“What about the workers?: The day Thatcher came to town

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Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has proven to be as divisive in death as she was in life.

The Iron Lady visited Rugby at least twice, once in the late 1970s and once on July 4 1989. The latter visit was covered by the Advertiser who reported that hundreds of people poured into the High Street to greet the Prime Minister. Flanked by bodyguards, she made her way from Market Place up High Street, chatting with shoppers and town centre workers as she did so. She took an economics question from Rugby School A-level student Roger Booth and even provoked tears of admiration from the crowd, some of which seemed to get star-struck by her presence.

She was also confronted by some opposition, with the Advertiser describing a punk rocker who refused to shake her hand, heckles of “what about the workers?” and a man waving a £1 note, angry that so few groceries could be bought with it. The Prime Minister was “predictably undeterred” by the disturbances and spent so much time chatting to people she was an hour late for her following visit to Daventry.

One man who knew her better than most was former Rugby MP Jim Pawsey, who was a member of Parliament for 18 years, during which he was on the executive of the 1922 Committee and on the steering committee of the 92 Group. He had regular contact with the former Prime Minister.

He said this week: “I got on well with her and would describe her as a conviction politician. She was formidable and unique.

“Once she made her mind up, that was that. Of course it was extremely unusual in those days for a woman to be in that position. There were no women in the Houses of Parliament, no female trade union leaders and no other women leading Western nations. That’s a testament to how much Baroness Thatcher was a one off.” He added: “To truly understand her achievement you need to understand the state of the country in the late 1970s, when from both the inside and outside, Britain was judged as being ungovernable. The country had been brought to its death by trade unions, leaving the sick untreated and the dead unburied. You would have to have been there to understand just how bad things were. She was the only person sharp enough, clever enough and strong enough to get the country back on track.

“Speaking to her in person you were acutely aware of her steely determination. She was formidable. We may never see the likes of her again.”

Not everyone in Rugby shares that view, however, and Pete McLaren, Rugby Trade Unionist And Socialist Coalition (TUSC) Secretary and spokesperson, said it was important that everyone’s view was heard.

He said: “The people I have sympathy for today are those working class people whose families suffered tremendous hardship as a result of her policies. Firstly, Thatcher stopped free milk for school children. By the time she was Prime Minister she was determined to teach the working class a lesson for bringing down the Ted Heath Government of the 1970s, and attacked the trade union movement in a savage and brutal way as soon as she came to power.

“Publicly owned industries were destroyed, wages and conditions were driven down, factories closed, unemployment soared and public services were ruthlessly cut. Working class communities were devastated. Such policies have echoes today, and her support for financial de-regulation, epitomized by the deregulation of the City of London, has contributed to the present economic crisis.”