There have been a number of issues on which those holding the memory of Margaret Thatcher in high regard have claimed that she acted in a way that justifies their adulation. But the release of information from the National Archive under the 30-year rule has shown not only that some of the fan club’s assumptions were wrong, but that her Government was on occasion close to panic.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela still in many minds, and the claims of many on the right that Mrs T fought for his release in the 1980s, it might not be appreciated on the right when the Maily Telegraph, of all papers, tells “Margaret Thatcher barely mentioned Nelson Mandela in South Africa talks” in 1985, and when she did, obtained no joy from then South African PM P W Botha.
Nor will her supporters take any comfort from the news that her Government was warned beforehand that there might be violence at a demonstration outside the Libyan embassy, and that after WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed by someone within that embassy, “accepted no one would ever be charged ... and the government would have to ‘allow a murderer to go free’”.
But it is over the 1984-5 miners’ strike that eyebrows will be most readily raised, as we now discover that, despite denials from the then National Coal Board (NCB) and Government, there really was a “hit list” of pits which were to be closed, and the numbers involved were, if anything, even higher than those claimed by then National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader Arthur Scargill.
Scargill had claimed that there were 70 pits earmarked for closure: cabinet papers from 1984 reveal a plan to close 75. A memo not copied outside a small group of ministers told that “Mr MacGregor [NCB Chairman] had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed... There should be no closure list, but a pit-by-pit procedure”. So Scargill was right.
And government paranoia is laid bare: “the government thought miners might get financial support from Moscow or eastern Europe, and was trying to prevent the funds getting through. Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong wrote: ‘If a representative of the NUM could be detected entering this country with a suitcase full of banknotes, it might be possible for him to be stopped and searched at customs’”.
On top of that, a dock strike induced barely disguised panic, which enveloped even Norman Tebbit, supposedly unswerving Thatcher loyalist. There was even talk of calling in the armed forces to deliver coal – despite the power stations having reserves to last them until Autumn 1985. So much falsehood and misinformation has been peddled in the intervening years, with too many being taken in by it.
It is good to finally get the facts. But don’t expect anyone on the right to say sorry.