David Hamilton MP
The recent revelations about the secret tactics and aims of the government during the 1984 miners’ strike came as no surprise to people, like me, who were personally involved at the time.
Since becoming an MP I have used Freedom of Information requests to try to obtain papers from No 10 and the Home Office – but have always had my requests rejected.
I believe that the papers released at the start of January under the 30-year rule only scratch the surface of the truth that has been kept from us.
While the revelations provided a level of vindication for me and my colleagues involved in the strike it would be wrong to consider them in a purely historical context. The impact of the miners’ strike still lingers today and there remains a real danger that we will let history repeat itself.
There is a common judgement that the “miners lost” and Margaret Thatcher won. But perhaps we should seek to see the bigger picture and wonder if the miners’ strike was merely the most high-profile battle in the war between workers and extreme free-market Thatcherism.
Even by 1984 Thatcher was changing Britain but the Thatcher revolution was boosted after the end of the strike.
It was after that victory that she was able to deregulate, remove financial controls and unleash the “big bang” in the City.
We still live with the consequences. The inequality, the consumerist society and the acceptance of unemployment and poverty as “the price worth paying.”
Would it have been different if we’d known the truth during the strike?
Thatcher lied about the number of pit closures. She wanted to close 75 pits, not the 20 she said in public. She refused to say in public which pits would close or that 64,000 people would lose their jobs. If we’d known just how many pits she planned to close would the communities involved have fought back even harder and stopped her?
Would the Nottingham area have backed the strike until the end had they known their pits were on her agenda to close?
If the public had known that the government was considering the use of the army to transport coal and passing an Emergency Powers Act to impose a state of emergency would they have reacted to this abuse of power?
Would the country, Parliament or even the Tory Party have seen this as an unnecessary act of hostility and defended our civil liberties?
Were the lies the only thing that kept Thatcher from defeat?
Even if the result of the miners’ strike didn’t change the course of history what do these lies and deceit tells us about our government today?
That Tory government refused to publish the truth, telling us then that it would only be 20 pit closures and that the mining industry would not be dismantled.
Today’s Tory government refuses to publish the risk register for its health care reforms but tells us that this isn’t the start of the dismantling of our NHS. Maybe we’ll find out a different truth in 30 years’ time.
I fear that not even these recent revelations tell us the true story of the lengths to which Thatcher went to beat the miners.
We realised phones were tapped throughout the strike centres and we were able to prove this on numerous occasions.
One example was when the 26 strike centres of Mid and East Lothian phoned each of the offices to inform them we would be picketing the following morning at a particular place in East Lothian, at the same time as we sent out runners giving the true location of our plans.
The police turned out in their droves at Dunbar and the striking miners were elsewhere. A victory to the miners that day.
Victimisation and blacklisting followed and 30 years on Parliament is still debating these issues in today’s world.
The carrot was dangled before police officers – overtime payments not a problem, increased wages not a problem, whatever the police wanted they got, thus making them compliant.
If they did not agree with the line being taken by their senior officers, they found any chance of promotion was blocked.
Are these concerns merely a relic from the past? Were they a tragic breach of my civil liberties which could not happen again today?
I find it hard to believe that there are not meaningful parallels between the deceit and lies that occurred during the miners’ strike and the world we find ourselves in now.
The Snowden revelations tell us that government still seeks to monitor those it doesn’t trust.
The undercover police infiltration and subsequent mistrial of environmental protesters tells us that the police are still politicised, seeking to curtail the political behaviour of left-wing protest groups.
The world has changed in the 30 years since the miners’ strike but the more things change the more they stay the same.
The released papers are not a mere historical footnote. They are a warning for society on the lies and deceit of the government.
This is why the calls for full inquiries which have been made in both Westminster and Holyrood, along with the release of further suppressed papers and a full public apology to the miners and their communities, are so important.
We cannot stop history repeating itself until we learn the full lesson, admit mistakes and offer justice to those who have been wronged. At the end of the strike 1,000 miners were sacked. Some were lucky enough to return to work.
However although they won in industrial tribunals many did not get the opportunity to return – blacklisting followed. I myself was unemployed for two-and-a-half years and many more were in the same situation.
We must stop history from repeating itself.