Thatcher’s critics take to the streets as Labour councils refuse to lower flags

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THE nationwide divisions over Lady Thatcher’s funeral were emphasised when several Labour-run councils in Yorkshire said they would not lower their flags to half-mast this morning.

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Miners arrive at Easington Colliery club for today's gathering as the funeral of Baroness Thatcher takes place.

Miners arrive at Easington Colliery club for today's gathering as the funeral of Baroness Thatcher takes place.

Sheffield, Wakefield and Barnsley all insisted it was not necessary to lower their flags, as the former Prime Minister’s funeral is not a formal state send-off.

Most other authorities in the region told the Yorkshire Post they will be lowering their flags, including Leeds, North Yorkshire, Kirklees, Selby and Rotherham.

But a spokesman for Sheffield City Council said: “We will not be lowering the Town Hall flag on Wednesday. This is not a state funeral, and this is consistent with the approach taken by Sheffield City Council in the past.”

Anti-Thatcher protesters took to the streets today to express anger at the cost of the former prime minister’s funeral.

Protesters outside the Courts of Justice in the Strand prior to the funeral service of Baroness Thatcher

Protesters outside the Courts of Justice in the Strand prior to the funeral service of Baroness Thatcher

Dramatic protests are expected to take place in Yorkshire’s former mining communities, where hatred of Baroness Thatcher and her policies still cuts deep.

Residents of Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, were this morning preparing to pull a replica of her coffin through the streets before setting it ablaze.

An effigy of the late Tory leader had been strung up in a noose outside the Union Jack social club with signs reading: “Thatcher the milk snatcher” and “Thatcher the scab”.

One home in the town displayed a huge sign saying: “The Lady’s not for turning but tonight she’ll be for burning.”

The coffin of Baroness Thatcher rests in the Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath the Houses of Parliament

The coffin of Baroness Thatcher rests in the Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath the Houses of Parliament

Residents stopped to take photos of the Rusty Dudley pub in the High Street, which was decked out with bunting and banners that said: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Thatcher’s Britain has gone bust” and “That’s another fine mess you’ve got us into Maggie”.

Protester Charmain Kenner, 58, had her back turned as Lady Thatcher’s coffin went past Trafalgar Square in the hearse.

She said: “Thatcher’s policies were all about individualistic materialism.

“She created a much greater divide between rich and poor, she ruined many communities and many industries.

“Basically, she ruined this country and, to add insult to injury, we’re expected to pay for her funeral.

“We’re going to be living with Thatcher’s legacy for a long time yet.”

Ms Kenner, who carried a sign bearing the words “If there’s no such thing as society pay for your own funeral”, said she had attended a party to celebrate Lady Thatcher’s death.

“I was proud that Brixton spoke out,” she said.

“There were many other events around the country that went unreported.

“I’ve been protesting against Margaret Thatcher since the 1980s and I shall continue to do so.”

Rows broke out between supporters of Lady Thatcher and demonstrators outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

A pensioner, dressed in a suit and black tie, called Phil Williams, was holding a banner saying “Rest in Shame”, a “piece of s***”, to loud cheers.

“Sorry, but it needs saying, they’re burying an old woman,” he said.

The pensioner was led along the pavement by police but released as he was heckled in turn by demonstrators.

That was preceded by a row between bank worker Nic Ashworth, 32, originally from Rochdale and Nick Lill, 46, an artist from London.

What started out as a heated exchange boiled, simmered then evaporated after 10 minutes.

“It’s good having a debate,” said Mr Ashworth.

“I completely understand if you were a mill worker or a miner.

“My dad was a Labour supporter back then but now thinks she did great things for the country.

“Look at the facts and stop blaming the past.

“Did soldiers returning from the war just stop their lives and refuse to get on? No they didn’t.”

Mr Lill disagreed saying today’s funeral with all its pomp sickened him.

A protester who gave her name only as Helen stood outside St Paul’s during the funeral service, wearing a mask of Lady Thatcher’s face.

“It would be lovely if other pensioners could spend their last days in luxury at the Ritz,” she said.

“I don’t really care about Thatcher’s death. She obviously didn’t really care about the poor or elderly, or those with dementia when she was prime minister.

“I think it’s really scandalous that we’ve spent all this money and time on her funeral. It just adds insult to injury.”

The 45-year-old, from London, added: “I think she ruined Britain’s manufacturing industry, which is something the current Government are always harping on about.

“I think she started the culture of vilifying the poor and the disabled and I just think the current Government are following Thatcher’s policies.”

Patricia Welsh, a 69-year-old retired youth worker, joined the Facebook-organised demonstration at the junction of Ludgate Hill and Ludgate Circus in central London.

She said: “I am absolutely furious that Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to spend £10 million on a funeral when normal people are having to face cutbacks, libraries are closing and the NHS is being cut - for the funeral of a Conservative woman.

“Like anyone else she deserves a decent funeral, but not at the expense of the taxpayer.”

The pensioner said 2013 reminds her of living in the 1980s.

“If you’re on benefits you’re made to feel like a scrounger and evil,” she said.

Others took a stance against the “glorifying” of Lady Thatcher’s funeral and cuts to the welfare state.

Dave Winslow, 22, an anthropology student from Durham, was joined by three others at Ludgate Circus, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the funeral service was taking place.

Holding an acrylic placard reading “Rest of us in Poverty” and wearing a T-shirt with the messages “Power to the people” and “Society does exist”, he said up to 200 demonstrators were expected.

“We plan to turn our backs,” he said. “We want to maintain a dignified protest, it’s counter-productive to cat-call and sing Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.

“The message is that spending £10 million on such a divisive figure in times of austerity, especially when austerity is being imposed on the poor, is wrong, especially when harm is being caused to the disabled and the NHS.

“I think quite a few disabled people have died since being pushed into jobs they’re unsuitable for.

“I have a friend up north who skips meals in order to feed a child.

“The working class are really being crushed by the rising costs of living and welfare cuts.

“The Government wants to glorify this. It is a massive propaganda campaign to idolise Margaret Thatcher.”

Rebecca Lush Blum, 41, has set up a Facebook event encouraging protesters to turn their backs as the cortege passes.

Outside St Paul’s, she told Sky News: “Margaret Thatcher brought division. She made the rich richer and the poor poorer. We had one of the highest levels of unemployment under Margaret Thatcher.

“I don’t want to celebrate her legacy in this way. I decided to pull people together and stage the most appropriate protest in the circumstances.”

She added: “It’s provocative to have a state funeral for such a controversial politician. I don’t want to shout or boo.

“I want to remember and respect all those who suffered under Margaret Thatcher.”

Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who will be a guest at the service, repeated calls for a “dignified” response to the event.

“As far as the protests, everybody has the right to protest, that is part and parcel of living in a democracy, but it is whether people do it in a dignified way,” he told ITV Daybreak.

The divisive nature of Lady Thatcher was exemplified in a row on the street between a protester who was talking to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice and a passer-by.

Phil Williams, 58, of Shotton, North Wales, was carrying a banner reading “Rest In Shame” when he was interrupted by a man from Birmingham.

Mr Williams, who used to work in power production, was criticising Lady Thatcher’s record and saying “not everybody in this country thought she was a great thing”, when the passer-by, dressed in a jumper and wearing glasses, stopped and said: “Well, actually, most did - she won three elections.”

The pair rowed about their different perspectives, slowly becoming more animated, hands waving and fingers pointing before they agreed to disagree.

Mr Williams said to his opponent: “I’m here because people like you who don’t come from north of the Watford gap...” before he was interrupted with “Well, I’m from Birmingham, actually.”

“How can you believe all that and be from Birmingham?” asked Mr Williams.

Mr Williams said he did not think it was wrong to demonstrate at a funeral.

“Look at what she did to the North, steel works, mining, the poll tax.

“She trialled all these things in the North and made criminals out of a million people.

“I have no regard for the woman.”

In Baroness Thatcher’s home town of Grantham, dozens gathered to pay their final respects to the Iron Lady.

Many came together inside Grantham Museum to watch the funeral of the former prime minister broadcast live on a big screen.

There was a sombre atmosphere at the museum, which is usually closed on Wednesdays but opened its doors specially for the funeral, as mourners silently watched the funeral procession as it made its way through the streets of London.

Christine Taylor travelled from Lincoln to be at the museum on Wednesday morning.

Retired Mrs Taylor, 66, said she would have liked to have been on the streets of London to pay her respects but was happy to be in Baroness Thatcher’s home town, where she was born and raised.

Mrs Taylor said she appreciated Baroness Thatcher’s years in power had been divisive but she believed she was a wonderful prime minister.

“I think people forget the way Britain was before she came to power,” she said.

“They forget the winter of discontent.”

She went on: “I felt Mrs Thatcher was somebody who was going to stand up for people.

“I know she has been divisive but I think she was a great leader.”

Stephen Storey, 55, a university health librarian from Swansea, broke into his holiday in Rutland to join mourners at the museum.

He said he thought Baroness Thatcher had been an outstanding leader.

“I think she was great in terms of what she achieved,” he said.

“I remember the 70s and it was a very depressing time.”

Mr Storey said he thought her death was the “passing of an era” and while Baroness Thatcher might not have been successful today, what she achieved at the time was very important.

A book of condolence was opened at the museum just after Baroness Thatcher’s death and has so far been signed by more than 1,000 people.