Today we have a pseudo state funeral for Margaret Thatcher. I fear that this has set an unfortunate precedent. In future, are we likely to see similar demands for all deceased Prime Ministers? What are the requirements. If you had to win three elections and start a war, then Blair will most certainly qualify. He won three elections and started five wars. I can see no possible reason for denying him. If the decision is simply based on the fact that some people didn't like him, then Thatcher would most certainly have been denied her big day.
I think that we should have, rather late in the day, a state service for Harold Wilson. I believe the late Lord Wilson actually had a far greater influence than Thatcher and most of it was for the universal good. Lets look at some of his (seemingly forgotten) career highlights.
1. Won three general elections.
2. Created the Open University, allowing hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, who would never had access to a University Education, to better themselves. This is perhaps his greatest and most forgotten legacy.
3. Kept the UK out of Vietnam. Wheras Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron all committed British troops to campaigns in far flung corners of the earth (usually because of their other failures), Wilson turned down a request from the USA to assist in Vietnam, doubtlessly saving hundreds, if not thousands of British troops lives, in pursuit of a pointless and futile goal.
4. Gave the People a referendum on Europe. UKIP and the rabid right forget that Wilson was the only Prime Minister who let the people have their say.
5. Swathes of socially progressive legistlation. During the 1966-70 period, the Wilson government, with Roy Jenkins as home secretary passed swathes of socially progressive legislation, modernising the British state and British attitudes.
6. Won the World Cup. England won the world cup with Harold Wilson at the helm. Thatcher hated football and would have been quite happy to have abolished the sport.
7. The swinging sixties. During Wilsons reign, the sixties were in full swing and everyone felt positive about Britain. London was the place to be. Ted Heath was elected in 1970 and things were never quite the same again. Whilst people blame Labour for the economic failures of the 1970's, the Heath regime (of which Thatcher was a cabinet minister) was responsible for the period of steepest decline. The miners strikes, the three day week were all during Tory rule. By the time Wilson got back in, with a minority government, the damage had been done. Wilsons second period as Prime Minister was one of managing the fallout from the disasters of Ted Heath.
Of course, the last thing Harold Wilson would have wanted was a state funeral. He was a humble and decent chap. It is often reported that of all the Prime Ministers that served under Queen Elizabeth, Harold Wilson was her favourite. It is said that he was the last Prime Minister who would, in his weekly chats with the queen, brief her on what was happening, then ask her opinion and listen to her advice. He respected her views and knew she'd be around long after he was forgotten. He knew that she had a far better personal insight into the way the other leaders around the world thought. She also had a longer and better perspective on the systems that supported them. It is sad to report that none of her successors took quite the same view of her majesties role.
Today sees the start of a new era of how we commemorate departed leaders. Having honoured Thatcher, we are stuck with the precendent. Will John Major get one? I doubt too many Tories will make the case for him. Blair? That will be an interesting discussion when the time comes. Brown? Well he never actually won an election, but he did save the world, don't you remember. And best of all David Cameron. Well no one is sure whether he really won or lost the last election. No one is sure what he stands for.
In a time of austerity, we have a spectacle today that I hope is a one off. Winston Churchill did save the country and lead a government of national unity. He deserved a state funeral. I don't think any of his successors deserved one. The Thatcher funeral is a political device to serve the ends of the Conservative Party. That is why I find it repulsive. I think the funeral of Harold Wilson, is the model we should adopt going forward.