LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers remembered former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday as a towering political figure who restored her country's confidence and pride — but who alienated many voters, from coal miners to gay people, with her uncompromising policies.
Prime Minister David Cameron led praise for Thatcher during a special session of the House of Commons, recalled from its Easter break after the ex-leader's death Monday at the age of 87.
"Let this be her epitaph: That she made our country great again," Cameron told a packed room of lawmakers.
"She defined and she overcame the great challenges of her age and it is right that Parliament has been recalled to mark our respect," said Cameron, who heads the Conservative party that Thatcher once led.
The special sessions at the House of Commons are usual for former premiers, but are generally brief. More than seven hours was set aside for Thatcher, a reflection of her status as one of Britain's most iconic political figures — and one whose legacy still sparks furious debate.
Legislators hailed a string of Thatcher's achievements, from privatization of cumbersome state-run industries to reclaiming the Falkland Islands after Argentina's 1982 invasion. They are once-controversial measures on which both government and opposition parties now broadly agree — perhaps Thatcher's greatest accomplishment of all.
Amid the tributes, some lawmakers brought up the negative effects of her free-market economic policies — unemployment, shuttered industries, frayed social bonds.
Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said Thatcher was "a unique and towering figure ... the prime minister who defined her age."
But he said that residents of mining communities were left "angry and abandoned" when she closed the country's coal pits after a bitter strike. And he said gay people "felt stigmatized" by Section 28, a 1980s government order banning what it called the promotion of homosexuality.
Labour Party lawmaker Glenda Jackson, an Oscar-winning actress in the 1970s, was met with howls from lawmakers when she launched a blistering attack on Thatcher's record.
"There was a heinous social, economic and spiritual damage wreaked upon this country," she told the House of Commons. "By far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was not only in London but across the whole country in metropolitan areas, where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless."
Scottish and Irish nationalist legislators spoke of deep wounds that have not healed. Scottish National Party lawmaker Angus Robertson said that "we will never forget and never forgive" the poll tax — an unpopular measure imposed on Scotland a year before the rest of the country.