Da, Prime Minister


How about neither?

She famously declared that Mikhail Gorbachev was a Soviet leader she could "work with." And now documents obtained by The Guardian, after a long Freedom of Information Act battle, reveal that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did indeed work with the future Soviet leader, when he was a top official to the brittle, expiring General Secretary Constantine Chernyenko—to prevent Moscow from funding the sinister, pro-Soviet leader of the National Union of Miners (NUM), Arthur Scargill.

As The Guardian writes, "The NUM leader, Arthur Scargill, had stepped up efforts to raise cash from the USSR; Soviet miners had responded by donating more than $1m from their wages." Well, as is pointed out further down in the piece, Soviet miners didn't donate anything; rather, leaders in the Kremlin, who were skilled in the requisition of property and wages, would use money from state coffers to underwrite Britain's striking miners, who threatened to topple the conservative government inhabiting Number 10 Downing Street.

Scargill the Intransigent, who outraged mainstream opinion by sending a NUM leader to Libya in search of funds, just six months after a British policewoman was shot and killed by Qaddafi's goons in London, effectively destroyed Britain's influential trade union movement. But it was with a vital assist from Thatcher, whose mettle he consistently misjudged. The Guardian on the PM's behind-the-scenes diplomacy:

The Thatcher government intensified the diplomatic pressure. Three days before Gorbachev's visit in December, Thatcher ordered that the Soviet ambassador be summoned to the Foreign Office. There, David Goodall, a senior diplomat, told him that if the Soviet government had authorised the donation, the British government "would take a very serious view and regard it as an unfriendly and unwarrantable interference in British domestic affairs"…

At Chequers, Thatcher personally confronted Gorbachev and protested that the Soviet Union was meddling in British matters and would help to prolong the strike by giving the cash. Gorbachev stonewalled, claiming that he was not aware of any such donation. It later transpired that a month before the Chequers meeting, Gorbachev had himself signed the papers authorising the donation.

But Thatcher's diplomatic offensive worked: no donation reached the British miners during their year-long strike. Gorbachev had embarked on his effort to reform the sclerotic Soviet state and concluded that the wiser option was to continue cultivating the British prime minister for the sake of relations between the two countries. Sacrificing the interests of the British miners was the price to be paid for not upsetting the so-called Iron Lady.

I wrote about the fall of the Berlin Wall here and about a recent trip to Libya here.