Opposition leaders and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were engaged in a bitter dispute today over a speech by Thatcher last night in which she warned that "the hard left" and "the fascist left" seek to subvert British democracy from within by pressure group tactics that threaten the rights of the majority.
Although Thatcher did not specifically mention the leadership of the striking National Union of Mineworkers, her speech seemed aimed, in part, at militant factions among the miners and also within Britain's leading opposition Labor Party, as well as at Irish Republican Army terrorists.
Labor spokesman Gerald Kaufman, a major figure in the party, today said it was "an evil libel" for Thatcher to equate dissent and what is happening on miners' picket lines with the sustained terrorism of the IRA. "If shame was a word they understood, the prime minister and her cronies should be ashamed of themselves for likening this legitimate and justified industrial dispute to bloodthirsty terrorism," he said.
David Steel, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, claimed Thatcher "is helping to fuel the very flames of violence she so rightly deplores. Her style has itself become a major cause of polarization and divisions in Britain," he said. "Her talk of victory over her enemies and her impatience with consensus all make for growing social bitterness."
Today's criticisms add fuel to an issue that is flaring with increasing frequency as tensions and polarization grow in British politics. Thatcher roused opposition anger with a speech in October, one day after an IRA bomb narrowly missed killing the prime minister and her Cabinet.
Opponents similarly argued at that time that Thatcher had sought subtly to link IRA terrorist violence with the ongoing police-striker violence on the miners' picket lines, or with those Labor Party activists who called for disobeying what they consider unfair local spending restrictions.
Echoing her October speech, Thatcher yesterday sought to reinforce her contention that political leaders "have to stand up and be counted, to do what we believe to be right," rather than be pressured on all issues to seek a "consensus" to soothe "a recalcitrant minority."
"We must never give in to the oldest and least democratic trick of all -- the coercion of the many by the ruthless maniplulating few," she said in a speech to the Carlton Club, Britain's oldest, private Conservative Party club.
"Yet these are the very dangers which we face in Britain today," she said. "At one end of the spectrum are the terrorist gangs within our borders, and the terrorist states which finance and arm them. At the other are the hard left operating inside our system, conspiring to use union power and the apparatus of local government to break, defy and subvert the laws."
It is precisely because British courts "uphold the principle of reasoned justice and equality before the law that the fascist left is contemptuous of them," she added.