STROUD District Council opted not to fly its flag at half-mast following the death of Margaret Thatcher last month because she was a 'divisive Prime Minister', the authority's Labour leader said at a meeting on Thursday night (April 25).
Responding to a question from Conservative councillor Dorcas Binns, who demanded to know why the flag was not lowered out of respect for Baroness Thatcher on the day of her funeral, Cllr Wheeler (Lab, Dursley) defended the decision by saying she did not 'represent a united nation'.
He said the council had not flown the flag outside Ebley Mill at half-mast for the funerals of previous Prime Ministers and he did not want to set a 'precedent'.
Cllr Wheeler also said SDC acted in accordance with guidance from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which left it up to local authorities to choose whether or not to fly their flags at half-mast.
However, Cllr Dorcas Binns (Minchinhampton) criticised the administration's decision and said the flag should have been flown at half-mast as a 'matter of respect'.
Although she said she did not agree with all of the Iron Lady's policies, Cllr Binns said she admired Mrs Thatcher as a 'feminist' and as 'the first woman Prime Minister'.
She also said the funeral of Mrs Thatcher was 'a very different scenario' to the funerals of past Prime Ministers and merited lowering the flag because it was attended by the Queen and other dignitaries from around the world.
But Geoff Wheeler said that while Margaret Thatcher was an 'extraordinary Prime Minister' he would only consider making such a gesture for a deceased PM if they had 'a local connection with Stroud or if they represented a totally united nation'.
His reply to Cllr Binns was applauded by Cllr John Marjoram (Green, Trinity) but met with cries of disapproval from a number of Conservative members, revealing a council chamber divided along party lines.
Stroud MP Neil Carmichael said: "There is a clear protocol that suggests that all Government buildings, including local Government buildings, should lower their flags to half mast when funerals of former Prime Ministers are taking place so it is unfortunate that they have chosen to ignore that.
"Anyone of any political persuasion would probably want to respect that as many MPs from all sides of the House of Commons did during the debate following her death."