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Thatcher would never have apologised for miners' strike, says academic

Posted on 12/03/2014

As pressure grows on the Government to apologise for the miners’ strike on its 30th anniversary, a Royal Holloway academic says Margaret Thatcher would never have said sorry.

Dr Emmett Sullivan, from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, argues that the Government should acknowledge that Mrs Thatcher’s administration was wrong to deny it had plans to close 75 of the country’s collieries.

The national miners’ strike began 30 years ago today, on 12 March 1984, when Arthur Scargill, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), called on members across the country to join the action against pit closures.

“Thirty years on, the scars of a conflict, driven by a mutual hatred between Mrs Thatcher and the miners, still remain in the coalfield communities today”, said Dr Sullivan. “Margaret Thatcher rarely, if ever, apologised for political policies that she believed in. She didn’t really care what people thought about her - she saw that as the price of high office and part and parcel of her job.

“But the current Conservative Party, who are the heirs to Mrs Thatcher’s legacy, has an obligation to put right her statement, made via her mouth-piece and head of the National Coal Board Sir Ian MacGregor, that she did not intend to close so many collieries. Mrs Thatcher maintained there were only plans to shut down 20 pits but we now know, thanks to Cabinet papers in the National Archives, that this was untrue.”

Mrs Thatcher was known as the nemesis of the trade unions, branding the NUM and Arthur Scargill “the enemy within”. Indeed, Dr Sullivan says the mining communities were unlikely to accept an apology, due to the intense animosity that still remains 30 years after one of the bitterest industrial disputes in the nation's history.

“Mrs Thatcher’s hostility towards the miners was shaped by her time in Edward Heath’s Cabinet between 1970 and 1974, when the Government was humiliated by the trade unions”, says Dr Sullivan.

“We now know that Mrs Thatcher had a deliberate and calculated approach, strategically picking the time of the 1984-1985 conflict. Her Government wanted to decouple the relationship between the nationalised industries and utilities, and the need to source energy from British Coal. This was because the electricity generating grid, under state control, was contracted to buy coal from the nationalised industry, but when world market prices were lower, this meant it could not take advantage of any such savings.

“It is clear today that Arthur Scargill was right in predicting that the initial pit closures were only the beginning. By the time of the 1992 General Election, nearly 100 pits had closed and 20 years after the beginning of the dispute, over 150 of the 170 deep mine pits had gone out of production. Today, only three remain in the UK.”



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