The Guardian and Independent had been working themselves into a fit for days at the prospect of a revival of their fake working class protests. Too much of the media coverage, even by conservative outlets was focused on the left’s antics enabling them to hijack Margaret Thatcher’s death for their own childish sabotage.
But the procession nullified all that as people came out to pay their respects in a way that she would have appreciated, giving the Iron Lady one last round of applause and drowning out the jeers of students pretending to be workers.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. No one knew who’d started it – perhaps it was purely instinctual. But as the hearse came into view, the crowds found themselves breaking into applause – applause that followed the hearse all the way along the route, until it drew up at the church of St Clement Danes. Then, once the coffin had been loaded on to the gun carriage, and the horses moved off, the applause started again – and followed the procession all the way to St Paul’s.
Down the roads it spread and spread, gently rippling, a long impromptu chain of respect and appreciation.
The applause wasn’t rowdy; there were no whoops or whistles. It was steady, warm, dignified. But it was also, somehow, determined. At Ludgate Circus, protesters began to boo and jeer – only to find the rest of the crowd applauding all the more loudly to drown them out.
It has often been said that Baroness Thatcher appealed to the silent majority. They weren’t silent now.
From Westminster to St Paul’s, mourners crammed the pavements, in places standing 12 deep. Many people wore suits or dark dress; some were in bowler hats and tweed.
On the pavements of the Strand, outside St Clement Danes – the church of the RAF – there was barely room to breathe. Behind the barriers, the crowd had been swelling for over an hour before the hearse was due to arrive.
Men climbed railings to see above the massed heads. Children clambered on to the bench of the bus shelter. Office balconies thronged. People shifted restlessly, desperate for a view.
The hearse arrived to applause. Then, as the coffin was carried into the church by the bearer party, there rose a sea of arms, as each mourner struggled to establish a clear view for his or her cameraphone.
While the service was under way inside, the crowds stood silent. A breeze fluttered through their hair. Raindrops dabbed their cheeks.
I glanced at the elderly woman standing alongside me. Her face was a mask of tears.
After the procession had moved on, many people stayed where they were, reflecting on what they’d seen.
“It was wonderful,” said Richard Barnes, 69, a retired farmer. “From all the stories this week you’d have thought there’d be twice as many protesters as supporters – but it’s been nothing like it. I saw one [anti-Thatcher] placard across the road, and that’s it.”
He’d have seen more protesters further along the route – but not many. Some turned their backs on the procession. Some brandished placards, attacking the cost of the funeral. Some waved milk bottles, as a reminder of the old taunt, “Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher”. Some shouted, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead.” A few, bizarrely, squabbled with each other (“You’ve ruined this protest!”).
Baroness Thatcher’s enemies, fighting among themselves: it was like the 1980s all over again.
The greatest accomplishment of a leader is to give the people the strength to fight for what is theirs. The Thatcher funeral may have reminded many of the great sleeping strength of the people to cast off the nanny state.