Local MP Diane Abbott has criticised the Government for its “unprecedented” treatment of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, which has been speculated as costing around £10m of public money, on the morning of the event.
Abbott, Labour frontbencher and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, pointed out on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that every other prime minister of the last 100 years, apart from Winston Churchill had been given a private, family-organised funeral.
She said: “The fact is, she was Prime Minister, she wasn’t head of state and she’s not strictly speaking, entitled to a state funeral.
“I think it’s a question of protocol. I mean (Clement) Attlee had a private family funeral and a memorial service in Temple Church on the Strand, and there’s an argument that Attlee reshaped Britain as much as she did. There is just no precedent, it’s a breach of protocol and it’s going to cost £10m.”
Abbott said it was “important” for someone to question the cost: “Ten million when you’re cutting disabled people’s benefits; I don’t think the public understands that.
“The polls tell us, 60 per cent of the public doesn’t think a penny of public money should be spent on this funeral and actually we seem to be spending £10million on what is a state funeral in all but name.”
Abbott also said that prime minister David Cameron “runs the risk” turning Lady Thatcher’s funeral into “a party political event”.
Cameron, also speaking today, defended the expenditure as “absolutely fitting and right” and was supported by previous Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson. However, many present Labour party members have joined Abbott in speaking out against the ceremonial nature of the funeral, labelling an alleged move by Francis Maude to hide the full costs from the public as “indefensible”.
Speaking on television this morning, Maude said the funeral would will cost “much, much less” than reported. He said the state would always pay the costs of the funeral and memorial service of a former prime minister and added that Lady Thatcher’s family would be bearing some of the cost.
Speaking on ITV’s Daybreak programme, Maude said it was right in a “decent country” that her contribution should be recognised. “The costs will be a fraction of what is being bandied around,” he said.
Abbott’s comments are unlikely to stem from any personal dislike of Thatcher, having spoken highly of her in a 2010 interview with the Daily Telegraph in which she said: “You had to marvel at the grip she had over her party. It had to do with loyalty and personality and the fear from male colleagues who really didn’t know how to deal with her.”