One night, Mr. Ignatieff went to a miners' benefit organized in a north London house by one of his friends. Some miners' wives had been invited. There were buckets on the floor to drop donations into. He found it one of the most uncomfortable gatherings he had ever attended.
It was a pivotal moment in his life. But there are conflicting versions of precisely what flowed from that evening.
In Mr. Ignatieff's account, he saw the manifest British class system in the house: a divide between the women from the mining towns and the condescending north London middle-class intelligentsia, his friends and acquaintances of the left, who didn't believe in the strike but couldn't bring themselves to tell the miners that Mr. Scargill was leading them over a cliff.
He says he became acutely aware of how much he hated the British class system. He saw how wrong he had been to think that, as an expatriate Canadian, he had been handed a sort of free pass to stand apart from what he saw as class games being played by his left-wing friends.
He realized that, despite the years he had spent with the History Workshop, he was not a socialist; he was a liberal - "left of centre, but always a liberal." He knew he was no Thatcherite, but he felt that Britain could not continue to produce so much coal and the left was being intellectually dishonest in not accepting the fact.
And so, while Mr. Fraser, now master of U of T's Massey College, was telling Globe readers about his "good year," Mr. Ignatieff wrote an article for the December, 1984, issue of New Statesman stating that the coal miners were indeed acting against the national interest.
He also regretted the absence of a rational political culture in Britain, so the issue could be discussed without fomenting class warfare. But what his article fomented was a furor around its author. He was accused of betraying the cause. People severed friendships with him. Raphael Samuel, guiding light of the History Workshop, was furious.
Mr. Ignatieff withdrew from the collective and dropped a wall between himself and all but a few of his former chums.
"The key thing is not only that I lost friends," he tells me, "but I realized I didn't belong in some deep way. These people had been my extended family for a long time, and they're people for whom I still have enormous affection. But I just felt I didn't belong to that kind of pious political correctness. I just felt it wasn't intellectually honest."
Canadian expatriate writer Lisa Appignanesi has been a friend and defender of Mr. Ignatieff since those days. In an interview in the kitchen of her Islington home, she recalls that "at the time of the miners strike, the purist left could not stand for any argument which said the miners might pragmatically be seen to be taking an ideologically self-immolatory position, that their leader wasn't close to God, that Thatcher [wasn't]a devil and so on.
"Michael's politics have always been left-liberal - in the Isaiah Berlin sense; it's not coincidental that he went on to write a bio of him - and certain of the entrenched moral and moralizing left took 'agin' him. I think this hurt Michael deeply, since these people had been his friends. Friendship and politics colliding is tough."
Sally Alexander, one of the few from the collective who stayed friendly, says he took a "deliberate risk" in writing the New Statesman article. "That's the kind of man he is. But being a Canadian he didn't have the same kind of tribal loyalty."
A different interpretation of Mr. Ignatieff's behaviour comes from several of the friends he and Susan lost. As they saw it, with the birth of his first child, he wanted to become an idealized, famous father like his own had been. He wanted to distance himself from polarized British politics so he could achieve the profile and earnings of an establishment media figure.
In their account, he decided that his left-wing friends no longer were useful to him and exaggerated differences with them over the strike in order to stage an opportunistic withdrawal from the collective. They say that, as his media career blossomed, they sensed a new Michael Ignatieff whenever they encountered him, one who was "patrician," "apostolic" and "arrogant."