, close to his family home and where he often attended the evening service.

Thousands of people thronged the streets for the funeral, which was led by the church’s minister, the Rev George Munro, and included an address by family friend Lord McCluskey and a reading by Labour deputy leader Margaret Beckett. He was laid to rest the following day on the island of Iona, the ancient burial place of Scottish kings.

FATHER OF THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

Donald Dewar, hailed as Father of the Nation for delivering devolution, died in October 2000 after just 18 months as Scotland’s first First Minister.

More than 1300 mourners were at his funeral in Glasgow Cathedral, conducted by the Rev Douglas Alexander, father of Douglas and Wendy. Hundreds more gathered outside to say farewell.

The eulogy was given by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair did a reading.

Mr Dewar’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at Lochgilphead, Argyll.

PRIVATE SERVICE THEN WESTMINSTER MEMORIAL

TORY Alec Douglas-Home – Lord Home of the Hirsel – was prime minister for a year before the 1964 general election.

He died in 1995 at the age of 92 and was buried in Lennel churchyard, Coldstream, in a private funeral attended by 150. A memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey a few months later.

BLAIR HOLIDAY SNUB FOR FOREIGN SECRETARY

FORMER foreign secretary Robin Cook – Labour MP for Edinburgh Central and later Livingston – died suddenly of a heart attack while climbing in the Highlands in 2005.

His funeral was held at St Giles’ Cathedral, with the eulogy delivered by Gordon Brown. Tony Blair was on holiday at the time and controversially chose not to return for the service. Racing pundit John McCririck used his address to attack the Prime Minister’s absence.

The socialist anthem The Internationale was played as the coffin left the cathedral ahead of burial in Grange Cemetery.

SNOW STOPPING MOURNERS

ARTHUR James Balfour, Tory prime minister from 1902 to 1905, was born on his family’s estate at Whittingehame, East Lothian – and was buried there following his death in 1930. After leading his party for nine years and receiving an earldom in 1922, he had died at his brother’s home in Surrey but his body was brought back to Scotland.

At his request a public funeral was declined. Despite snowy weather, mourners came from far and wide.

‘TURNCOAT’ REFUSAL

RAMSAY MacDONALD, illegitimate son of a maid from Lossiemouth, became Labour’s first prime minister in 1924 but was later branded a turncoat for going into coalition with the Tories and Liberals in 1931.

He resigned in 1935 due to failing heath and died just two years later, aged 71, during a sea voyage intended to aid his recovery.

His funeral was held in Westminster Abbey and burial in the abbey was offered, but he was laid to rest alongside his wife at Spynie in his native Morayshire.

DALMENY BURIAL

LORD Rosebery was Liberal prime minister for just over a year following the retirement of William Ewart Gladstone in 1894.

Dalmeny House, near South Queensferry, was the family’s ancestral home but he died in 1929 at one of his other homes, in Surrey.

There was a memorial service at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, before the body was brought by rail to Edinburgh for the funeral the next day at St Giles’ Cathedral and burial at Dalmeny.

 

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