Thatcher: Three decades on and the hate is as strong as ever

Coffin and effigy of Margaret Thatcher
Coffin and effigy of Margaret Thatcher
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YOU could still feel the power, writes Martin Smith.

The power of the miners united that, in life, Margaret Hilda Thatcher believed she had to crush.

The power that humiliated Edward Heath with pit strikes in 1972 and 1974.

The power she defied in confrontations that define her political legacy.

South Yorkshire rarely sees the swagger and confidence of the miners in their collective pomp any more, their banners in the sunshine, beer on their lips and a song for every battle.

But they turned up in their thousands at Goldthorpe yesterday to remember their old strength and to celebrate the death and cremation of their most bitter foe and eventual nemesis.

On the day the eyes of the world were on Westminster and the full military funeral of the three-times Prime Minister, South Yorkshire miners held a ceremony of their own.

They came to cremate Maggie - or as they put it at great volume: “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie - burn, burn, burn”

There was a coffin of sorts with a dummy of Thatcher, with all the attention to detail of a guy knocked together after school in November.

But that wasn’t the point. The point was that she is dead and they were celebrating.

Some with a twinge of remorse most with great gusto and genuine joy. Carol, Ward of Washington Road, Goldthorpe, daughter of a miner and wife to two, was of the former frame of mind.

“The strike days were tough times and we’ll never forgive or forget,” she said.

“I decided I wanted to come and be part of it again. It’s all bad memories apart from the togetherness but when the pits shut it took the heart out of the place.

“I’m not an aggressive person or confrontational but it made my blood boil remembering the strike. You can talk to people who went through it and it makes the hair on your neck stand up. “The Government just abandoned us. They didn’t live in the north and they didn’t care about those that did.”

The march, led by a plumed horse pulling the ‘funeral’ cart sets off up the hill at 2pm from the Union Jack Club in High Street, some had been there since 9.30am.

Through the town, stopping traffic, the former miners, their parents, sons, daughters and supporters marched, many with drinks still in hand, chanting and singing.

With an atmosphere somewhere between a championship play-off final and a political rally the old ‘Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go’ anthem of those long summer-of-‘84 picket line battles rang out again.

“There used to be eight pits in a ten-mile radius round here, now it’s all gone,” said 50-year-old Tony Iles of Thurnscoe who now works making leaded windows.

“It’s been devastated. I’m not a bitter person but I still don’t like her and I never will. She called 100,000 British miners the ‘enemy within’.

“This area has never recovered. My lad is 20 and he’s just joined the army because there’s no work. I have daughters too but there’s no work. That’s why people feel the way they do. Thatcher never cared about us and we don’t care that she’s dead.”

There are fireworks and chanting on waste ground behind the pub where two settees, pallets and cardboard are stacked ready to burn with a backdrop of boarded-up, semi-derelict houses, a reminder of the area’s post mining struggles.

‘It wants some coal on it,” shouts one man to gales of laughter as the landlord of the Rusty Dudley pub tries to light the mock funeral pyre. Then it’s burning to huge cheers and the crowd begins to move off. The collective power ebbs away, perhaps for the last time. Thatcher is dead, many are glad, but her legacy lives on and in this area she will never be forgiven.

Opposite View

The British public voted her Prime Minister three times between 1979 and 1990.

Among those voters were Sheffielders who - despite the fact most people in the region despised the former PM - supported Thatcher throughout her career. One woman who was brought up amidst the miners’ strike is Vonny Watts, the Conservative candidate for Fulwood. “I was around 13 when she came to power. My dad was a shop steward and there was little love for her in our staunch Labour house.

“But though raised in a Labour household, Vonny, 46, said she admired Thatcher. “I had little interest in politics but thought she was strong and feisty and made my dad a bit confused.

“At the time I resisted admitting she was making things better. However, my father eventually bought the council house he’d lived in for 30 years against his principles. Thatcher tackled the union bully boys who would have continued to cripple British industry. She brought us back from the brink of bankruptcy and built us back up via low taxes and an ethic where hard work was rewarded.”