Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher: Regionals capture the mood

Today's front pages illustrate perfectly what Britain really thought of Margaret Thatcher. There was no middle ground. It was either love or hate. I spent all of her Downing Street tenure working as a journalist in the North-East. I reported on what happened to the mining communities in the 80s, watched the way the working class values I had been brought up with were brushed aside and saw the region largely ignored by government. It is fair to say in that corner of England she was more loathed than loved. The Northern Echo that I worked on, certainly took a position against many of her policies but it would never have rejoiced in the death of an old lady. 

So well done to Peter Barron and his team for a first-rate and balanced front page. Like many papers, the Echo has gone for a stark black and white image. The three-deck quotes across the bottom show just how Thatcher polarised opinion. David Cameron's 'a great leader, a great Prime Minister, a great Briton' is countered brilliantly by the words of Durham miners' leader Dave Hopper: 'She did more damage to us than Hitler.' Sums it up really. 

The Journal in Newcastle also goes for a black and white image - although a more sympathetic choice - and takes the 'loved and loathed in equal measure' angle. Note the metallic headline - as in Iron Lady.

The Star in Sheffield, also in black and white, takes a more bullish line. It shows a picture from the Battle of Orgreave in 1984 when a mass picket of miners was met with a massive body of police officers - a brutal and violent confrontation. Memories run deep in the mining communities and The Star reflects that.

It wasn't just the Northern mining communities that were affected by the pit closures. Wales was also hit badly. The South Wales Evening Post reflects the view of the majority of its readers - that Wales will also never forgive her. 

The Western Mail also recognises that it is what Thatcher did to the mining industry that she will be remembered for. The word that defines her legacy in Wales is coal.

The Nottingham Post also covers a mining area - but strives for balance. The paper goes for a straight headline but the quote 'we are not sorry to see her go' no doubt reflects the view of many of its readers.

The Scotsman also goes with a black and white image, perhaps a little more sympathetic than those chosen by The Northern Echo and the Sheffield Star, and concludes that she divided the nation. No doubt about that.

Elsewhere in the regions there are more positive stances. The Worcester News goes for the former PM's relationship with Worcester ... and uses a picture of her visiting the Elgar Birthplace Museum.

Meanwhile the Eastern Daily Press opts for colour and a straight headline.

Over on the nationals, the most positive position is, not surprisingly, taken by the Daily Mail. Not the woman who divided Britain or changed Britain ... but the woman who saved Britain. The choice of picture also portrays a softer tone.

The same back-lit picture wipes out the front of The Daily Telegraph to create a dignified and subtle front which requires no headline.

The Times takes a different stance from everyone else. Having opted for one of its trademark wraparounds it needs a horizontal photograph. It selects one of a triumphant Thatcher in Moscow and angles in on her role in the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc. Good concept ... and strong front page. But on the day of the death of a former Prime Minister, you might think it an odd decision to take over the back page with a car roof, tower blocks and forlorn people in fur hats.

Inside the wrap, the paper plays it straight with an archetypal picture and factual headline.

Like many of the regional papers The Guardian goes for a severe black and white portrait to illustrate a Hugo Young epitaph, written in 2003. Interesting use of a yellow headline.

The Independent also goes for a black and white picture. With its tilted crop, gaunt face and staring eyes it is, perhaps, the starkest of them all.

The Daily Mirror plays it pretty straight - with a sub deck questioning whether the woman who divided a nation should really be given a ceremonial funeral. 

Meanwhile, The Sun takes the oddest angle of all. Forget the tributes, just tell it like any other tabloid tale. They could have gone all the way with the rhyming headline ... Maggie dead as she read in bed ... but I guess Ritz is such a compelling word. Not what I was expecting. 

Much more predictable, over on the Left, the Morning Star is pretty forthright. Compare the headline 'The woman who tore Britain apart' to that of the Daily Mail's 'The woman who saved Britain' ... and you have a synopsis of Margaret Thatcher's 11-year premiership in a nutshell.
Nobody on the anti-Thatcher side, though, is quite as brutal as the Socialist Worker. Splattered blood on a grave? The depth of hatred is demonstrated by the fact that a newspaper really believes it is justified to report the death of an 87-year-old woman in such a way. 

Finally, here is a snapshot of the Left's view from abroad. France's Liberation simply labels Margaret Thatcher La grande faucheuse ... the grim reaper. 

To see all of the pages and those I have missed out visit the excellent  and @suttonnick


  1. None of the tabloids went with the obvious pun - Iron Lady Rusts In Peace. Shameful.

    1. That is brilliant.

    2. full points and straight into the final. love it.

    3. Fabulous.

    4. This comment needs a 'Like' button


  2. great blog! very interesting

    1. Agreed. Fascinating. The coverage from some of the regionals 'almost' restores my faith in print journalism! Good to see them reflecting the views of many of their readers rather than just playing it safe. Though I don't recall the Sheffield Star being quite so brave at the time.

  3. It's interesting that a someone like Thatcher, who personified political ruthlessness whilst active, can for some (even on the Left) become simply a 'Frail old lady' in death.
    Some of us live in regions that were decimated by her term as PM, and will never be the same again - just as the UK will never be.
    Personally I write from Liverpool, a city that (as was revealed quite recently) was contrived to fall into a 'Managed Decline' under Thatcher. It doesn't get more hateful than that.
    As has been said elsewhere, she did more damage to Britain than Hitler ever did.
    As far as respectful etiquette in the aftermath of her death goes, you might take a look at this:

    1. I was involved in Industrial Relations in Liverpool. Liverpool was beset with industrial disputes. We even had them over how the broccoli was cooked in the canteen and over matters like refusing to work when the temperature rose above 80 F unless we provided free orange juice. Job and finish which was rife in dock working spread to other industries and people thought they had the right to go home when they considered they had done a fair days work. Frequently you could not get the workforce out of the canteen or alternatively they would sit in the wash rooms throwing discarded cigarette butts down the sink and then suing the Company for failing to provide adequate washing facilities. Theft was rampant and innovation of new plant and machinery was impossible. I am not sure what Thatcher did to Liverpool which Liverpudlians were not capable of doing themselves with far greater efficiency.

    2. I lived and worked in Liverpool at this time .This description of its workers and attitudes is completely unrecognisable to me. Tory boy posting

  4. Fascinating piece Peter. Heartening to see so many fantastic regional splashes in there. Matt Nixson

  5. Never been to this blog before: congratulations on your analysis (and grown-up voice)

  6. Thanks for the great overview. The lame headlines in the majority of the papers are perhaps to be expected. "They'd send a limousine anyway" as The Clash wrote.

  7. Really great idea to do a survey of the papers.
    For me, the hated leader was cast out years ago,while a frail old lady died yesterday; I'm upset by people rejoicing at her human departure.

  8. I think the regionals have outdone the nationals on Maggie's death.
    I particularly like the Western Mail's front. I doubt it ever thought of producing a gushing tribute edition like the Daily Mail, but achieves a neutral front page, without being as simplistic as 'loved by some, hated by others'. The front page suggests an indepth analysis of her time in power and legacy.
    That's not to say I don't like the more forthright and opinionated fronts produced by the Sheffield Star and the South Wales Evening Post.
    I prefer the Post's choice of critic however, Tyrone O'Sullivan led a miners' colliery buyout. I think such strong criticism from Blunkett is hypocritical. It's amusing how Blunkett, who did so much to erode civil liberties as home secretary, is pictured against a picture taken from a scene where the police are widely seen as having acted out of control to aid their political masters.
    The Scotsman's headline hints at the contradictions behind Thatcher's rhetoric and implementation of her policies.
    I also think the regionals have beat the nationals through the use of black and white pics.
    I imagine this is largely a forced choice, as much of their archives would have been black and white.
    The nationals appear to have ignored the earlier period of her premiership in favour of selecting colour pics from the late 80s.
    However I think as the miner's strike and the Falklands were the defining issues of her era (or should that be error) and would have mostly been reported and pictured in the press in black and white, the regionals' use of mono pics best capture that time.

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  11. Very interesting

    Margaret Thatcher was a controversial figure- it's a shame she didn't leave the EU

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