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David Cameron Says Margaret Thatcher 'Defined The Age', As MPs Debate Former PM's Legacy

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David Cameron has said Margaret Thatcher "defined and overcame the challenges of the age", as MPs gathered in Westminster to recall the former prime minister's life.

"The scale of her achievements is only apparent when you look back to the 1970s," the prime minister said."They say cometh the hour cometh the man, well in 1979 came the hour and came the lady."

"The air was thick with defeatism," he said. "Thatcher rejected this defeatism, she had a clear view about what needed to change."

"Successive governments had failed to deal with what was beginning to be called the British disease." He said. "Let this be her epitaph: she made the country great again."

Cameron acknowledged that Thatcher was, and remains, a divisive figure. But he argued many of the debates of the 1980s had been settled, in her favour.

"Much has been said about the battles Thatcher fought, she certainly did not shy from a fight, that led to arguments, conflicts and yes, even to division," he said.

"But what is remarkable, looking back now, how many of those arguments are no longer arguments," he said. Cameron said no political party any longer wanted strikes without ballots, or opposed Nato, trident or the special relationship with the United States.

Some Opposition MPs have criticised the prime minister for recalling parliament as an "over the top" reaction to Thatcher's death.

However many Labour MPs did join the packed Tory benches for the occasion, and Cameron praised their "generosity of spirit".

"It speaks more eloquently than any one person can of the strength and spirit of British statesmanship and British democracy," he said of their decision to turn up.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg paid tribute to Thatcher's political stature while reminding the Commons they disagreed with many of her policies.

In a well received speech, the Labour leader said while "you can disagree with Margaret Thatcher" she "sought to be rooted in people’s daily lives, but she also believed that ideology mattered".

"Not for her the contempt sometimes heaped on ideas and new thinking in political life. And while she never would have claimed to be, or wanted to be seen as, an intellectual, she believed, and she showed, that ideas matter in politics."

Miliband said she was right to defend the Falklands, to reach out to new leadership in the Soviet Union and was right to "recognise our economy needed to change".

But he said it would "dishonest and not in keeping with the principles that Margaret Thatcher stood for"not to be open about the strong opinions and the deep divisions there were, and are, over what she did.

"In mining areas, like the one I represent, communities felt angry and abandoned," Miliband said. "Gay and lesbian people felt stigmatised by measures like section 28, which today’s Conservative Party has rightly repudiated."

"And on the world stage, as this Prime Minister rightly said in 2006, when he was Leader of the Opposition, she made the wrong judgement about Nelson Mandela and about sanctions in South Africa."

Miliband added: "I disagree with much of what she did. But I respect what her death means to the many, many people who admired her."

However the cross-party unity cracked during Nick Clegg's contribution to the debate. The Lib Dem leader mentioned Thatcher's infamous claim that there "is no such thing as society".

Clegg said that while he disagreed with the "untempered individualism" of the statement, he "never thought she was being cynical".

The deputy prime minister added: "You always knew with Margaret Thatcher she belived what she said."

However some Tory MPs bristled at the use of the quote, unhappy that it arguably misrepresented what their former prime minister had meant. "Read the sentence," one Tory MP was heard heckling Clegg as he spoke. And another Conservative MP, Jake Berry, said Clegg had "badly misjudged mood of House" for appearing to be too critical.

Over mumbling from some Conservatives, Clegg added: "She seemed blissfully indifferent to the unpopularity of whats she said, driven entirely by the conviction."

"Whether she inspired or confronted, led or attacked, she did it all with uncluttered clarity. The memory of her will continue undimmed."

More than 700 armed forces personnel will take part in the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, with her coffin to be carried to St Paul's cathedral those from units particularly associated with the Falklands conflict.

Tony Blair and his wife Cherie as well as Gordon Brown ans his wife Sarah have confirmed they will attend the funeral. A number of high-profile guests are also expected to attend from across the world.

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