Hard to admit, but I owe Margaret Thatcher a debt of gratitude. Her rise to power and my total abhorrence of the threat posed by her strident politics gave me no option in the late Seventies but to become a political cartoonist. My first professional commissions came in 1979, the year she became Prime Minister. I couldn’t draw very well and was pretty ignorant about British politics, but my background, where I lived and the people I mixed with imbued me with a feel for ensuing events that found me able to articulate the outrage before it was expressed on the streets. Just how far she was prepared to go to dismantle Britain’s nationalised industries, chip away at the welfare state, and destroy the power of the unions I don’t think any of us could have predicted.
I live in the heart of what was the East Midlands coalfields. When Thatcher went to war on the NUM, I joined the picket lines and assisting with relief for miners families, but I was also the editorial cartoonist on The Chad, the Mansfield newspaper. You would imagine the local paper would be supportive of the miners and their families, given they accounted for a large portion of sales, but no. Then owned by the Linneys, a powerful local dynasty (still) who also controlled a huge print works and chain of stationers, it seems the word came from on high that Chairman Linney was less than impressed by the cartoons in his rag. They appeared to be somewhat biased against the police state, which is what the East Midlands felt like during the strike, what with units being bussed in from all over the country and raging street battles outside pits like Ollerton. The cartoon that finally got me sacked is featured, and even then seemed strikingly innocuous.
As for Prime Minister Thatcher, I remain outraged by what she did to this country and the legacy she’s inflicted on youngsters in decimated and isolated mining communities like Harworth, where today drug and alcohol abuse, and demotivation are the villager’s biggest headache. For all that and much more, Thatcher was also the last charismatic political leader in Britain who had a vision, a far cry from the grey, corrupt, corporate and incompetent toadies we’ve been saddled with ever since.
Old Nick won’t know what’s hit him!