17:14 Tuesday 09 April 2013

Left: 'Thatcher destroyed our industry and divided society'

Written byADRIAN JENKINS

“THE demons of hell will be mourning her loss because of the wickedness she spread in her country.”

Paul Liversuch (left), the Socialist Labour Party’s (SLP) East Midlands organiser, is in no mood to forgive or forget his political nemesis.

The hagiographies in her name could hardly be further from his thoughts.

All he can think of are bleak industrial wastelands and communities ripped asunder by her dogged insistence on cleaving to a right-wing economics.

“She should not go down as the greatest prime minister but as the greatest failure we’ve ever had.

“She achieved something for her own class and for the rich, the people that had – not for the have-nots.

“It was all about class and if people can’t see that they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

“She leaves a legacy of areas in this country rife with crime and drug-taking because of her policies.

“It leaves a bitter sting in your throat to think of the devastation that woman caused.”

Given Mr Liversuch’s past, it is hardly surprising the mere mention of Lady Thatcher’s name elicits such venom.

For he was a high-ranking official in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a dispute he says will forever form the prism through which the Tory is viewed in South Derbyshire.

The strike was sparked after Arthur Scargill, the NUM’s then president and one of Mr Liversuch’s political heroes, obtained a ‘hit list’ of mines Mrs Thatcher was planning to close.

At the time, there were 170 working collieries in Britain employing more than 190,000 people, many of whom formed the backbone of communities throughout South Derbyshire.

The NUM regarded the Government’s policy as an attempt to punish it for the industrial action of the 1970s which so blighted the administration of then Tory leader Edward Heath.

Mrs Thatcher wanted to smash the union, and by extension trade union power, by wreaking untold destruction on the miners and their communities, the NUM thought.

“She orchestrated it because of a bitter hatred towards ordinary people and any organisation that stood for them. She hated the trade unions,” says Mr Liversuch.

Mr Scargill called the strike without a national ballot in a bid to force the darling of free market capitalism into a humiliating defeat.

The NUM fought all the way but Mrs Thatcher, buttressed by support from the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), who kept pits open in the teeth of fierce NUM opposition, won the day.

The dispute not only pitted the NUM against the Government and police but miners against miners, families against families, communities against communities.

“It brought people out to take a stand one way or another,” says Mr Liversuch. “You were either for us or against us.

“A lot of people we did not expect came with us and a lot of people we thought would did not.”

In an example of the enmity created by the dispute, Mr Liversuch’s father, Frank, refused to have anything more to do with his son, regarding him as a Communist, and instructed wardens to keep him out of his south coast home.

The pair only made their peace as the older man lay on his deathbed.

“I also had a lot of hate mail and had my life threatened,” says Mr Liversuch. “It destroyed the area.”

He says divisions caused by the dispute have not healed.

“They never will be healed because she will leave that memory all of her life,” says Mr Liversuch. “They will only heal when the people who remember pass away.”

Some, such as Kevin Richards, leader of the opposition Labour group on South Derbyshire District Council, who himself was a senior NUM official during the miners’ strike, politely decline to comment.

Fellow councillor Trevor Southerd, who was Midlands president of the pit deputies’ union Nacods during the dispute, explains his party colleague’s silence is probably due to the ‘rawness’ of the conflict and an unwillingness to say anything Lady Thatcher’s supporters may wish to exploit for political advantage.

“I can understand his reluctance,” he says. “In my opinion we’ve little to thank Margaret Thatcher for.

“Some of the things she probably got right but that probably was not one of them.”

Her legacy, Councillor Southerd argues, is a country where people are forced to shiver to avoid paying rocketing fuel bills as gas is used to drive power stations and 600 million tonnes of coal lie underground.

“She will never be forgotten and will probably never be forgiven by certain elements in our society,” he says.

In South Derbyshire, as elsewhere, Lady Thatcher’s policies are acknowledged to have had a profound impact.

But some will only remember them for inflicting wounds still to heal.

APPROPRIATELY given the yeast extract is made in Burton, Lady Thatcher was a Marmite politician.

“You either loved her or you hated her – and there was nothing in between,” explains Julian Mott, leader of the opposition Labour group on East Staffordshire Borough Council.

“I hope we’ve moved on from that and we are more consensus-building, less strident and listen more.”

In Lady Thatcher’s black and white world, many mistakes were made, he says, before listing them.

Heavy industry – coal, steel and shipbuilding – took hits from which they’ve never recovered; councils were stopped from building homes and their stock sold off in the name of private ownership; and the financial markets were deregulated in a move which laid the foundations for the economic problems we continue to experience today.

“Many of the things we are reaping today are as a result of what we sowed 30 years ago,” Councillor Mott says.

However, he acknowledges Lady Thatcher shattered the glass ceiling constructed by men to lead her party; became Britain’s first female prime minister and the longest serving of the 20th century; and won three general elections.

Peter Davies, who represents the Burton Trent division for Labour on Staffordshire County Council, says Lady Thatcher was a forceful leader who ‘broke the mould’ by becoming the UK’s first female prime minister.

“But I disagreed with a lot of what she did,” he says. “Some of the things she did were so confrontational and in a sense we are still paying the price.”

Party colleague Ron Clarke, who represents the Burton Town division on the authority, said while he disagreed strongly with much of Baroness Thatcher’s policies, he respected her as an ex-prime minister and send his condolences to her family.

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