Thatcher will ‘never be forgiven’ for devastation she caused in Sheffield

David Blunkett
David Blunkett
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‘I CANNOT forgive her for what she did to Sheffield’ - that was the verdict today of city MP David Blunkett.

Even in death, Margaret Thatcher will not be forgiven for the devastation her politics brought to communities across South Yorkshire, according to many politicians, councillors and locals who witnessed first-hand the demise of industries during her reign as Prime Minister.

Former Home Secretary and MP for Brightside and Hillsborough Mr Blunkett paid tribute to the Iron Lady’s conviction - but said he was unable to forget the impact her politics had on his home city in the late 1970s and 80s.

“She said she could not forgive the leadership of her own party for her downfall, and I have to say I cannot forgive her for what she did to Sheffield,” he said.

“The mass redundancies, the damage to productive industry - more than 50,000 people in steel and engineering lost their jobs in less than three years in the early 1980s.

“It was not just loss of family income but the status and standing that went with the craftsmanship and pride of those jobs.

“The impact on family was considerable - apprenticeships disappeared, relationships changed, the solidarity of the large manufacturing plants gave way to an emphasis on survival.”

Reaction to the death of the 87-year-old suggests few tears will be shed in South Yorkshire.

Former steelworker Shanwar Bashan, aged 59, from Low Edges, has not worked since 1981 - something he blames entirely on Margaret Thatcher.

“I was a machine operator at British Steel at Deepcar. She closed it down and I was made redundant. My father, my uncles, my aunts, we all lost our jobs,” he said.

“To all intents and purposes I’ve been unemployed since. I blame Margaret Thatcher entirely.

“She fought against the miners, she shut the factories, she shut the steelworks and Sheffield was built on steel, and she put nothing in place instead, no training, no alternative jobs.”

Dave Douglass, NUM member and former branch secretary at Hatfield Colliery, said: “I will not be shedding any tears over her or what she did. I wouldn’t normally take comfort in anyone’s death, but the woman shed no tears for our communities or the depth or poverty, deprivation and ongoing legacy she has caused.

“An entire generation was thrown on the scrapheap, and sons and grandsons are still suffering now. Thatcher’s legacy has been unemployment, crime, poverty, low levels of life-expectancy, heroin addiction - the list goes on in places where she ripped the heart out of the community.

“It is stomach-churning to hear eulogising in the wake of her death. A lot of people have no idea of the damage that woman inflicted on this country and the lasting damage it has caused to South Yorkshire.”

Former Sheffield Central MP Richard Caborn was vice president of Sheffield Trades Council before politics. He became one of Labour’s few new entrants to the House of Commons in 1983, when Thatcher led the Tories to victory for a second term.

Mr Caborn, now 69, said: “I think most people in South Yorkshire will have a negative view of Margaret Thatcher. They might admire her leadership but will totally disagree with what she did.

“Margaret Thatcher will be remembered as a conviction politician who changed the Tory party to the no-compromise, divide and rule Tory party.

“Strong leadership was the hallmark of her reign, even though it divided the nation and many people suffered needlessly.”

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, said: “Margaret Thatcher brought about significant changes in British politics and British life. Overall I do not believe those changes were for the better.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: “Margaret Thatcher was one of the defining figures in modern British politics. Whatever side of the political debate you stand on, no-one can deny that as Prime Minister she left a lasting imprint on the country she served.”

Labour leader and Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband said Lady Thatcher had been a ‘unique figure’ who ‘reshaped the politics of a whole generation’.

“The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will remain a controversial figure,” he said. “But we can disagree and also respect her political achievements and her personal strength.”

Some of those who counted the ex-Tory leader among their inspirations heaped praise on the late Mrs Thatcher.

Godfrey Bloom, Yorkshire UKIP MEP, said she was ‘the last real Conservative with a spine’.

And Yorkshire and Humber MEP Timothy Kirkhope said: “She was arguably the most important and transformational political figure in the Western world in the 1980s and I’m sure will be seen as one of the great Prime Ministers of all time.”

Coun Andrew Lewer, Conservative leader of Derbyshire County Council, said: “Lady Thatcher was a towering figure in British and indeed world politics. She changed Britain more than any other Prime Minister of the modern era and leaves a legacy of huge achievements.”