Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Scenes along the funeral route

Early morning, London
It feels like it might rain. I've just finished walking the course, as the commentators say before the racedays, from St Paul's Cathedral down to the Palace of Westminster under a typically slate-grey London sky.

The City of London police are lining the road in their silver buttoned uniforms, service medals shining, white gloves gleaming. They give way to the Met officers at  St Clement Danes, the boundary of the City of London, who have wisely dressed for the weather and not the occasion.

There are crowd barriers all along the two mile route, but apart from the steps of the Cathedral where some of the public have gathered, the streets at 7.30am were only busy with commuters on the way to work.

Behind the railings a group of  Para veterans, in their maroon berets and blazers, have stationed themselves on Ludgate Hill, where protesters had planned to turn their backs on Margaret Thatcher's coffin. If you want to dis-respect Thatcher then I guess you have to get up earlier than a Falklands veteran.

The police will facilitate protest, but not disorder, today. In a completely empty Trafalgar Square it didn't look as if anything was going to kick off soon. But neither did it look as if the streets were going to be thronged with mourners, even if Tory MPs have organised buses to come in from the shires.

Along the Strand and down Whitehall some had forgotten their manners, or perhaps forgotten that their buildings had flagstaffs and that the banners should be lowered.

The Scotland Office was cutting it fine, their St Andrew's Cross and Union flag still flying at 8am, when the government order had all Whitehall departments lowering to half mast from dawn to dusk. That was fixed shortly afterwards, just as the roads were being given a final sweep and sand was being sprayed onto Fleet Street's slimy surface so the bearers would not lose their grip on that last mile.

Big Ben chimed the hour but the further away from the tolling bell, which will be silenced shortly - last chime at 9.45 am  next at 12.59 am -  the less this spectacle resonates.

Two-thirds of  Scotland's councils have refused to lower their flags to half-mast in memory of Margaret Thatcher.

There will be lots of words today, but let's start with  Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson who said it would not be appropriate to mark the funeral.

He said: “It is always sad when someone dies and I offer my condolences to the family of Lady Thatcher. The scenes of people celebrating in the city were embarrassing and distasteful.

“But In terms of the government led by Lady Thatcher, it created social and economic divisions which destroyed families and communities.

“The government she led was a disaster for the city and it would not be appropriate for Glasgow to honour that political legacy with such a tribute.”

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