A friend recently asked me if I would be going to see the film The Iron Lady. “Most likely,” I replied.
The answer was true. I do want to see the film – mostly for the much acclaimed portrayal by actress Meryl Streep of Britain’s first and to-date only female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
My friend who has seen the film went on to say: “I just thought she was brilliant standing up for what she thought was right and up against all those male colleagues – has to be good for women!”
I had to take a deep breath and count to 10.
I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s and I remember the miners’ strike, the poll tax, the riots. I remember a country divided and the poor seemingly just getting poorer. I remember unemployment reaching more than three million.
I also remember one odd moment of unity – sort of – over the Falkland Islands. I remember a moment of pride that our small country stood up for a place apparently that was British but was on the other side of the world and no-one had ever heard of before.
I started working as a journalist in the north midland city of Stoke-on-Trent in the late 1980s. The city is well known as The Potteries – the home of fine china, think Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Portmeirion, Aynsley and Denby to name but a few. It was also a coal mining city.
Thatcher’s tight grip on the trade union movement and the ongoing dispute with the miners were all taking their toll. I covered many miners’ meetings with union leader Arthur Scargill at the helm – pointing his finger at me and shouting: “I see the piranhas are here.”
Scargill was in many ways just as hard-lined as Thatcher.
I had big burly miners – desperate and angry – stand over me and demand to know where I was in the miners’ strikes. I could hardly answer “at school”. But they had a point. Why was I, an ‘outsider’ with no real understanding of their plight, even bothering.
In the five years I worked in Stoke I saw the demise of the mining industry. I talked to families in the town of Silverdale where three generations of people worked in the pits and the women worked in related industries. I saw grown men cry when the pit closed in 1993.
I was there when the Miners’ Wives action group set up camp outside the last local deep pit in North Staffordshire, Trentham Colliery, as part of a campaign to save it from closure.
I took the phone call early one morning at work from one of the wives who announced that three women had occupied a pitshaft. Originally it was claimed or rumoured that Scargill’s then wife Anne was one of them – she wasn’t.
Alongside this I saw the rapid demise of the pottery industry, the merger of Waterford Crystal with Wedgwood and the subsequent selling off of parts of the business.
There is no mining now in Stoke and although tourism to The Potteries – to visit the few remaining factory shops has helped the area – I can’t help but be angry at what happened to this city (and many others like it) under Thatcher’s rule. She wasn’t called The Iron Lady for nothing.
I grew up in the Midlands where there was once a thriving car industry and every summer it shut-down for the Coventry Fortnight so families could take their summer holidays. It’s all long gone now and the remnants of the industry that remain are not British owned.
I became interested in politics in my final years at school. I remember my mother describing Thatcher “as the best man we’ve ever had”. I assume (although my Mum would never have put it like this) she was saying Thatcher had more balls than most politicians because she stood up for what she believed in. But when I questioned what was happening to the country because of her hard-line attitude, my Mum banged her fists on the dining table and declared me a communist! I’m not by the way.
As a journalist you have to be open-minded and objective. I hope I have always managed to achieve this in my work. But this is my blog – it’s my thoughts and memories and opinions. And I can’t help remembering those stories that I had the privilege to cover and tell in the late 1980s and early 1990s and I can’t help that I still feel this deep-rooted anger towards Margaret Thatcher’s policies.
Did Thatcher’s actions “have to be good for women” as my friend said? Well there’s never been a female Prime Minster of Britain since – not even close – and my husband’s Dad apparently once said that Thatcher “had done more to put women back in the kitchen”. So I’m not sure.
But just as she famously declared at the 1980 Conservative Party Conference that “the lady’s not for turning”, nor am I.