Writing for Central Lobby, Labour MP John Healey explains why he is boycotting Parliament today as politicians debate the legacy of Baroness Thatcher.
I have a large framed poster on the wall of my constituency office in Wath upon Dearne.
It displays the names and badges of each British coalmine closed by the Tories after the miners’ strike up until 1994 when the last pit in our constituency closed at Silverwood. A total of 203; 64 in Yorkshire alone.
Individual, family and community lives have been broken then blighted for years by Margaret Thatcher’s determination to destroy a proud British industry and its trade union.
In areas like South Yorkshire, we can’t forget. Or forgive. So many abhorred her government’s actions, and detest her memory. They want to celebrate her death not her life but basic British decency holds people back in public, as it should. You don’t speak ill of the dead at their funeral.
And today's recall of Parliament is a memorial event. The official
announcement described it as “as special session in which tributes will be paid”.
This will not be the occasion or opportunity to debate the closure of the coal industry, the squandering of North Sea oil revenues to cover the cost of tax cuts, the ‘big bang’ deregulation of banking, the £17 billion privatisation of public housing or the deep social divisions as a legacy of her period as Prime Minister.
The Commons “debate” won’t be – and can’t be – balanced. Her death could and should have been marked when the Commons returns next week.
Parliament has only every been recalled in recess 25 times since the Second World War, to debate events like the Suez Crisis, Kuwait invasion, Omagh bombing, terrorist attack on the twin towers or riots in our cities the summer before last. Only once has the Commons been recalled to pay tributes to a truly national figure, the Queen Mother.
Instead, Parliament is being used today for narrow political gain by the
Prime Minister, as a platform for his Party’s ideology not just eulogy. He gave himself away on Monday. After properly measured reactions from Miliband, Clegg, Blair, Brown and Major late in the afternoon David Cameron issued an “updated tribute” alongside his announcement about recalling Parliament: “Margaret Thatcher didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country ... Taking on the union barons. Privatising industry. Unleashing enterprise. Rescuing the economy. Letting people buy their council homes …she took a country that was on its knees and made Britain stand tall again”. This is partisan, divisive and diminishes the Prime Minister’s Office.
He’s wrong to recall Parliament, and wrong to hijack it in this way. I will play no part and I will stay away, with other things to do at home in the constituency.
Cameron is using the Commons as a warm-up act to the ceremonial funeral next Wednesday, complete with gun carriage, military procession and service at St Paul’s. It’s a full-scale state funeral in all but name when only one ex-Prime Minister in the last 100 years has been accorded such national honour and respect – Winston Churchill.
He was a Prime Minister that brought the country together. She was not. He was a Prime Minister to whom people could pay their respects as one nation. She is not.
Her impact and influence is indisputable, but her legacy is too bitter to warrant this claim to national mourning.