Simon Reevell - Iron Lady deserves our tributes

This week there has only really been one political story – the death of Margaret Thatcher.

Parliament was recalled on Wednesday and next week will see the streets of London fall silent for her final journey. Margaret Thatcher deserves those tributes.

Some people have described her as a divisive figure. They mean that not everyone agreed with her. Of course they didn’t. But a lot of people did, and for a lot of the time.

Who now goes around saying we should not have retaken the Falklands or argues that IRA prisoners should have been given ‘prisoner of war’ status in British jails?

Whether you are in favour of a federal Europe or not who now disputes that a federal Europe is at the heart of what Brussels wants.

Even the Labour party accepts the trade unions reforms. And, as the debate about our nuclear deterrent is re-opened who now really doubts that Britain’s cold war policy was correct and that standing alongside the USA and standing up to the USSR has brought the expansion of democracy into Eastern Europe and helped remove the threat of European nuclear war.

These were all tough decisions taken without focus groups and regardless of newspaper headlines – and taken regardless of personal risk.

There were of course areas of real disagreement. The most controversial area was industrial policy.

This had two aspects, reforming industry and reforming trades unions.

Sometimes the two came together but not always. Anyone who thinks we would still be building as many ships but for Margaret Thatcher should look at the ship building capacity of countries such as Korea and China.

The world changes as old businesses and old methods are challenged. Ask any business and they will tell you that if the same product is cheaper elsewhere people will shop there.

Countries that had never built ships, rolled steel or made cars began to do so. Britain had become an expensive place to buy some of its traditional products and so the world had begun to shop elsewhere.

Tied into this were some fairly fundamental politics. Arthur Scargill once said that a miner’s job wasn’t only that miner’s job but was there for his son and his grandson.

My granddad was a miner and helped start the NUM in Yorkshire. But I don’t believe for a minute that he worked in the sort of cramped and dangerous conditions many can’t imagine – and was blown up twice – in the hope that one day I would do the same.

He worked hard even after he’d been injured so that his children and grandchildren might not have to work down the pit.

Mr Scargill was about politics and whatever someone’s politics it is the elected government that runs the UK.

That doesn’t mean that Margaret Thatcher didn’t make mistakes. I remember the miner’s strike - my cousin was a ‘flying picket’ – and I remember the consequences of the pits closing on the communities that had formed around them.

Britain had to change and union’s demands had to come after the will of the elected government but not enough was done to help those who were caught up in these changes.

Moving to establish the primacy of democratically-elected government and moving away from sending human beings underground to dig coal are both reasonable objectives but far more thought should have been given to what those same human beings would then do for work and how the communities founded on coal would continue afterwards.

The gentleman in Thornhill who told me that he would always be grateful to ‘Maggie’ because she allowed him to buy his council house was right to feel that way.

But we should also remember that every policy decision impacts on individuals.

Britain was a better place in 1990 than it was in 1979. Margaret Thatcher was the force behind that change. I shall pay my respects next week.

Best wishes,

Simon

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