Reaction across the country after Margaret Thatcher's death
In 1984, the pit workers at Hatfield saw the Prime Minister as their mortal enemy. Thirty years on, little has changed – even in death. Mark Branagan reports from South Yorkshire
A C Grayling
A. C. Grayling is an English philosopher and founder of independent undergraduate college, New College of the Humanities. He is the author of several books including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Meaning of Things (2001) and The Good Book (2011).
Monday 08 April 2013
In a pit village on the front line of the 1984 mining strike a “happy hour” was declared in the local miners’ club to mark the passing of the woman they still blame for destroying their livelihoods and once close-knit community.
Even after so many years, the residents living around Hatfield colliery, near Doncaster, are haunted by memories of the bitter industrial dispute.
Ironically, the South Yorkshire pit – expected to be one of the first casualties of the closures – survives until this day, but employing only 600, compared to the 3,000 who once worked there.
As news of Mrs Thatcher’s death spread, glasses were raised and a buffet laid out in the miners’ social club just down the road from the pit.
Drinkers included Shaun Foster, 43, who used to live three streets away from the pit, who travelled miles from his new home in Thorne. He and his father Hughie, who worked down the mine, all his life had agreed to go out for a pint when the Iron Lady passed away.
Hughie never lived to see the day. But Shaun decided to drink his pint for him. He said: “I’m not celebrating her death. I’m celebrating the passing of all that happened because of her. Me and my dad always said when this day came we would have a pint.
“I have come a long way for a pint for my dad. I made that promise at his funeral. It should have been at our old local but that’s closed now like a lot of places in the village.”
Although the pit took its name from the seam that runs under Hatfield, the nearby village of Stainforth was always the home of the mine head and most of the workforce.
Paddy McCartney, 69, a retired rail worker, said: “Twenty years ago there were 17 pubs in this village and everyone had a job.
“Now half the village is unemployed and there are only four pubs left. And it is all down to a green grocer’s daughter. So this village will not miss her. It will be disgusting if she gets a state funeral.
“She was a milk-snatcher, a poll tax-snatcher, and a coal-snatcher. She set this country on the course to bankruptcy in the long run by letting the bankers and yuppies have things all their way. She started the North-South Divide.”
Memories of the darker side of Thatherism remain bitter. Retired miner and former striker Malc Hutchinson, 63, said: “We had nowt. My son was only young at the time and all we could afford to give him for Christmas was a second-hand toy.
“We got given a chicken for Christmas which was about the size of a pigeon. We never got no food parcels. I had to go into fields to pinch cabbages and anything else that was not nailed down. Meanwhile, the police were flashing around their overtime pay like it was monopoly money.”
Pitman George Shaw, 63, said: “My experience of the strike was total hardship – food parcels, on the picket line, locked up... you name it. I think there will be loads of celebrating in the North. She ruined our community. So I don’t think there will be a lot people crying for her around here.”
He left mining in 1998 to work on the railways but had to pack in due to arthritis due to all the years spent working underground.
One former miner’s wife, who asked not to be named, said: “There is only one record we want to play and it’s not on the juke box. It’s the one that goes. ‘the witch is dead’. I have had seven text messages already. We are all having parties tonight.”
John Graham, 60, remembers having to “work all hours God sends” during the dispute to support both his family and that of his father-in-law, a striking miner.
He said: “The only good thing Margaret Thatcher ever did was give people the right to buy their own council houses. And she only did that to get people so in debt that they could not afford to go on strike any more.”
Verena Tierney, 73, said: “People around here will be going wild tonight. We are all going to have a party.
“What happened split everyone up and everyone still blames each other all these years later.
“Shutting the pits down robbed everyone of their livelihoods and there is still a lot of anger.”
Liverpool: Little sympathy for a potent hate figure
There’s a song sung at Anfield which illustrates just how deep the hurt runs in Liverpool when it comes to Margaret Thatcher. It’s called: “We’re going to have a party when Maggie Thatcher dies”.
Few in the city will mourn the Iron Lady. “I will be very surprised if I get one single call with anything positive to say about her,” Pete Price, the late night talk show host of Radio City 96.7, told The Independent hours before he was due to go on air yesterday.
Mrs Thatcher’s legacy has left its mark on the city’s psyche. The collapse of Britain’s heavy industry, the emasculation of the unions, spiralling unemployment and the Toxteth riots were all seen as direct by-products of her policies. But it was Hillsborough that cemented her reputation as a politician who simply didn’t care. Her government’s decision to side with South Yorkshire police’s attempt to blame fans made her a potent hate figure. As the city’s outspoken mayor Joe Anderson said yesterday: “Thatcher defined that and Thatcherism continues today as bad or worse than her period in office.”
Grantham: Museum may get its statue at long last
The Lincolnshire town of Grantham, or at least a nearby hamlet, also gave the world Sir Isaac Newton. But none other of its children can match the notoriety of Baroness Thatcher.
“I think she’s still a divisive character, slightly controversial,” said Richard Davies, chairman of the local Conservative Association. “But by and large I think even if those people haven’t agreed with her, they will still be sad that she’s passed on. She’s renowned for being a very strong character.”
Here, as in much of the country, opinion is split. Helen Goral of Grantham Museum said: “Some people are very proud she comes from their town. Equally a number of people don’t think she did anything for them individually.”
Paul Richardson, the editor of the Grantham Journal, agreed. “I think what will happen as a result of her passing today is that the town will come to terms with its relationship with Margaret Thatcher.” Perhaps now the museum will succeed in its campaign to get a Margaret Thatcher statue.
Kevin Rawlinson and Nick Renaud-Komiya
Finchley: A converted semi on a quiet road that served as a second home
The converted semi on the corner of a quiet road in North London where the MP for Finchley held her constituency surgeries still bears her mark – it has since been renamed Margaret Thatcher house.
Underneath a gold-framed painting of the former Prime Minister, Tessa Phillips a secretary at the headquarters for more than 30 years, said Baroness Thatcher would describe Finchley as “coming home.” President Reagan was even believed to have occasionally timed his phone-calls to coincide with the her Friday afternoon visits.
Mike Freer, the current Conservative MP for the area, said it was Lady Thatcher that inspired him to go into politics. ”When I first heard her speak, I was spellbound,” he said.
Outside, however, mood was more circumspect. Pat Caplan, a 71-year-old professor, recalled attending one of her surgeries in the early 1980s. “I remember our encounter as quite uncomfortable. She described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and refused to be drawn on supporting sanctions on apartheid. It was hard to get a word in.”
During her time in Finchley she worked hard to maintain relations with the constituency, regularly attending events for the Jewish and Indian communities. Derek Phillips, a retired activist who sat on the selection panel that chose her as a parliamentary candidate in 1958, recalled how much her appearances mattered. “She never wanted to let anyone down.”
But others could not contain their outrage. Henrietta Barkow, who has lived in Finchley for 27 years, said: “She really destroyed the infrastructure of our society and created a consumer-based generation.”
Northern Ireland: She caused great suffering, says Adams
One of the most hostile reactions to the death of Mrs Thatcher came from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who accused her of causing great suffering and of “the killing of citizens by covert operations.”
The former prime minister was a particular hate figure for Sinn Fein and the IRA, who tried to kill her in the Brighton hotel bombing in 1984. She survived but five others died.
Mr Adams declared yesterday “Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes,” referring to the ten prisoners who died in the Maze Prison in 1981. “Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering.”
She was also regarded as less than a heroine by unionist representatives for signing the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving Dublin a say in Northern Ireland affairs. Nonetheless the Rev Ian Paisley said: “I condemned some of her actions but, through good report and ill report, she listened to the views of the unionist people and respected them. In every phase of her life she was great.”
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