National Archives: ‘Wrong for me to read St Paul’s lesson’

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Margaret Thatcher tried to keep politics out of a Falklands Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, files have revealed.

As preparations were being made for the service on 26 July, 1982, Mrs Thatcher said it would be “wrong” for her to read a lesson and could “leave a bad taste”.

In a further effort to avoid any “political element” intruding into the service, the prime minister also questioned whether she would be the right person to say farewell to the Queen afterwards.

As arrangements were being made for the service, a note from the prime minister’s private secretary for overseas affairs, John Coles, to private secretary Clive Whitmore discussed the possibility of her reading the first lesson.

He wrote: “My own instinct is that with all the uncertainties that remain about the service the Prime Minister would be well advised not to read a lesson.”

Mrs Thatcher noted by hand: “Agreed – it would be wrong for me to do so.

“It would be much more appropriate for CDS [Chief of the Defence Staff] or C in C fleet [Commander-in-Chief Fleet] to read the lesson. If I did it, would be misinterpreted and leave a bad taste. No politicians in my view!”

On 15 July, a letter from the Ministry of Defence to the PM’s office asked about the possibility of Mrs Thatcher and the Chief of the Defence Staff saying farewell to the Queen after the service. On this, the prime minister wrote: “Am I the right person to do it? I shouldn’t like to intrude any political element into this service. MT.”

The file also shows concerns over the then Dean of St Paul’s, the Rev Alan Webster. He was blamed by some for notes of concern for Argentine, as well as British, casualties. The file reveals discussions over his idea – later ignored – that the service could contain a Spanish translation of the Lord’s Prayer.