Hundreds join anti-Thatcher 'party' in London's Trafalgar Square
Hundreds of opponents of Margaret Thatcher filled London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday evening for a rain-soaked celebration of the former British prime minister’s death earlier this week.
Former coal miners involved in the year-long strike against the Iron Lady’s government in the 1980s joined far-left activists and students to drink to her demise.
An effigy of the former Conservative leader was carried through the crowd beneath Nelson’s Column, complete with her trademark string of pearls and bouffant hair made from orange plastic bags.
There was a strong police presence for the demonstration, after trouble erupted at several impromptu street celebrations following Thatcher’s death from a stroke on Monday at the age of 87.
But the atmosphere was more street carnival than riot, with people of all ages – many of them barely born when she left office in 1990 – dancing, playing tambourines, blowing whistles and horns.
There were a few isolated scuffles with police and nine people were arrested, five of them for being drunk and disorderly, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.
Several of those attending said they were also planning to protest at Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday by lining the processional route and turning their backs when her coffin goes past.
The ceremony will fall short of a full state funeral but it will involve 700 members of the armed forces and be attended by Queen Elizabeth II among 2,000 global political figures and celebrities.
Newly released details of the service confirm that Prime Minister David Cameron and Thatcher’s granddaughter Amanda will both give readings from the Bible, and traditional hymns will be sung.
The former premier’s daughter Carol Thatcher earlier said she was bracing for a “tough and tearful week”.
In her first public comments since her mother’s death, the 59-year-old said she had been moved by the “magnificent” tributes to Britain’s first female prime minister from around the world.
Standing in front of the family home in central London near her twin brother Mark, she said: “I feel like anyone else who has just lost a second parent.” Their father Denis died in 2003.
She added: “I know that this is going to be a tough and tearful week, even for the daughter of the Iron Lady.”
The Trafalgar Square event was organised on social media sites and driven by a call two decades ago by some of Thatcher’s opponents to hold a party on the first Saturday after her death.
The square is one of London’s biggest tourist hubs and the scene of a riot in 1990 against the poll tax, a deeply unpopular local levy which contributed to Thatcher’s fall that year.
Among the crowd on Saturday were ex-miners from the north of England, who saw their communities devastated in a wave of pit closures during Thatcher’s 11 years in power from 1979 to 1990.
While supporters credit her with helping to end the Cold War and with reinvigorating the British economy, critics accuse her of putting millions out of work with her radical free-market reforms.
David Douglass, a former miner and member of the National Union of Mineworkers from Yorkshire, said he had been “very pleased” to hear of Thatcher’s death.
He said she was a “terrible woman” and added: “We’re absolutely furious at this image that is being presented on television, that the whole country is in mourning.”
Sigrid Holmwood, a 34-year-old Scottish artist living in London, came well-prepared for the rain with a special umbrella reading “ding dong” on the front.
A song from the hit musical The Wizard of Oz, Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead, has become a rallying cry for anti-Thatcher sentiment since her death and has shot up the singles charts this week.
“I came here today, I wouldn’t say to celebrate, but protesting against millions of public money being spent on her funeral when there are [government spending] cuts that affect the sick or the disabled,” Holmwood told news agency AFP.
Elsewhere on Saturday, some fans of Liverpool football club held up anti-Thatcher banners at a Premier League match reading “We’re gonna have a party” and chanted “Maggie’s dead, dead, dead”.
Police are mounting a major security operation for Wednesday’s funeral, when Thatcher’s coffin will be taken to St Paul’s Cathedral through streets lined with members of the armed forces.