David Hart, the man who did the dirtiest of Margaret Thatcher’s dirty work in the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, has finally died.
The obituaries described him as colourful, shadowy and a confidant of cabinet ministers. But really he was an example of the vicious, reactionary scum who inhabit the clubs of Mayfair, the officers’ messes of Sandhurst and Chelsea Barracks, and the upstairs rooms of Downing Street.
One of Thatcher’s “Downing Street Irregulars”, Hart’s life shows what goes on beneath the veneer of democracy in Britain.
The son of one of the City’s most prominent bankers, Hart was educated at Eton, like so many of the current cabinet. There he met a set of people who would go on to be prominent in the 1979 to 1997 Tory governments, the media and some of Britain’s biggest businesses.
A right wing libertarian proponent of the free market, he “made” his first million as a property speculator but went bankrupt in 1975, owing almost £1 million to a string of small creditors, including his gamekeeper’s tailor.
To alleviate Hart’s distress at this fall from grace, his mother sent round her butler to look after him and his brother paid off his debts. He inherited money and threw himself into a career as a political fixer.
By 1980 Hart was a member of Thatcher’s inner circle of advisers. He came to public attention in 1984 for his role in creating, funding and organising a group of right wing miners opposed to the strike in defence of jobs.
Hart’s brother was a close friend of Ian MacGregor—then-chairman of the National Coal Board—and Hart became MacGregor’s personal political advisor. Another close friend, Charles Douglas-Home, editor of the Times, gave Hart space in the paper to attack the miners.
Hart toured the coalfields in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes looking for people to join an
anti-strike movement. Likely candidates were whisked off to be wined and dined in Hart’s suite in Claridges, before being sent back to the coalfield, allegedly with former SAS men as bodyguards, to recruit others.
When the mass back to work movement Hart hoped to trigger didn’t immediately materialise, he funded further legal action against the miners’ union. He arranged for his helicopter to fly writs to the Labour Party conference, where they were served on the miners’ president Arthur Scargill.
Hart’s gang of scabs did not break the Miners’ Strike. But his black operations made it harder to win solidarity for the miners. It also made it easier for the Labour and trade union leaders,who did not want a clear victory for militant industrial action, to leave the miners isolated.
A brilliant, fictionalised account of Hart’s role in the miners’ strike can be found in David Peace’s novel GB84.
After the strike Hart helped found the Campaign for a Free Britain, which among other things brought the leader of the right wing Nicaraguan Contra death squads to Britain. Hart also secretly financed British Briefing, a newsletter edited by a former MI5 officer who had been in charge of “counter-subversion”, which smeared Labour MPs.
He fell from grace when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher, but re-emerged in 1993 as an adviser to defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind. In 1996 Hart set up and funded “The Shadow Organisation,” the election team for Michael Portillo’s leadership challenge on John Major, which ended in humiliating failure.
He left active politics after Labour’s 1997 election but remained in contact with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s private secretary. To keep the wolf from the door he acted as a lobbyist for some of the world’s biggest arms companies, including BAE, where Portillo was now a director, and Boeing.
In 2004 an arrest warrant for Hart was issued concerning his alleged involvement in that year’s coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, “masterminded” by his fellow Old Etonian Simon Mann.
The Daily Telegraph said that in Hart’s home, “politicians would find refuge from the drudgery and Formica of constituency surgeries to enjoy sparkling conversation”. To put it another way, he was the scum’s scum.