Some 150 miles and a world away from the pomp of St Paul’s cathedral, on a patch of waste ground in front of boarded-up houses, an alternative funeral for Margaret Thatcher was held.
Several hundred former miners and their families in Goldthorpe, a former pit village in South Yorkshire, cheered as the late prime minister’s effigy was burnt on a pyre.
Many of the 100,000 men who lost their livelihoods when pits closed after the bitter 1984-85 miners’ strike believe Britain has forgotten them. But they have not forgotten the woman they blame.
John Hays, 49, a former miner who now runs a chip shop, said the sudden closure of pits was still keenly felt in his corner of northern England.
“Half the shops on the high street are shuttered. There are 200 empty houses. The kids have nowhere to go. Crime is terrible. We have just been left to rot. None of those politicians down south come to visit. We need investment.”
Mr Hays, who is part of a community group that raises money for local people, defended the mock funeral.
“People will say we are thugs. We are not. It is a celebration of miners. The community needed this. We need to draw a line. We have kids here who have never seen the sea, adults who can’t find work.”
The spirit of the strike, which united local communities, was recaptured for an afternoon. “Never surrender,” shouted one man as a National Union of Mineworkers banner was paraded.
Yet the battle has been lost. Goldthorpe’s pit eventually closed in 1994, judged to be unprofitable. Of four that are left, the nearest, Maltby, has just sent most of its 540 employees redundancy notices as it prepares for closure.
There are jobs around Goldthorpe, but most pay little more than the minimum wage (£6.19 an hour), toiling in the vast warehouses that have been built on the levelled sites of former collieries. The retail and logistics parks serve Britain’s consumer-driven economy – one that has gone bust, according to a placard outside the Rusty Dudley pub.
Drinkers there claim Thatcher’s privatisation programme handed utilities to rent-seeking foreign companies and left dependence on imports of coal, steel and other commodities.
Gary Hart, an unemployed former miner who organised the protest, said: “We cannot undo the damage she has caused.
“In London and Grantham [Thatcher’s birthplace] they will say we are sad. They have jobs. They should come and live in this area.”
In Barnsley, the heart of the former South Yorkshire coalfield, one in four is on benefits, against an average for England of 14 per cent.
The employment rate among 16-64 year olds is 66 per cent, against 74 per cent nationally. Teenage pregnancies are above average, with one in 20 15-17 year olds conceiving each year, while skill levels and school attainment are low.
Unemployment is at its highest since 1996, with a 14 per cent increase in two years even as it has fallen nationally. The claimant count is 5.4 per cent, well above the 3.9 per cent UK average.
The former prime minister was hung in effigy while a man dressed as the devil held a sign welcoming her to Hell.
“She let us starve and left our kids without jobs. She was an evil woman,” said Celia Andrew, a miner’s wife who arrived wearing a party hat, tinsel and hooded top marked “Rot in Hell.”
A horse-drawn cart bearing a man in a Thatcher mask also contained her effigy. Another hung from the Union Jack club, from where the procession departed.
It was followed by two miners pushing a pram. During the strike they would use a pram to collect coal from spoil heaps. Two teenage brothers died when an embankment collapsed on them while gathering coal in November 1984.
Although many terraced houses remain empty, there are neat estates of detached houses, the winners from Britain’s embrace of the market economy, with Range Rovers and BMWs on the drive.
One man loading his grandchild’s pushchair into a Mazda said the event was “shocking”. “One woman was not to blame. It was about economics and the unions,” he said. Sensing his views would not be welcome for some of his neighbours, he declined to give his name.
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