Why we need Justice for the Coalfields

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This week Labour launched our ‘Justice for Coalfields’ campaign, following damning new evidence revealed in newly released cabinet papers covering the 1984 Miners’ Strike. To my considerable shock, the Daily Mail will not be backing this campaign, which they described yesterday as “bizarre”. Indeed, the Mail’s Quentin Letts said Labour was seeking to “revive the aggro of the Scargill era” (when interestingly the only person to mention Arthur Scargill in the Commons yesterday was David Cameron in a typically boorish and ignorant performance).

So let’s get back to those cabinet papers. They revealed that, despite denials from the then government, there was a secret hit list of 75 pits planned for closure, which would have cost some 65,000 jobs. Those official government papers also revealed that Conservative ministers at the time sought to influence police tactics and put pressure on them to escalate the dispute. Most distressingly, the papers also show that Mrs Thatcher actively considered declaring a state of emergency and deploying the Army against the striking miners.

Norman Tebbit this week likened the Miners’ Strike to the Falklands War, a strong indication of the disturbing mentality of government ministers at the time of the strike.

It is quite clear from the cabinet papers that the then Tory government saw the miners as not workers engaged in an industrial dispute to safeguard their jobs, their communities and their way of life, but as “the enemy within” – to use that awful phrase of Margaret Thatcher’s. They were not considered, as they should have been, hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding colliery workers who had a legitimate grievance. Far from being neutral as was claimed, the government of the day took a calculated political approach guided by a determination to destroy the coalfields once and for all.

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Those of us from coalfield communities still feel a strong sense of injustice. This is both because of the damage that was inflicted on our communities and local economy – something we are still recovering from today – and because of the failure to hold to account those in power at the time.

‘Justice for the Coalfields’ is demanding three things from Ministers: to make a formal apology for the actions of the previous Conservative government during the time of the strike; to set out all details of the interactions between the then government and the police at the time of the strike; and to have a proper investigation into what happened at Orgreave ahead of the 30th anniversary in June.

When I put these to Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, yesterday, he gave me a relatively polite but robust “no”. In response to a similar question at PMQs from Lisa Nandy, David Cameron ignored the serious questions as to what was revealed in the cabinet papers and deliberately dismissed the profound sense of injustice that is still felt in places like Wigan or Barnsley. Instead, Cameron went on juvenile and political rant about Arthur Scargill.

This is not, however, about Arthur Scargill or about trying to fight the 1984 Miners’ Strike all over again. It is about justice for the coalfields today in light of new evidence that has emerged. The Daily Mail may not be signed up, but I hope Labour members from across the country can get involved.

Michael Dugher is Labour Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office.

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