A “Westminster elite” of Labour MPs look down on people with Northern accents, a politician from the region has claimed.
Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, himself a Labour MP, said that when MPs hear his North East accent they think “that man doesn’t know too much” and claimed his party has too many politicians who haven’t worked “on the factory floor”.
But he today claimed the remarks were not a criticism of party leader Ed Miliband – saying they were about getting more working-class MPs into Parliament.
The Northumberland MP was recorded making the remarks at a conference on social mobility in London organised by the think-tank Class.
“I’ve got to say there are some superb Labour Party MPs,” he was reported to have said.
“Sadly, there’s not enough MPs who’ve actually worked on the coalface, on the factory floor.
“We haven’t got enough ethnic minorities, we haven’t got enough disabled people in, who have actually been there.
“We’ve got an elite in Westminster which, quite frankly, frightens me.
“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think ‘Well, that man doesn’t know too much’.”
Mr Lavery, a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said some national media had “willfully misrepresented what I said” and stressed that he fully supports Mr Miliband as his party’s leader.
“My comments were about the need for more working-class MPs and in no way a criticism of Ed or his office.
“For the record, I believe s absolutely the right man to bring in policies that will be of great benefit to people in the North and across the country.”
It comes after former Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to criticise Labour leader Mr Miliband.
The ex-Sedgefield MP told The Economist that May’s General Election was shaping up to be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.
> Sounds good – remind me, which is the left-wing party ?
Asked if he was implying that the Conservatives would win, Mr Blair is reported to have said yes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Jan 2015
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
During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington in Northumberland was considered the “world’s largest coal-mining village.”
The town had a working pit and was part of a corner of the county where the industry thrived with sites also at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Blyth and Ellington.
However, by the end of the 1980s, things had changed.
By 1967 Newbiggin Colliery had closed and – with Margaret Thatcher in power – in 1986 Bates Colliery at Blyth was shut down with Ashington following suit two years later.
Men were left out of work with 64,000 jobs lost across Britain as Thatcher’s government went to war wth the miners.
Today, the former Ashington mine is the home of a business park with a large pond at its centre.
It looks pleasant enough.
But has the restoration of the site seen the revitalisation of the town, and Northumberland’s former coalfields as a whole?
The local MP – who is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a charity set up to regenerate Britain’s former coalfields in which 5.5 million people live, and academics commissioned by that charity, certainly don’t think so.
30 years on from the 1984/85 miners’ strike which followed the announcement that pits were to close, The Coalfields Regeneration Trust commissioned Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research to takes stock of social and economic conditions in former coalfields.
The report for the charity, set up to “champion coalfield communities, generate resources to respond to their needs and deliver programmes that make a positive and lasting difference,” revealed deprivation, ill health and poor employment, with just 50 jobs for every 100 people of working age, 11.7% of people reporting long-term health problems and 14% of adults claiming out-of-work benefits.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, whose constituency covers Ashington and Newbiggin, says it is a familiar picture locally.
“The stark thing from the report is that it shows that despite the attention in these former coalfields towns and villages up and down the country, there is still huge problems in terms of the high unemployment, the high youth employment, the low wage economy.
“Sadly the North has got the highest level of unemployment. We have got associated problems.
“Lack of business opportunities, and there is wide scale child poverty in the towns and villages which is something we should not be looking at in this day and age.
“Some of my wards in my constituency child poverty is 40 per cent.”
Mr Lavery, who has lived and worked in a mining community all his life, has called on the powers-that-be to address what he has deemed a lack of investment in the former coalfields over the years.
“There is a whole number of problems arising from that report, that local authorities and the government need to take a look into that report and make sure more investment is made.
“I believe the North East has been left behind. We have not had the resources aimed at other industries.
“I would call on the government to scrutinise what has happened in the North East. Where it has went wrong and make a pledge to put it right.
“We are a cash rich nation, to have children in poverty is a political choice. Money is being spent on different projects.
“My simple project would be to eradicate child poverty.
“We can not have kids can not go to school because they have not got enough food in their bellies.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for that level of poverty in areas in any region.
“What needs to be done is there needs to be more investment in the coalfield communities, there needs to be more job opportunities, more business investments, better skills and knowledge and more job creation.
“If we get that with decent terms and conditions, the rest will follow in line.
“The government need to look at how best to assist the North East region, to eradicate the problems which are clearly identified in this report.”
He felt Northumberland County Council is doing its best to help, given its limited financial clout.
“I think the county council the last couple of years, they are doing their damnedest.
“They have tried to put a lot of things in place.
“They are absolutely cash strapped because of the cuts to local government. They have not got the finance they once had.
“A lot of the service Wansbeck (District Council) provided are not being provided any more.”
Since 2011, the trust has created and safeguarded 911 jobs and secured full or part-time employment for a further 2,921 people living within the coalfields communities throughout England.
Since it was established 15 years ago, programmes delivered by the trust have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the British coalfields, including helping more than 21,000 people into work and over 187,000 to gain qualifications and new skills.
Chairman of the charity Peter McNestry said:
“We welcome Ian’s support and absolutely agree that additional finances are required if we are to make a difference in these areas.
“We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields meaning they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.”
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. An entire industry ceased to exist, which employed directly and indirectly most of the people living within these areas. We cannot just turn our backs and walk away. “These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
The government said its investment in the trust is proof of its support for former coalfields, with over £200m given to the body over the last 15 years, and money ploughed into the areas from other sources.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Long term economic planning has helped to secure a better future and deliver much needed growth.
“We have given over £220 million to support to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust since 1999.
“They have been moving to a self-financing model and the trust now has a strong portfolio of investment and an opportunity to concentrate on the areas where they really add value.
“Regeneration is essential to building a strong and balanced economy, which is why we have given extensive support to many of these areas with the £1.4billion Regional Growth Fund, Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Deals.”
The county council said it is working to improve the former coalfield areas, drawing in investment from elsewhere in addition to spending money of its own.
The authority said its top priority, along with the hoped for dualling of the A1 North of Morpeth, is to secure around £65m to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line to passenger services.
Furthermore, the council is leading the project for a new £30m South East Northumberland Link Road.
In addition, Arch, the authority’s county development company, is leading creation of a ten year investment plan for Ashington.
This could see a potential £74m ploughed into the town and bring 1,000 high-quality jobs.
Arch is also leading the delivery of a new £20m leisure and community facility at Ashington while the council is proposing to move its headquarters from Morpeth to the town.
The authority furthermore cited its support for the opening of a new £120m Akzo Nobel factory at Ashington.
It also highlighted the new £8m Blyth Workspace building being led by Arch, the first part of the town’s Enterprise Zone.
The council has furthermore secured £600,000 for preparatory work on the former power station site at East Sleekburn which could host 500 new jobs.
The authority also highlighted the £1m being invested at Lynemouth by the Big Lottery Fund and its setting up of a poverty issues task and finish group.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the county council, said: “The council is putting former coalfield communities at the heart of our future plans for growth as part of creating a balanced economy across the county.
“I believe there is real cause for optimism in the former coalfields and increasingly we can look to a future that is not defined by but always remembers and celebrates the legacy of our industrial heritage.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Nov 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
Labour Party leaders and union chiefs who did not support the miners’ strike in the 1980s helped weaken the movement, a miners’ leader says.
Thousands of people will flock to Durham City on Saturday (July 12) for the 130th Durham Miners’ Gala, which marks 30 years since the start of the bitter dispute.
In his programme notes, Dave Hopper, general secretary of Gala organisers the Durham Miners’Association, says declassified documents reveal that the Thatcher Government was determined “to butcher the coalfields and smash the National Union of Mineworkers.”
He praises politicians and unions who supported the strike.
But he continues:“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade unions and Labour Party leaders who did not support our strike.
“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but for weakening the whole trade union movement.
“They will be remembered in the former coalfield of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.
“The refusal of New Labour, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.”
Five new banners will be on display at the Gala – Fenhall Drift Mine, Lanchester; St Hilda Colliery, South Shields; New Brancepeth Colliery, County Durham; a UNITE Community Membership Banner and West Rainton Primary School’s Adventure Pit banner.
The parade through the city to the racecourse will start at about 8.30am.
There will be a funfair, various stalls and entertainment, including folk singer Benny Graham, on the field throughout the day.
Speeches will be made between 12.15pm and 2.30pm.
The speakers are Bolsover Labour MP Dennis Skinner, Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan, NUT general secretary Christine Blower, and Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF.
Mr Hopper says Labour leader Ed Miliband was “sounded out” about attending the Gala, but nothing had been heard from him.
The blessing of banners service in Durham Cathedral starts at 3pm.
Delegations from Germany, Ukraine and Ireland are expected to attend.
Details, including events marking the strike anniversary, are at http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Durham Times, 10 July 2014
A reunion aims to bring together former picketing pitmen as they remember the strike 30 years on.
Durham Miners’ Association is inviting its friends and supporters, particularly those who took part in the industrial action, to gather at its headquarters in Red Hill, Durham, to “renew old friendships and celebrate the spirit that endured a year long battle”.
The gathering will be held on Saturday.
Three decades on, the hostilities generated between the miners and the authorities remain an issue.
Its general secretary Dave Hopper said: “The recent release of the Thatcher Government’s Cabinet papers has exposed the falsehoods and deceit used to defeat the miners’ strike of 1984/85.
“Now everyone knows that Thatcher deliberately lied about the full extent of her pit closure programme and was so determined to butcher the coal industry and smash the National Union of Mineworkers that she was even preparing to use the army to break the strike.
“None of this, of course, will shock our mining communities, which fought so bravely to resist the Tory onslaught.
“We thank those unions and members of the labour movement and all who gave us unstinting and invaluable help.
“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade union and Labour Party leaders who did not support our cause.
“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but also for weakening the whole trade union movement.
“They will be remembered in the former coalfields of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.
“The refusal of ‘New Labour’, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.
“Now we have to fight, with a weakened trade union movement, against draconian Tory-Liberal austerity measures which are impoverishing working people while the rich, who caused the economic crisis, have doubled their wealth since 2008.
“We need the fighting spirit which sustained us through that year-long strike more than ever because the fight for our communities which started in 1984 is still ongoing.
“I hope everyone will come on Saturday 21st and have a great time.”
The event will include refreshments and folk music performances, with a marquee to be set up in the grounds of the association’s base.
For more details visit http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Sunderland Echo, 19 June 2014
Still the Enemy Within is a unique insight into one of Britain’s most dramatic struggles, the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. No experts. No politicians. Thirty years on, this is the raw first-hand experience of those who lived through the UK’s longest strike. Follow the highs and lows of that life-changing year.
In 1984, a conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on the unions, taking on the strongest in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers. Following a secret plan, the government began announcing the closure of coal mines, threatening not just an industry but whole communities and a way of life.
Against all the forces the government could throw at them, 160 000 coal miners took up the fight and became part of a battle that would change the course of history.
Still the Enemy Within tells the story of a group of miners and supporters who were on the frontline of the strike for an entire year. These are the people that the media dubbed ‘Arthur’s Army’ and who Margaret Thatcher called ‘the Enemy Within’. Many of them have never spoken on camera before.
Using interviews and a wealth of rare and never before seen archive, Still the Enemy Within draws together personal experiences – whether they’re tragic, funny or terrifying – to tell the story of the key moments in the strike. It puts the viewer right at the centre of events.
Follow Norman Strike, from devising ingenious ways of getting past police road blocks in a key battleground, Nottingham, to suddenly finding himself a minor celebrity after a mishap on national television; Paul Symonds, from the optimism and excitement of a young man fighting for his future to the tragic death of his best friend on a picket line; Joyce Sheppard, from her life as an ordinary housewife to becoming a political activist and facing violence as huge numbers of police are sent in to Yorkshire villages to break the strike.
They, along with a range of voices from across the country, give a frank, emotional and ultimately inspiring account of ordinary people at the centre of extraordinary events.
From the infamous Battle of Orgreave, where miners found themselves in a brutal confrontation with over five thousand police, to the hardship endured after almost a year on strike – their story is not just one of personal drama but one that raises questions about the very nature of British society.
Still the Enemy Within shatters the mainstream narrative of the Miners’ Strike. It challenges us to look again at Britain’s past and how it shaped the world today, so that in the words of Yorkshire miner Steve Hammil, “we can still seek to do something about the future”.
The film will premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2014 in June, followed by a screening on the weekend on the Durham Miners Gala, 13th July in the Miners Hall at Redhill, Durham City.
More info – http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/