Thatcher's funeral

Playwright Ed Waugh, who co-wrote <em>Maggie's End</em>, attacks the news of a state funeral for Con

Gordon Brown’s announcement that he and his acolytes have drawn up a £3m plan to give Margaret Thatcher a state funeral is a disgrace and an unforgivable betrayal of the millions of Labour and trade union people who have constantly cast their votes for the party.

Thatcher’s elevation to prime minister in 1979 unleashed an unprecedented attack on the living standards and democratic rights of working people in this country; market forces guided every aspect of British life, lining the pockets of her cronies under the guise of “rolling back the frontiers of the state”.

Her centralised government completely undermined UK manufacturing, destroyed jobs and local democracy and decimated communities. In the pursuit of greed, state assets were privatised, trade union activities were outlawed and council houses sold off. Even the lives of older people in care homes were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

November 22, 1990, will forever be etched in the collective memory of working people - it was the day a tearful Thatcher left Downing Street having been dumped by her own party.

History, they say, is written by the victors and hence Sir Geoffrey Howe gets the credit for bringing her down by saying something nasty about her European policy. Rubbish!

The millions of us who were on the extra-parliamentary front line campaigning against the iniquitous policies of the Conservatives throughout the 1980s, know that the more astute sections of her party realised after the selfless miners strike of 1984/85, the heroic battle of Liverpool City Council and the fortitudinous struggle of the anti-poll tax campaign she was a lame duck head of state. Howe’s historical role was merely to administer the knife in her back. Give him his due, he did it beautifully.

The scars of Thatcher’s decade still run deep and her name is often followed by the sound of spit hitting the floor, especially in the major cities of the UK.

Having experienced eleven years of New Labour attacks on the rights of working people, the creeping privatisation of education and health, and a reactionary foreign policy, it comes as no surprise that the New Labour leaders are keen to give their mentor a state funeral.

After all, Thatcher was hardly an ogre to Tony and Cherie Blair (they attended her 80th birthday party) and Gordon Brown, who last September invited Thatcher for tea at 10 Downing Street.

Of course this little state funeral arrangement had been discussed at the top level of New Labour for a few years now but brushed under the carpet and denied when raised by concerned MPs like Ronnie Campbell.

Mr Campbell, a former miner, was last year prevented from putting forward an Early Day Motion asking the government to publicly confirm that they would “never commemorate her cruel and divisive reign in this manner".

It was two years ago that I first heard a report at around 2am on Radio 5 that New Labour were considering giving Thatcher a state funeral. I couldn’t believe my ears. The report was subsequently dropped but amid my anger I told my writing partner, Trevor Wood. We wondered what the consequences would be if New Labour were determined to give her a state funeral.

The end result of that initial conversation was our play, Maggie's End, which premiered at the Gala theatre in Durham last October and attracted nearly 2,000 people.
 
The play, which explored the repercussions of such a crass betrayal across the nation and in one particular family, foresaw spontaneous and mass popular demonstrations against the funeral.
 
While mainly ignored by the London-centric theatre critics, Maggie’s End attracted a great deal of interest in the local media, though ironically many people believed that the initial premise was too far-fetched!

Now that it has become a reality, this initial reaction reflects just how out of touch New Labour’s leaders are with ordinary people, especially as they do not realise their misguided state funeral proposal will divide the country and re-open the social and political sores of the 1980s.

It seriously raises the question whether New Labour can now legitimately claim any semblance of representing working people.

Their embarrassment will be complete when a million people hit the streets of London to prevent the charade from going ahead.

The upshot of Maggie’s End, incidentally, sees the New Labour government arrest the socialist organisers of the state funeral protest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Don’t bet against these traitors doing that, also!

For more information email Ed Waugh

Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood have: Dirty Dusting on at the Fortune Theatre, New Zealand, until July 26

Son of Samurai on at the Latitude Festival (July 18 and 19)

Waiting For Gateaux at Winchester Theatre Royal (July 22 and 26)