Throughout her life and political career, Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure. On the eve of her funeral, Scotland Yard has been attempting to predict just how divisive the former Prime Minister will be in death.
Since Thatcher’s death on April 8, clashes over her legacy have erupted across the U.K. and beyond. Some politicians lauded Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister as one of the country’s greatest leaders; the viral efforts of detractors, though, enabled the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” from The Wizard of Oz, to climb the U.K. charts. But as details are finalized for the former Premier’s funeral, swelling anger on social media and the promise of protests have prompted fears of disruption and potential violence.
More than 2,000 invitations were issued for the state-funded funeral on April 17, which was organized by British lawmakers. Among those in attendance at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the service will take place, will be Queen Elizabeth II, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and former South African President F.W. de Klerk. But as additional details of the ceremony have emerged — in addition to police, 700 military personnel will be deployed; Big Ben will cease to ring throughout the service — backlash against the service has spread.
Charlie Kimber, 55, the national secretary of Britain’s far-left Socialist Workers Party, is planning on protesting the funeral. “[We want] to register our objection to the politics Thatcher represents,” he tells TIME, explaining the impetus behind the protests. “It’s also to say we are against the continuation of these policies with Cameron today. We are also against the gross expenditure of the funeral — it’s wrong.”
Paul Callanan, 26, a spokesperson for the group Socialist Students, says that although he came of age long after Thatcher was out of office, he’ll still be protesting the funeral. “Her policies sowed the seeds for the crisis we’re in today. She left a legacy of mini Thatchers in the subsequent Labour governments and the present Tory government today,” he says.
Though it’s not yet clear how many people will show up to protest the funeral procession or service, recent rallies indicate that numbers will likely be significant. On April 13, around 3,000 people convened in London’s Trafalgar Square to “celebrate” Thatcher’s death. Sixteen people were arrested — though only one arrest was the result of alleged violent conduct.
In response to the swell of public anger and the threat of possible disruption from protests, the Metropolitan Police Service, along with the City of London Police and the British Transport Police, has coordinated a security strategy for Wednesday that will see more than 4,000 officers devoted to the service site and points along the procession.
Met Police commander Christine Jones said in a statement on Tuesday that the police were coordinating operations “in a way that protects public safety within the context of a broader security operation — as with many ceremonial London events.” She also stated that a small number of people had notified authorities of plans to protest and the police were attempting to work with them, noting that the “right to conduct peaceful protest is a tenet of our democracy, however that right is qualified in that protest does not stray into acts of crime or violence or the instigation of crime or violence.”
Of course, it’s not just protests that security forces are considering; as with any other high-profile event, terrorism is a concern. London has been the site of terrorist attacks in the past, notably during the 7/7 bombings in 2005, and Thatcher herself was the target of a terrorist attack back in 1984, when the Irish Republican Army orchestrated the bombing of the Conservatives’ conference in a Brighton hotel. Moreover, the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday have intensified concerns and prompted police to review their own security measures for the upcoming London Marathon.
Those who are openly planning to protest have also said they’d like to see Thatcher’s funeral go by without any violence. Many on social media are calling for peaceful demonstrations, a sentiment that was confirmed by Callanan. “We’re not going there to disrupt the funeral in any way, we’re not going there to attack anyone,” he says. Rather, he wants the protests to simply “counter this rose-tinted view of Thatcher that’s coming from the top.”
— With reporting by Katie Harris / London