Thatcher’s Hillsborough Shame

Photo from the Liverpool Echo Photo from the Liverpool Echo

Margaret Thatcher’s death last week stirred emotions across Britain. The context in which my childhood took place was dominated by Thatcher, a Prime Minister who radically changed Britain and created the social and economic conditions in which so many of us grew up.

The propaganda campaign to elevate Thatcher to the sort of iconic status enjoyed by Winston Churchill or Princess Diana began immediately, as did the celebrations around the country. As a Northerner born in 1978 I knew nothing but Tory rule. I also knew nothing but absolute hatred for Thatcherism. Politics was pervasive in South Yorkshire in the 1980s and I was taken on demonstrations by my parents; the CND, the Miners’ Strike, May Day rallies in Chesterfield (where Tony Benn was the local MP), the GLC in London, I remember them all. I also remember feeling confused, wondering how these Tories, the ‘selfish bastards’ as my father called them, ever won an election. Nobody seemed to like them In the run up to elections every house in my street would carry a red poster in the window. I remember my dad slamming on the breaks of the car when he spotted a blue poster among the sea of red. “Who the f**k do they think they are?” We managed to talk him down from banging on the door.

I was ignorant of the divided country that I lived in. I grew up knowing that solidarity, comradeship and support for your fellow citizens are natural instincts. We were all in it together; it was real, not the PR version spun by Cameron in 2010. Equally real were the anger and bile reserved for the Thatcherites as the attack on communities up and down the country intensified.

Of Thatcher’s long list of sins, one in particular came to my mind after her death. In 1989 I was a 10 year old boy and in love with my football team, Sheffield Wednesday. I would go to Wednesday’s home ground, Hillsborough, and be gripped by the atmosphere, the songs, the sense of fun and the football. It captured my imagination and hasn’t let go since.

On April 15th that year 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at my beloved Hillsborough, watching their team play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi final. I was in London that day visiting family and I remember asking my dad the score as I kicked a ball round the garden. “The game has been stopped, there are people on the pitch” he told me. Seeing my annoyance, he added: “I think it might be serious, people are being carried out of there.” As one friend put it recently, this was a ‘loss of innocence moment’; one minute I was a child excited about the match, the next I was sitting watching news reports about young children just like me being crushed to death. The scale of the tragedy was enormous and it hit me.

I struggled to rid my mind of the image of an innocent child being crushed to death, terrified, the life being squeezed out of them. Like everyone around me, I was profoundly affected by what had happened.

On the Tuesday after the disaster, we were back in Sheffield and went down to Hillsborough to lay flowers and mourn the dead. Meanwhile, an establishment cover up was already underway, involving the police, media and our Prime Minister. Thatcher expressed concern that the report in to the disaster blamed the police not the fans. She cautioned her government that the “devastating criticism” of the police in the report was not to be welcomed. A deplorable media campaign, most notoriously by the Thatcherite Sun newspaper, sought to blame innocent fans for what had happened.

Last week David Cameron paid tribute to the “Patriot Prime Minister,” but she was a politician who was more concerned with the chances of passing compulsory ID cards for football fans through parliament and protecting the image of the police than she was with doing everything in her power to bring justice for those the country had lost. Campaigners for justice continue to apply pressure for the full release of information on her actions following the disaster. They suspect that vital information on Thatcher’s role has been withheld.

Her role in the aftermath of Hillsborough disaster alone should be enough to prevent any decent person from mourning her death.

I remember hearing about the residents of Leppings Lane giving lifts back to Liverpool to fans who had lost family and friends that day. They showed the humanity, decency and solidarity that are the opposite of spiritually bankrupt Thatcherism. The likes of Thatcher cannot comprehend such displays of spontaneous caring. Perhaps it reminds them of when they themselves were innocent, hopeful 10 year olds and that is why they want to destroy it.

This article originally appeared in The Source Mag

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