GETTING older gives a few new perspectives on life and self.
I was raised in the cosy middle-class environs of Sussex as the only son of a hard working father and loving mother.
I guess my father’s often right wing doctrines influenced my own, and as a teenager and college student I followed those politics quite radically.
At 21 years-old, against a typical 1970’s university backwash of Trotskyism and Marxism, I was regional vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservatives Students. I was a proud radical Tory, brushed shoulders with Michael Portillo, shared a whisky with former PM Ted Heath and fought hard in Thatcher’s election victory of 1979.
That remains the eternal shame of my youth.
But life influences and chalk face experiences over 34 years changed all that… it changed me as a person, socially, spiritually and politically.
I remember the year Thatcher was first elected, a more socially aware friend of mine warned: “There will be war in three years!”
How right she was!
In 1982 we were at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, ostensibly to liberate islanders loyal to the British Crown, but in reality because we had discovered huge reserves of oil in the South Atlantic a few years earlier!
But it was what I discovered 14 years later as a newspaper journalist, which cast the Falklands War and Thatcher in a new light.
Not only was our prized battleship cruiser HMS Sheffield sunk while carrying nuclear depth charges, but against all international treaties to keep the South Atlantic nuclear free, Thatcher had deployed a British nuclear-armed submarine into the area.
The orders were clear: if the Argentines sunk another of our flagships, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Cordoba was to be considered.
Just think for a minute where that might have led in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. Thatcher was prepared to risk a global Armageddon to secure her political ends.
Thankfully that scenario did not come to pass.
But it was at home where my opinions of Thatcher and her politics changed me forever.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s I lived and worked as a teacher in the small mining village of Darton near Barnsley.
Most of my pupils were the sons and daughters or miners. I played cricket each weekend with miners. My neighbours were miners. I went to football matches at Oakwell with miners. And I bought my first house from a miner.
The sound of the local pit hooter and the rattle of coal trucks woke me each morning and the coal dust got into my clothes and my life.
But what struck me then and has stayed with me ever since was the sense of community and friendship which imbued every aspect of life in that village.
If one of my charges misbehaved at school you could be sure his or her parents would know about it and he or she would be disciplined at home.
If I was ever ill in bed, a neighbour would knock at the door and ask if I needed any groceries or would leave a casserole of stew.
If the snow was deep we would all help clear each-others’ drives or pathways.
If anyone had a party in the street, the whole street would be invited, no exceptions. And those parties were real parties with Yorkshire beer, pies, gravy and puddings.
And if my girlfriend had to walk home late at night, I wouldn’t fear for her safety.
It was a time of the greatest friendship and community I have ever known.
I moved away for misled career aspirations in 1983.
One year later, Thatcher’s brutal decision to crush the trade union movement at any cost laid waste to this community and countless more like them.
It was never to recover.
For those not familiar with this time and place, watch the movie Billy Elliot or the BBC TV series Our Friends in the North to gain a little perspective.
All that was wonderful had been lost forever due to Tory greed and Thatcher’s need for unbridled power.
We had a nation divided against itself where the rich got richer while the rest fought for the scraps.
A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-op
To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It’s a big decision in a town called malice.
My politics were changing fast.
In 1987 and 1988 I was in hospital in Cardiff undergoing surgery for a malignant cancer in the right shoulder and right lung.
It was a time of personal trauma, but also the making of new and lasting friendships.
Many of my new friends were former miners from the South Wales valleys. Many were suffering from lung cancer due to a lifetime working among coal dust.
But it was their tales of how Thatcher crushed the miners’ strike that will always stay with me.
Sure they blamed Scargill for getting some of the NUM tactics wrong. But it was Thatcher whom they blamed for the decimation of their lives and families.
I learned how she used MI5 and the Met Police and every dirty trick imaginable to tarnish the personal reputations of the striking miners, even down to the conspiratorial murder of a taxi driver.
When I had fully recovered from the cancer in the mid-1990s, I was prompted to travel back to my old village near Barnsley to see how things had changed.
What met me was post-apocalyptic!
All vestiges of the coal mining past had gone, the shops had steal shutters on their windows, litter blew around the main street and grey youths gathered on corners with eyes that seemed devoid of hope.
The ghost of a steam train – echoes down my track
It’s at the moment bound for nowhere –
Just going round and round
Playground kids and creaking swings –
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will –
But I’d sooner put some joy back
In this town called malice.
It was a scene I later witnessed in Northumberland and County Durham where three generations of families had been unemployed since 1984.
Their former pit communities had crumbled into decay, with all manner of social problems: derelict housing, crumbling schools, drug dependency, street crime, high rates of teenage suicide and homelessness.
These villages remain, with three buses a day to their nearest towns and any chance of a better life, the lasting memory to Thatcher.
I could also ramble on about the abuse of power I discovered as a journalist with Thatcher’s henchmen… personal battles with the liars Jonathan Aitken and Jeffery Archer, the criminal ruination of anyone who stood against her, the machinations of the Duke of Argyll and Lord Willie Whitelaw and much, much more.
But then my brief story would become a book… and maybe one day it will!
For me Thatcher’s memory lies in the coal dust of the communities she destroyed.
I hold no emotion over her passing earlier this year, but I do fear that in the current Prime Minister David Cameron we are seeing Thatcher revisited.
But sadly my personal politics have moved so far to the left, that there is not one political party I feel able to vote for anymore… not even the Labour Party, whose socialist credentials were surrendered by Tony Blair almost 20 years ago.
I now feel massive empathy with Russell Brand when he recently wrote: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right…
“The US government gave a trillion dollars to bail out the big five banks over the past year. Banks that have grown by 30% since the crisis and are experiencing record profits and giving their execs record bonuses. How about, hang on to your hats because here comes a naïve suggestion, don’t give them that money, use it to create one million jobs at fifty grand a year for people who teach, nurse or protect…
“If we all collude and collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete.
The reality is there are alternatives. That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal.
I don’t mind getting my hands dirty because my hands are dirty already. I don’t mind giving my life to this because I’m only alive because of the compassion and love of others. Men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws.
This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.”
A system so far from the evil of Thatcherism that I would join Brand’s journey and enjoy spending my latter years fighting for it.
Come the revolution!