This afternoon’s tribute debate in the House of Commons will continue until 10pm, with many MPs wanting to pay their respects to Margaret Thatcher. There will be many speeches about how the former Prime Minister inspired and shaped the politics of those speaking. But there will also inevitably be those who want to talk about the negative aspects of her legacy.
Ed Miliband, who gave a measured tribute on Monday, faces the challenge of giving a speech that isn’t insincere but that remains respectful too. Some of his MPs, such as John Healey, who has written a forceful piece for PoliticsHome, are boycotting the event. Others, such as David Winnick, say they will attend and criticise Thatcher. Interestingly, I understand from Labour MPs that their leadership hasn’t been trying to advise any of them on what they should or shouldn’t say in the session. Fortunately George Galloway has decided not to turn up – hardly unusual given the Respect MP’s dismal attendance record, but still a relief.
But part of the success of today’s debate depends not only on respect shown by those on the left but on the patience of those on the right. Not everyone in the Tory party thinks Thatcher was perfect, although they are unlikely to say much about that today. But she was well aware, and proud, that she was someone who divided opinion, and not universally popular. Ever since her death was announced, many have been lying in wait for the first critic to step out of line. It will be tempting today for those who adored Thatcher to shout down criticisms of her legacy. But as Conor Burns suggested on the Today programme this morning, she might have been more dismayed by a Chamber united in praise: after all, she was the politician who said: ‘I love argument. I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me – that’s not their job.’