LONDON (Reuters) - Several hundred people turned up for a “party” in central London on Saturday to celebrate the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a mass protest predicted by some failed to materialize.
The British capital’s mayor had warned of potential rioting as organizers promised thousands of opponents of Thatcher, who died aged 87 on Monday, would descend on London’s Trafalgar Square to mark the passing of a leader who was loved and loathed in equal measure.
Current British politicians and world leaders past and present have paid tributes to the former premier, Britain’s longest serving prime minister in over a century, but she continues to divide Britons over policies which saw her crush trade unions and privatize swathes of industry.
The event, which had been planned by left-wing activists in the event of her death decades ago, had been billed as “the party of a lifetime”.
But in cold and rainy conditions, it attracted only several hundred jovial and noisy supporters, chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead”. Some danced to drums and loud dance music, waving banners bearing messages such as “Rot in hell Thatcher”.
Others held up an effigy of Thatcher, complete with light blue suit and handbag, cracked open bottles of champagne which were passed around the small crowd and burnt a mannequin head, shouting “burn Maggie burn”.
“I’ve been waiting to celebrate this for 30 years. Best day of my life,” said Simon Gardner, a wildlife photographer from central England who was wearing a top saying “Rejoice, Rejoice, Thatcher is dead”.
“She was hated by at least half the population.”
There were almost as many police and security personnel visibly present, and a police officer at the scene told Reuters they had expected a far bigger turnout.
Some protesters burned flares and threw beer cans at police lines but apart from a few brief and minor scuffles, the protest was largely peaceful with nine arrests mainly for drunk and disorderly behavior.
Since her death, many of the divisions which characterized her time in office from 1979 to 1990 have resurfaced as was demonstrated in a ComRes poll for two Sunday newspapers.
It found 41 percent of those surveyed disagreed with Prime Minister David Cameron’s description of her as the “greatest British peacetime prime minister”, with 33 percent agreeing with the sentiment.
Some 59 percent agreed she was the most divisive premier the country had had, while 60 percent thought that Wednesday’s ceremonial funeral with military honors, which commentators have estimated will cost about 10 million pounds, should not be funded by taxpayers.
Codenamed “Operation True Blue”, the streets will be cleared as Thatcher’s coffin is taken on a procession through central London to a service at Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Opponents have denounced the plans, some suggesting it should be privatized and put out to tender, and there are concerns anti-capitalist activists and anarchists with a long record of violent protest may try to cause disruption.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead”, from the from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, is expected to enter the pop charts following a campaign by those celebrating Thatcher’s death.
“My mother once said to me ‘Carol I think my place in history is assured’,” her daughter Carol Thatcher told reporters outside her late mother’s former home in central London.
”The magnificent tributes this week, the wonderful words of (U.S.) President (Barack) Obama, to others from colleagues who once worked alongside her, have proved her right.
“These have given me strength. But I know that this is going to be a tough and tearful week even for the daughter of the ‘Iron Lady’.”
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Jason Webb