Mrs Thatcher vs the
It barely needs stating that Margaret Thatcher was a cunning operator, but last
Thatcher vs the Miners demonstrated, in almost a step-by-step way,
everything about why she was an unbeatable opponent in her prime. For all his
chest-beating and blazing oratory, Arthur Scargill stood next to no chance
against a paragon of obduracy, who must have been a damn good chess player too.
Looking back at the miners’ strike of 1984-85 four decades on, it is clear that
Thatcher was always in charge of the battle. Foreseeing war with the NUM
(National Union of Mineworkers), she planned everything: stocking up at coal
stations ahead of strikes, changing the law so picketing
at power stations would be outlawed, rearranging police forces in preparation
for a crisis that was little short of civil war.
Neil Kinnock was among those pointing this out here, although anything
approaching admiration was counteracted by complete disdain for both sides:
“Thatcher and Scargill deserved each other. Absolutely nobody else deserved
either of them.” Just for a moment it was back to the good old days of Punch and
Judy politics.What was most interesting about this excellent if all-too-brief crash course was
the point about how Thatcher “controlled the narrative”. She understood the
power of media perception in a way Scargill didn’t. He forbade cameras on the
picket side of the conflict, which was not a smart move. It meant the news
footage at the battle of Orgreave would only be from the police’s point of view,
making the miners look like the aggressors.
To Middle England, the crisis became “miners’ violence versus law and order”.
This simply couldn’t happen today. With smartphones and social media, the
outrage would be all about police brutality and social injustice. The moral high
ground has shifted.
Stylistically, the programme-makers resisted not just the use of Frankie Goes to
Hollywood’s 1984 hit Two
Tribes, but also that increasingly irksome habit of clips of the
interviewees straightening their ties and so on before making their
And while things were balanced, the most piercing comment was not about
Thatcher’s guile in pitting miner against miner, but from a former NUM
president, Ian Lavery MP. “How dare a prime minister call my parents, my
workmates, the ‘enemy within’. How dare she
do that?” he said, and it’s clear the anger of whole communities is as raw as an
open wound, 37 years on.