THE BLOG

What Price, Greatness?

17/04/2013 10:53 BST | Updated 16/06/2013 10:12 BST

A week ago, Peter Obourne observed that Gordon Brown had been mistaken to approve plans for a grand ceremonial funeral for Lady Thatcher. Ceremonial occasions are reserved for Royalty for good reason: the country can rally round an ancient institution that stands above the daily hue and cry of Party politics and that is able to stand for all.

He is largely right. Only an institution so embedded in this country's historical memory has the ability to inspire loyalty over and above that owed to or earned by individuals on their own merits. With the rarest of exceptions, only the embodiment of that tradition has the ability to inspire such devotion and unity as that showed to the Queen last year.

And yet the grandeur and ceremony of monarchy has always offered more than the glorification of the symbol of the state - or even of the state itself. Throughout history, monarchs have used their position to honour individuals - even whole generations - for acts of great service. The tomb of the unknown warrior adapts the words of scripture: 'They buried him among kings because he had done good toward God and toward his House.' (2 Chronicles 24:16) As the God of Israel had recognised that frail men and women needed the institution of kingship to bind them together and lead them, so ceremony normally reserved for Royalty should, in turn, be used to glorify their greatest sons and daughters and to inspire their countrymen.

Margaret Thatcher was one such daughter. Born in an ordinary town to parents of little means, she rose to the highest position of the land through grit, determination, dedication to public service and sacrifice. The frailness of mind and body with which she was inflicted in her declining years was undoubtedly due to her deprivation from sleep throughout her premiership. As those closest to her have remarked, it wasn't that she could make do with four hours' sleep, it was that Mrs Thatcher so dedicated herself to her country that she sacrificed her health to its prosperity. Even at the height of the Falklands' War, one whose outcome was more uncertain than any since the 1950s, she would take the time at the end of each day to write personal and heartfelt letters to the families of all the fallen.

Mrs Thatcher had immense achievements: bringing harmony to industrial relations (reducing tenfold the number of days lost to strikes), liberating the Falklands, rejuvenating and modernising our manufacturing sector (and increasing its output), controlling inflation, almost halving unemployment in her time in office and, most significantly of all, preparing the way for the final decline and defeat of Soviet tyranny. But it is not for these alone that she is being honoured. She had great virtues: a care for those in the lowest of positions far greater than for her equals who could look after themselves, a deep Christian faith, dedication to public service and a simple patriotism. Nor are these enough to justify the great honour being done to her today. And she had outstanding courage: challenging Heath when no-one else dared, approving the Falklands' taskforce with the support of only a handful of her Cabinet, taking on an institution (the NUM) that had brought down two governments and seeing out her sunset years with dignity and resolution. Yet even this noblest of virtues is insufficient to justify her being singled out amongst all her contemporaries.

No, it is for the force of her personality, the imprint of her ideas, the depth and breadth of her influence and - above all - the everlasting impression she has left upon this country that Margaret Thatcher will forever be set apart from her fellow men and women. It is for this that she is honoured today; and for this that she will be remembered centuries after all of us are gone.