9:31am Thursday 11th April 2013
By Andrew Kilmurray
HER death has seen tributes flow from Downing Street and Westminster – but the outpouring of admiration for Margaret Thatcher could not mask the loathing felt towards her by large swathes of people in northern communities such as St Helens.
The former prime minister has been hailed by her admirers as the most foremost British peacetime politician of the 20th century and a transformer of the country.
But her detractors, of whom there are many in Labour heartlands such as St Helens, say they can never forget the way she “destroyed” industrial towns and mining communities.
As many of the national newspaper headlines stated this week, she was a woman who divided the nation. And if she is was worshipped in some of the more affluent areas of the country – including some parts of this town – that was matched by hatred in poorer areas.
If you wanted a barometer towards how the Iron Lady was viewed in St Helens, then a glance through comments on social media sites offered a reading of how despised her policies were around parts of St Helens.
And pictures, purportedly taken of a sign outside one Labour Club read: “Party time. The witch is dead. £1.50 a pint” underlined the hostility.
To some – and there are those who spoke glowingly about the ex-prime minister in St Helens this week - these remarks and statements are extremely distasteful. However, to her detractors so is the thought of Lady Thatcher being given a ceremonial funeral with military honours. In a poll on the St Helens Star’s website 83 per cent of voters felt such as service – which includes full military honours – was not justified.
ST HELENS’ politicians were measured in their comments.
Marie Rimmer, the town’s leader, and a brutal critic of Thatcherism declined to comment while the St Helens South MP Shaun Woodward, a politician who crossed the floor from Conservative to Labour, said it was appropriate to simply offer condolences.
Dave Watts, the veteran St Helens North MP, however, felt it was unavoidable to comment on the policies, which ultimately led to the closure of pits at Parkside, Sutton Manor and Bold, stripping thousands of miners of their livelihoods.
He said: “I am sure Mrs Thatcher will be sadly missed by her family.
“She was a politician who held strong views and convictions, however I will personally remember her as a politician who was divisive and created a dog eats dog society in which the strong prospered and the weak went to the wall.
“Mrs Thatcher’s policies had a devastating impact on St Helens and many people lost their jobs, their homes and were left with little hope for the future.”
Indeed, some of the deepest feelings were among ex miners. Gary Conley, an ex-Sutton Manor miner, said: “Although greatly admired by my mother, to the extent of having her hair styled to resemble hers, I personally cannot forgive Margaret Thatcher and her policies on pit closures for taking away not only a promising career that I was building, but the day to day contact I had with some of the wonderful colleagues of whom I still miss to this day.
“Personally I still believe that Arthur Scargill should shoulder some of the blame of the way the strike was handled and consequently the demise of the unions, which in my opinion sped up pit closures.
“Communities, especially Sutton Manor, were decimated, and still to this day the repercussions of the closure of the mine can still be felt in the village.”
Johnny Vegas, the comedian, director and actor, was among those who turned to Twitter to share his views.
He wrote: “There were times growing up in The North 70/80s when it felt more like an occupied foreign state than part of the same country “A great many people still feel a burning sense of injustice as a result of her legacy. Communities reduced to ghost towns “And folk like my Dad stripped of the dignity of work.”
ST HELENS-BASED Conservatives echoed the tributes to Baroness Thatcher that flowed from Downing Street to across the world this week.
David Monk, the Conservative Group leader for the town, spoke of his admiration for “our first female Prime Minister and the most famous Prime Minister since Churchill”.
The Rainford councillor said he had the pleasure to meet the Baroness on several occasions and was struck by her warmth of character. He said: “She was radical and reforming.
"To give just one example, the Right to Buy made home ownership a reality for many for whom it had only been a dream.
“She was not widely loved but she was admired even by those who disagreed with her. The respectful and generous tributes paid by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and many others are a testament to this.
“Her image was one of a confident, dominant, unwavering woman but having had the privilege of meeting her on several occasions I was always impressed by the warmth of her personality.
“My thoughts and prayers and those of all the members of our Conservative Association are with her family at this sad time. May she rest in peace.” The views were shared by some Star readers who commented online. One read: “Greatest Prime Minster in British history. Pity the politicians of today don't follow conviction rather than focus groups.”
Betty Lowe, a former Conservative councillor for Rainford and a mayor of St Helens, was another great admirer. During the 80s, in a council chamber where she would be significantly outnumbered by Labour, she would placed a picture of Mrs Thatcher beside her.
She said: “She was the Iron Lady – her belief was unshakable. I took a great deal of inspiration from her as a female politician. “Having those pictures in front of me gave me strength – and it didn’t half wind the Labour lot up.
“I met her quite a few times and once asked her how she kept everything under control? She told me to make things a routine and then it will become normal.”
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