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