FORMER Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has divided South Tyneside opinion in death - just as she did in life.
The longest-serving premier of the 20th century died of a stroke yesterday, with both sides of the political divide keen to speak out on the legacy she has left behind.
Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of Labour-controlled South Tyneside Council, says the borough still ‘lives with the consequences’ of her actions, while the borough’s sole Conservative councillor, Jeff Milburn, insists many people in the area owe her a debt of thanks.
Coun Malcolm said: “She was a conviction politician who dominated politics in the 1980s and was the first woman Prime Minister.
“Clearly, I didn’t agree with her economic strategy which has been disastrous for the North East. We are still living with the legacy of it.
“We are still having to develop new industries to those replace those that we have lost.
“It was her total disregard for the human consequences of her economic strategy that I can’t forgive.
“Whole communities have been left to wither on the vine.
“She would never have done this to the farming and fishing industries, but was quite happy to do it to the North East.
“She has now departed, but people are still living with the consequences of her legacy.”
Ernest Gibson, a Labour councillor who represents the Whiteleas ward for South Tyneside Council, is a former Westoe miner.
He said: “She crucified the working class, just as David Cameron is doing now. She broke the mining communities, she broke the town.
“We now have a lost generation who would’ve been apprentices or engineers, working in the pits or on the shipyards. She butchered this area.
“I became a miner at the age of 16 just after leaving school and stayed until the colliery closed in 1993.
“I went on strike for a full year. I still back the National Union of Miners 100 per cent.”
But Conservative stalwarts in South Tyneside have hailed a ‘distinguished leader’ who dragged Britain from recession to prosperity.
Jeff Milburn, Conservative Councillor for Cleadon and East Boldon, said: “Margaret Thatcher was a distinguished leader and a distinguished lady.
“She guided the country through the recession into bouyant times. She controlled the unions that were out of control, resulting in the growth of the economy.
“She was a magnificent leader in the Falklands crisis. She proved that we were still a major nation and that British sovereignty would be protected anywhere in the world and that British citizens, wherever they were in the world, would feel safe and assured.
“She did a lot of good for the whole country. It is a sad day. She made history as the first female Prime Minister.
“Many thousands of people up and down the country owe the fact they are on the property ladder, and have prospered by it, to Margaret Thatcher thanks to her allowing people to buy their own council houses.
“Many people in South Tyneside have benefitted from this. Her legacy is allowing ordinary people to buy their own propery and have the security that brings.”
Edward Russell, Treasurer of the South Shields Conservative Association, added: “She is one of the greatest Prime Ministers this country has ever had.
“The people of South Tyneside still benefit from the scheme she set up allowing people to buy their own council houses.
“People have been able to sell their houses when, without her, they would’ve only been left with a rent book.
“She didn’t get the name The Iron Lady for nothing. She took over this country when it was about to go bust.
“She did all the work to control the unions, which has helped the country no end.
“She was the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century and Britain’s first and, so far only, female Prime Minister. She goes down in history for those achievements.”
Martin Callanan, North East Conservative MEP and leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, said: “I joined the Conservative Party because of Margaret Thatcher and her inspiration.
“She has always been one of my political heroes and I always enjoy quoting her in the European Parliament.
“Margaret Thatcher was the greatest world leader of our age. We deeply feel her loss, but we also celebrate the extraordinary legacy she has left Britain, Europe and the World.
“In these difficult times we can all learn a huge amount from Margaret Thatcher’s political life. We could use a true ‘Iron Lady’ in Europe today.
“We will ask the European Parliament for an official opportunity to pay tribute to this giant of the 20th century. We will never see a leader like her again.”