The release of state documents under the 30 year rule is lifting the lid on what was going on behind the scenes of the great miners strike.
Last year they revealed Margaret Thatcher was warned she would see nearly half of all North coal mining jobs disappear a year before the miners’ strike had even started.
The miners’ strike in 1984 came as a result of a determination by miners to fight official Government plans to close down 20 uneconomic pits. The National Union of Mineworkers insisted this was just the first of many, the Government told the public any miner who wanted to keep a job would be able to do so.
But papers put to the PM in 1983 show a different reality. “The closure programme had,” Downing Street minutes show, “gone better this year than planned: there had been one pit closed every three weeks and there were now 18,000 fewer in the workforce.”
> “gone better this year than planned” – I think that chilling statement tells you all you need to know about Thatcher.
The Prime Minister was told in the secret meeting that Ian MacGregor, chairman of the National Coal Board, wanted to close another 75 mines over the next three years.
At this point, in September, the energy secretary Peter Walker admitted in a meeting with the PM and others that “there would be considerable problems in all this”.
The minutes add: “The manpower reductions would bite heavily in particular areas two thirds of Welsh miners would become redundant… 48 in the North East.
“From 1984 onwards it would not be possible to offer redundant miners other employment in the mining industry.”
The minute ends noting that “it was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.”
> I bet it was ! And we might wonder what is going on behind closed doors right now but we won’t know about for another 30 years (those of us who are still around…)
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Dec 2014
Margaret Thatcher was privately warned to break off relations with a shadowy adviser who claimed to have masterminded the defeat of the miners’ strike, according to newly released government papers.
Files released by the National Archives at Kew, west London, show officials feared David Hart – a wealthy Old Etonian property developer – was exploiting his links with No 10 for his own ends.
They warned that unless the Prime Minister severed her links with him, he would end up causing her “grave embarrassment“.
The flamboyant Mr Hart had managed to ingratiate himself with Mrs Thatcher with his enthusiasm for her free market policies, offering informal advice on a range of issues, but it was during the miners’ strike, which began in 1984, that he came into his own.
From his suite at Claridges, he established himself as a go-between between Mrs Thatcher and National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor while making regular forays to the coalfields in support of the working miners in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
He was said to have bankrolled the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers and organised the legal action by working miners which led to the strike by Arthur Scargill‘s National Union of Mineworkers strike being ruled illegal.
He later boasted that Mrs Thatcher came to rely on him completely, claiming: “It got to the point where she really let me run it.”
While the true extent of his influence has been questioned, the files show that by the time the strike was drawing to a close in 1985 there was mounting concern in Downing Street about his activities.
In February 1985 Mrs Thatcher’s political secretary Stephen Sherbourne wrote to warn her that while Mr Hart had proved “useful” in the past, he had begun to pursue his own agenda, briefing against ministers like Energy Secretary Peter Walker.
“For example, while professing total loyalty to you, he has not shrunk from denigrating Peter Walker’s activities even though the latter was carrying out the line agreed with you and ministers.
He said that Mr Hart had even sought to interpose himself as an intermediary with the White House in discussions over Ronald Reagan‘s “Star Wars” strategic defence initiative, and warned that he may try to interfere in Northern Ireland as well.
“So long as he feels he can telephone me regularly on whatever issue, so long will there be a risk of grave embarrassment to you,” he wrote.
“I think therefore we must consider how we sever the link with DH in a way which is clear to him but does not unduly offend him.”
In the event the link was abruptedly broken not long afterwards when a misjudged attempt by Mr Hart to lobby the Americans on behalf of a British defence supplier resulted in the contract they were seeking being awarded to the French.
He nevertheless re-emerged in the 1990s as an adviser to Conservative defence secretaries Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo.
Source – Durham Times, 30 Dec 2014
THE trauma of the miners’ strike would have been avoided if Arthur Scargill had pursued “partnership” with the Government, a minister claimed today (Tuesday) – to howls of disbelief.
Matt Hancock, a business minister – answering an historic Commons debate – argued the real “betrayal” was the miners’ leader refusal to ballot NUM members before the strike.
And he told MPs: “It was a difficult process and it could have been done far better through partnership, rather than through an adversarial nature.”
The minister also argued that the pit closure programme which sparked the bitter 1984-85 dispute had paved the way for economic success in the decades since.
“The transition of an economy dominated by outdated heavy industry into a modern service-based economy was necessary and is the basis of the nation’s prosperity now – and that is not much disputed these days.”
> I’d say it’s very much disputed, just not by politicians with their heads up their arses.
The comments provoked angry Labour shouts during a three-hour debate into fresh evidence about the Thatcher Government’s conduct in the 1980s
Incredibly, Labour’s motion passed, after the Coalition failed to oppose it – despite it stating the 1980s Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.
Ministers were revealed to be aware that Ian MacGregor, the National Coal Board (NCB) chief, was plotting to close 75 pits, at the cost of 65,000 jobs – not the 20 that ministers and the NCB claimed.
The papers showed that Margaret Thatcher considered deploying troops during the strike, by declaring a state of emergency.
And MI5 was used to put union officials suspected of smuggling suitcases full of money donated by the Soviet Union under surveillance.
The debate heard passionate stories about the impact of the strike – both on the people affected at the time and on the “devastated” communities left behind.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham City) said, of the Government: “They have no idea of the devastation in these communities – and they are doing it again by cutting the funds to local government.”
Pat Glass (North West Durham) said: “The scars of 1984-85 are still there and they won’t be healed until all this is publicly exposed.”
And Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) – a miner himself in the 1980s, when a police officer “spat in my face” – said Lady Thatcher and other ministers had “lied from that despatch box”.
But John Redwood, the head of Lady Thatcher’s policy unit at the time, said he advised her not to use the Army, adding: “She said ‘Of course it won’t be’ – and it wasn’t”.
Source – Northern Echo, 28 Oct 2014
Former miners from the region will march on Parliament today (Tuesday, October 28) to demand more support for coalfield communities.
The protest comes as MPs debate the release of 1984 Cabinet papers which allegedly showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of pit closures and tried to influence tactics used by police dealing with picketers.
Members from organisations including the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of Mineworkers– Yorkshire Area will travel to London to take part in a rally outside the House of Commons.
Dave Hopper, DMA secretary, said the impact of the pit closures was still being felt 30 years later.
“It is now only right that Parliament recognises just how badly ministers at the time treated the coalfield communities and acknowledges the full scale of the economic legacy of the pit closure programme,” he said.
“The problems in the former coalfields are horrendous and made worse by the current Coalition Government’s policies.”
Parliament will debate a motion put forward by Labour which calls on the Commons to acknowledge the evidence that the Thatcher Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.
Miners also want a full investigation into the so-called Battle of Orgreave, which saw brutal picket line clashes between police and union members, including many from the North-East.
“What happened at Orgreave 30 years ago was a black day in South Yorkshire,” said Mr Hopper.
“The Independent Police Complaints Commission needs to get its act together. If they can’t or won’t undertake a proper investigation, then Labour has said the Government should consider initiating a swift, independent review along the lines of the Ellison Review.”
Cabinet papers from 1984, released earlier this year under the 30-year rule, revealed Government plans to shut 75 mines over three years. The government and National Coal Board said at the time they wanted to close just 20.
Source – Durham Times, 28 Oct 2014