THIS time last year I watched Michael Gove take to the stage in Manchester and start praising Margaret Thatcher – there was a sharp collective intake of breath from the audience. This was risky business – he was at the Convention of the North, not a Kent Conservative club. Someone should have told his speechwriter.

Even more shocking was Sir Keir Starmer applauding Thatcher in the Daily Telegraph last December. According to him she “sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”.

Did she?

I met Baroness Thatcher as a teenager in the 1980s. She probably saw me as one of the “moaning minnies” because I objected to the devastation she wrought on my community. Her policies pushed unemployment above 3m for the first time. Over her 11 years as Prime Minister, 248,000 jobs were destroyed in the North East. My Dad’s ICI job included. Steelworks, wagon works, and of course, the mines.

When Jeremy Hunt brandishes his little red box in the Commons today, it will be exactly 40 years since the miners of Cortonwood Colliery in South Yorkshire withdrew their labour to protect their future. Miners across the country joined the strike and a bitter industrial dispute began that reshaped modern Britain.

I could write a book on the devastating impact of Thatcher’s policies on the North East. Just visit any pit village in County Durham or Northumberland and ask people if Maggie “set loose” their “natural entrepreneurialism”. The responses would be unprintable!

Thatcher’s economic policies have been disastrous for Britain, devastating whole communities, widened the North/South divide. What worries me most is her legacy of deregulation and privatisation remains unchallenged. Successive governments have sold off the family silver and now there are 7.7m people on NHS waiting lists and one in five council leaders say they will be insolvent within a year.

But what happens when you’ve flogged off all our key services and crippled local government? Well, if you’re Jeremy Hunt, you knock a couple of pennies off national insurance payments and hope that all is forgiven. Or, more likely, trap Labour into yet more austerity.

That’ll be the response from our chancellor in waiting, Rachel Reeves. If you’d asked her in 2021, she might have suggested a wealth tax, public ownership of energy, water and mail. She might have suggested capping banker’s bonuses, scrapping the two-child benefit cap or £28bn of green investment to stimulate the economy. Ask her today and she will propose none of those things. Ask her today and she will likely answer with a bland, meaningless line about ‘fiscal rules’. We’ve had nine sets of fiscal rules since 2007. None have been adhered to.

The truth is we are still living under ‘continuity Thatcherism’. Let’s be honest, Hunt or Reeves wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Thatcher cabinet.

But what happens when you prove that you can look after the public finances and deliver for communities? Well then you show that the emperor has no clothes.

As North of Tyne Mayor I’ve created 5,377 new jobs against a Government target of 1,666, attracting companies into the area and levering in £100s of millions in private investment.

The two main political parties spout the same policies while pretending to be mortal enemies. All the while, nothing productive is achieved. It’s not good enough.

To finally shake off the shadow of Thatcher, we must look to our communities first. We must work together at ground-level, because ultimately all politics is local. We must find a way to disagree respectfully and democratically, because unlike Thatcher I do believe there is something called society and it is up to all of us to rebuild it.

  • Jamie Driscoll was elected as the Labour North of Tyne Mayor but has since left the party and will be standing in May's North East Mayor election as an independent candidate