IAN CLAYTON COLUMN: Settling scores

Granville Williams with his new book about the miners strike. (w622a409)
Granville Williams with his new book about the miners strike. (w622a409)

Thirty years ago this week, during the summer of the miners’ strike, Margaret Thatcher addressed a meeting of the back bench 1922 committee.

She said: “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.”

That same month I was in the Green Dragon pub at Pontefract, talking to three mates from Featherstone who were on strike and had just come back from picketing. All three were nursing the dregs of half pint pots of bitter.

I happened to say I was going to Nostell Priory pop festival on the bank holiday weekend and that I was looking forward to seeing Van Morrison and a band called Lindisfarne, who I was fond of at the time.

I told them the tickets were only £20. One of the lads supped off his beer, put the glass down with a bit of a bang and said: “Aye, well we won’t be going, so tha’ can stick Van Morrison where the sun doesn’t shine!” I realised what a stupid thing I’d just said and with embarrassment and a face as red as the Tetley beer mats on the bar, I bought a round of beer for the company.

When we finished those, I offered to pay again. The big lad who had told me where to stick Van Morrison, put his hand across me. He said: “Nay, Ian, don’t go over the top, this strike won’t be over before Christmas the road it’s going, save some of thi money for after.”

I was thinking about these things last week when I read a new book about the strike called Settling Scores - The Media, The Police and The Miners’ strike. This book has been put together by Granville Williams, who sits on the national council of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. I’d highly recommend the book for all those who are interested in an unbiased look at the facts of what happened in that strike.

There’s a very good chapter written by an experienced journalist called Nicholas Jones, who worked as an industrial correspondent for the BBC for 40 years. In that chapter Nicholas sifts through the cabinet papers that were released for the first time last January, 30 years on. It all makes interesting reading.

It’s clear now that from within a month of becoming chairman of the NCB, Ian MacGregor was advising the government he intended to close at least 75 pits with the loss of 64,000 jobs, yet at the height of the strike and with the approval of Margaret Thatcher, MacGregor wrote to every miner in this country to say the claims made by Arthur Scargill (based on the figures quoted above) were wrong and that he could “categorically and solemnly” state that what Scargill said was a lie.

Mr Scargill had been claiming since 1982 that the NCB had a hit list of pits to be closed. The recent release of the cabinet papers shows Thatcher had instructed that no written records of meetings about the pit closures should be made. One copy of MacGregor’s recommendations was released, at the top of this three-page document is the typed instruction “secret - not to be photocopied.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was one of a number of people invited to speak at a rally in Barnsley. It was a miserable day for weather and we all got wet through on a march beneath the banners around the town. Back at the miners’ union office I remembered my grandfather and mentioned how hurt he was to have been described as “an enemy within.” My grandad Ted was my hero, he worked at Featherstone Main as a pony driver from 1929, spent six years fighting the war in Egypt and Italy and then worked as a tail gate ripper at Sharlston right up to the 1970s. He loved where he was from.

I told a friend of mine from Hampshire about the rally. She said: “Isn’t it about time all that was put into the past, none of it matters any more, it’s time to move on!”

Recently I have been doing my own book with Castleford Women’s Centre, which started as a soup kitchen during the strike. I spoke to a lady there called Doreen. She told me: “During that strike a lot of lies were told and a lot of lies have been told since, it’s about time we started to dig down for some truth.”

It’s too late for men like my grandad to know what really went on behind closed doors and a lot of others are getting on as well. I hope for their sake that one day we will get to the bottom of it.