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
Campaigners have pointed out that rail tickets near the Prime Minister’s own constituency are cheaper that those in the North-East.
Teesside passenger group Coastliners spoke out after David Cameron said the region’s decrepit Pacer trains would be replaced – but fares would have to rise to pay for the new rolling stock.
It was revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister had declared that “those trains are going” when asked about the unpopular Pacers, which run on Northern Rail lines across the North of England.
Mr Cameron rejected his own Government’s suggestion that the 30-year-old carriages could be modernised rather than replaced.
Instead, bidders for the Northern franchise will be asked to draw up plans to replace the trains.
But the Prime Minister said fares must rise to pay for the upgrades when the new contracts start in 2016.
However, research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, suggests it is a myth that North-East fares are cheaper than those elsewhere in the country.
Coastliners’ Peter Walker said:
“Don’t forget that Campaign for Better Transport‘s London-based staff have admitted that we in the North pay as much as if not more than those living further South.”
“Oxford to Tackley, nearly in Mr Cameron’s constituency, is nine miles, and the day return is £3.50, or £3.40 single.
“If the fares level decides what type of rolling stock is provided, his argument implies that Pacers should serve Tackley and Class 166 diesels should be sent to our coast line forthwith.”
Mr Walker pointed out savings to users of the Oyster card meant that many London journeys of similar length similar to, or greater than, those on the coast line were far cheaper :
“London to East Croydon, some 13 miles, works out at £3 single for an Oyster-card holder.”
Mr Walker also questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that Northern Rail fares were the most heavily subsidised in the country.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
Cheap North-East rail fares are a “myth” that should be dispelled, campaigners say as the Government proposes increasing tickets prices to pay for better services.
Train fares in the region are already comparable with other parts of the UK and putting up prices to pay for new rolling stock and more frequent services would be unfair, says rail user group Coastliners.
As part of a consultation exercise ahead of the refranchising of the Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) services, the Government has asked users for their views on below-average fares being increased to pay for improvements.
But research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, found that many journeys in the Tees Valley were no cheaper than those in the South-East and London.
Peter Walker, who carried out the study, said the South-East had received massive investment in schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail – and North-East passengers deserved similar levels of funding without seeing substantial price rises.
“We often pay as much for our trains as do those in the Home Counties. It is time to end the double standards of funding so often seen in the years gone by.”
The findings were supported by Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport.
“There are many myths about rail in the North of England which desperately need dispelling if passengers are to get a fair deal.
“The idea that northern passengers are getting better value for money than passengers in the south is one of these.
“Not only are standard fares very similar across the regions, but investment per head in the south is around twice that per head in the north.”
In response, the Department for Transport said the consultation on the Northern and TPE franchises asked for views on how services could be improved and how this could be balanced with fares.
“We are very aware of passengers’ concerns over rail fares, and that is why the Chancellor announced a second year’s freeze in real terms on regulated fares, as well as abolishing train operating companies’ ability to flex prices on unregulated fares.”
The RMT has announced that it will hold an event in the House of Commons to lobby MPs on the Northern and TPE franchises.
The transport union said members and supporters from across the country would attend the event on November 4.
Source – Northern Echo , 18 Oct 2014