LONDON, UK — Before dawn broke over central London Monday morning, armed forces personnel and others rehearsed their parts in the upcoming funeral for former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
On Wednesday, a gun carriage containing the coffin of the UK’s first female prime minister will travel nearly two miles from the Palace of Westminster to St. Paul’s Cathedral, down streets lined with members of Britain’s armed forces.
Those of the 2,000 invitees confirmed to attend the service include the queen, who has not been to a prime minister’s funeral since Winston Churchill’s service in 1965, current Prime Minister David Cameron, all surviving former prime ministers and luminaries ranging from former South African President F.W. de Klerk to composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
Not everyone gathered along the procession route will be in mourning, however. Police are anticipating protests along the route, in an event that could become a security nightmare.
Police are scanning social media reports and considering pre-emptive arrests against those planning to disrupt the procession, the Independent reported.
One group of demonstrators has pledged to turn their backs to the coffin as it passes them by at the intersection of Fleet Street and Chancery Lane.
“Many people want to mark their opposition to Thatcher’s funeral, but do not want to risk arrest or being 'kettled' for hours,” wrote organizer Rebecca Lush Blum on a Facebook page called “Turn Your Back on Thatcher.” “We'll be turning our backs as her funeral procession passes, for the multitude of different reasons we all harbor.”
“We will show the world that Britain is not all united in grief,” Blum wrote. She wrote that the group has already received permission from Scotland Yard. All demonstrators in the UK are required to give police at least six days advance notice of any planned protests.
The service is expected to cost about £10 million ($15 million) with the bulk of the cost picked up by the state. Tim Ellis, the Bishop of Grantham (Thatcher's home town) said the eyebrow-raising price tag sent a bad message at a time when the UK is instituting wide-ranging benefit cuts.
“I think that in a context where there is manifestly great ill-feeling about her tenure and about her legacy, to then actually have a situation where we seem to be expecting the nation to glorify that with a £10 million funeral ... I think any sensible person would say that that is asking for trouble,” he told The Times newspaper.
“It plays into the hands of those more extreme people who will use the funeral as an opportunity to promote certain political views.”
Indeed, the Iron Lady has proved as controversial in death as she was in life.
Last week saw an online campaign to get the song “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” — one from “The Wizard of Oz” soundtrack — in the Top 40 and thus onto BBC Radio 1’s weekly broadcast, and an ensuing controversy over whether the program would actually air the song if they succeeded. (Result: the song made it to #2 on the chart, and the BBC ran a five-second clip along with a brief news story about the melee.)
In the 1990s, an anarchist group called Class War pledged to hold a party in Trafalgar Square at 6 p.m. on the first Saturday after Margaret Thatcher died — whenever that would be.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people fulfilled the promise Saturday night, in a crowd that included ex-miners from the union defeated in the miner’s strike of the 1980s and a giant redheaded effigy of Thatcher that was set on fire just before midnight in front of the National Gallery. The party lasted until 2 a.m. Police arrested 16 people for drunk or disorderly conduct and for assaulting police.
In a park near north London’s Alexandra Palace Sunday, two graffiti artists painted a mural with a sharp-fanged caricature of Thatcher and the words “The Witch Is Dead” on a wall next to the toddler playground.