When Arthur Met Maggie

Patrick Hannan
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 5, 2006
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Although their relationship was one of the most important in post-war public life, they never met. But for a year in the 1980s Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher were on opposite sides of a conflict that decided some of the most important questions in contemporary Britain. More than that, they were central to the process of bringing traditional British politics to an end. It was a meeting all right, in every sense but that of being in the same room together, a monumental clash of ideology and temperament.

But if other actors had filled the principal roles in that confrontation, the miners’ strike of 1984-85, would the story have had a less dramatic ending? Or again, did one rushed decision ten years previously unexpectedly turn Scargill and Thatcher into such towering figures? Could one small event have such a momentous outcome? The end of the class war, the creation of New Labour, the wrecking of the Conservative Party, a shift of power and the bewilderment of the average voter were among the consequences. It was the most important of the critical junctions that shaped our domestic world in the last forty years of the twentieth century.

In ’When Arthur Met Maggie’, Patrick Hannan measures the elusive influences of character and chance against the juggernaut of historical inevitability. He explores the way in which small decisions, accidents, delays, mistakes and premature deaths played their part in bringing us to our present condition and considers where the next stops might be on the clattering journey through the political landscape.


Review by Rich Barnett, On: Yorkshire Magazine

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What ifs? History and politics is full of such questions, and Patrick Hannan’s When Arthur Met Maggie, which was published in 2006, goes well beyond that political/industrial personality clash of biblical proportions, to look at various events, primarily in Wales, in the run-up to the strike, and how with various twists and turns in both major political parties in and out of government, it might not have happened.

Partrick Hannan was the BBC’s Welsh Political Correspondent, so he knew much of what was going on behind the scenes during the miner’s strike. He had also been The Western Mail’s industrial correspondent, so his understanding of what made Wales tick – as well as having an over-arching view of life beyond the Severn Bridge Crossing – stood him in good stead.

Starting off with the Thatcher/Scargill conflict, Hannan introduces the key players including National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor, who was appointed just a matter of weeks before turning 71. Unpopular not only with the miners but his then boss, Energy Secretary Peter Walker, MacGregor’s actions led him open not only to the strongest form of dislike, but ridicule too.

“Pulls no punches”

But Hannan then takes us to just after the strike ended and looks at Neil Kinnock’s leadership, before going back to the late 1960s and Barbara Castle’s ‘In Place of Strife’, a White Paper which among other things looked to stop unofficial strikes. Hannan pulls no punches when it comes to politicians, whatever their party, and he writes with style and wonderfully dry Welsh humour.

Perhaps the most amusing part of the book is that which he dedicates to a Welsh Labour Party grandee, Roy Jenkins, who managed to throw off his Monmouthshire background while, along the way, complaining that Pontypool MP Leo Abse had written that Jenkins’ mother, Hattie, was something of a snob.

“Knowledge and humour”

Hannan then goes on to talk about Blair-era all-women shortlists and the upshot in the Blaneau Gwent constituency, held by Aneurin Bean and then Michael Foot, which then saw a switch to independent candidate Peter Law, a former Labour Assembly Member who was voted in both as an AM and an MP.

There can be few political insights that read so well, yet combine that writing with both knowledge and humour which caused this reviewer to laugh out loud on several occasions. The biggest tragedy is Hannan died in 2009, and the word of political writing is undoubtedly a poorer place as a result.

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