Big Ben silenced as Holyrood Thatcher row rages

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WESTMINSTER officials today confirmed that London’s iconic clock Big Ben would be silenced for the duration of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said the clock tower bells would be silenced during the funeral as a way to show respect for Thatcher.

A flag draped coffin on a gun carriage is used for a full dress rehearsal. Picture: PA

A flag draped coffin on a gun carriage is used for a full dress rehearsal. Picture: PA

Officials said the last time the bells were silenced was for the funeral of wartime leader Winston Churchill, except for a period when the clock needed repair in the 1970s.

Some opponents to the policies she pursued while in office plan to hold a protest during the funeral procession.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have called for a parliamentary debate on the legacy of Baroness Thatcher to be moved from the day of her funeral.

The Green-Independent group at Holyrood have set aside their allotted time in Parliament to stage the debate on Wednesday, urging all MSPs to participate.

Preparations are carried out for Margaret Thatcher's funeral

Preparations are carried out for Margaret Thatcher's funeral

But Tory MSPs say they will contest the timing of the debate at a meeting of the Parliament’s Business Bureau tomorrow morning.

John Lamont, chief whip for the party, said: “We will be contesting the timing of this motion which seems to have been designed to cause the most upset and controversy.

“The Scottish Conservatives will have no problem participating in this debate when it arrives but we believe the Greens should reconsider whether their own narrow-minded agenda is more important than the funeral of one of the UK’s finest ever leaders.”

Lib Dem business manager Alison McInnes backed the Tory calls for the debate to be moved.

A section of the members of the Royal Navy on the approach to St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, during a full dress rehearsal for the Funeral of Baroness Thatcher the former Prime Minister, which will take place on Wednesday morning. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. picture date: Monday April 15, 2013. See PA story FUNERAL Thatcherl. Photo credit should read; John Stillwell/PA Wire.

A section of the members of the Royal Navy on the approach to St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, during a full dress rehearsal for the Funeral of Baroness Thatcher the former Prime Minister, which will take place on Wednesday morning. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. picture date: Monday April 15, 2013. See PA story FUNERAL Thatcherl. Photo credit should read; John Stillwell/PA Wire.

“Margaret Thatcher was often accused of lacking empathy. It would be a mistake for her opponents to show a similar lack of empathy on the day of her funeral. It is important we remember that Margaret Thatcher was a mother and a grandmother,” she said.

“A consensus is developing that, whatever we thought of her politics, political hostilities should be abandoned on the day that she is laid to rest.”

Speaking at the weekend, Green leader Patrick Harvie said: “Margaret Thatcher has died but the tragedy for huge numbers of people is that Thatcherism as an ideology still lives.

“We aim to encourage honest consideration of the legacy of Thatcherism, the core elements of which, competition and selfishness, continue to affect our society and our economy.”

Business managers from all the parties will attend the bureau meeting and a majority of votes is required to change the timetable which was agreed in March.

Mr Lamont added: “This is a welcome move by the Liberal Democrats, and hopefully the other parties will now follow suit. It is perfectly possible for this debate to be moved to another slot.”

The Minister for Parliamentary Business, Joe FitzPatrick, said: “It is entirely for opposition groups to determine how they use their allocated parliamentary time. It would set a dangerous precedent to interfere with that.

“If the Green party wishes to move its business to another day then we would be happy to facilitate that.”

Funeral rehearsal

A full military rehearsal for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral has taken place in the early hours of Monday morning.

Major Andrew Chatburn, the man in charge of choreographing the parade, said the rehearsal “went very well” and claimed it was “vitally important” to stage a trial of Wednesday’s event.

More than 700 serving Armed Forces personnel gathered in central London before dawn as a Union flag-draped coffin was carried on a horse-drawn gun carriage from St Clement Danes, the church of the Royal Air Force, down the Strand to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Maj Chatburn, ceremonial staff officer for the Household Division, who was also behind the royal wedding procession two years ago and last year’s Diamond Jubilee parade, said: “Timings are most important. We will learn something quite significant this morning about the timings, and to familiarise the troops of their duties.

“Bearing in mind these are sailors, soldiers and airmen who have come in to do this specific task from their routine duties, so it’s new to them.

“They need to see the ground as well so they can get a feel for how it’s going to go and they can perform their duties with confidence on the day.

“I thought it went very well.”

Ding Dong song gave public ‘voice’

Satirist Mark Biddissm, who led an online capaign to get Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to number one in the charts, said the drive had “given a voice” to opponents of Baroness Thatcher.

said he had received “amazing” support from the public and criticised the BBC for choosing to play only a five-second clip of the song as part of a news item during the Radio 1 chart show.

“It has been ridiculous how this has been portrayed. At the end of the day people were trying to get a voice,” he told ITV Day break.

“That song must have hit a nerve because people didn’t have a voice. They have a voice now. Number one in Scotland, number one in Wales,” he said.

“I must say the public have been absolutely supportive. It has been absolutely amazing. It has been worth the occasional death threat I had and the ‘I am a lefty music producer’- I am a satirist, and that is all,” he added.

His remarks come after the song failed to reach the number one spot with the recording, taken from 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, entering the charts at number two.

It was more than 5,000 sales short of this week’s chart-topper Need U (100%) by Duke Dumont featuring A*M*E.

The Official Charts Company described Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead as “one of the most controversial chart contenders of all time”.