Remembering the miners’ strike:
165,000 people on strike
5,653 tried in court
11 people killed
Source: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, 2014
June 18th marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave, the most infamous moment of the year-long miners’ strike. Thirty years on, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is pressing for a public enquiry into the events of that day, looking in particular at how the authorities policed the mass picket.
“National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor planned to close 75 pits — closing two-thirds of the pits in South Wales — six months before the start of the dispute!”
This blog marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave by interviewing Nick Jones, a journalist who covered the dispute for the BBC.
Nick is a contributor to Settling Scores: the Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike, published by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. The Cabinet Papers: Thatcher and the police uses newly declassified documents to explore how the prime minister took a hands-on approach to the dispute.
How did Settling Scores come to pass, and what questions does the book cover?
Settling Scores is a follow up to Shafted!, which was published to mark the 25th anniversary of the dispute. The aim of both books was to explore many of the hidden issues, such as the extent of government involvement and in my particular case manipulation of the news media.
Why was it important to you and the other contributors to look back at the miners’ strike?
Journalists played a significant part in the final outcome of the strike because once the industrial strength of the National Union of Miners had been contained by the police, the offensive moved to the media frontline and the campaign to persuade men to break the strike.
When half were back at work Mrs Thatcher could claim victory, which is what she did.
I think broadcasters got swept along by this narrative and in part became cheerleaders for the return to work, hence my soul searching, which I described in Shafted!
You sifted through cabinet papers to examine the government handling of the dispute; what were of your key findings?
For me the key findings were that six months before the start of the strike the Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor informed Peter Walker — and Mrs Thatcher was told — that his intention was to close up to 75 pits, and that — just days into the strike — Mrs Thatcher issued a secret instruction to chief constables to “stiffen their resolve” to replace the rule of the mob with the rule of law.
MacGregor’s secret warning about the extent of pit closures was kept top secret and “solemnly” declared that he had never mentioned the 70 pit closure hit list that Arthur Scargill said existed. Thatcher, MacGregor and the NCB always insisted the NCB wanted to close only 20 pits.
Mrs Thatcher’s intervention led to the creation of what amounted to a national police force. Within days pickets heading south were being stopped on the motorways, and those from Kent at the Dartford Tunnel.
What is the most surprising or striking thing that you discovered from the papers?
I think the most striking revelation was the extent to which Mrs Thatcher was micromanaging the government’s response to the strike.
The cabinet papers are often underlined by her; there are hand-written notes in the margins.
She agreed no further mention should be made of MacGregor’s aim to close 75 pits, which he had said would mean closing two-thirds of the pits in South Wales — and this was six months before the start of the dispute!
What other questions do your co-writers explore in Settling Scores?
One chapter deals with the question of the reporting of the Orgreave confrontations and whether the BBC’s coverage was biased against the pickets.
The NUM distrusted journalists, especially those from television and radio who were considered part of the establishment. Much of the filming was as a result done from behind police lines.
Nick Jones and Settling Scores! editor Granville Williams will discuss the book, the media and the miners’ strike at the South Yorkshire Festival at Wortley Hall, Sheffield on August 16. Visit the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom website for more information about the book. You can also find out more about Settling Scores! on Facebook.
STOP PRESS: The Feminist Library is holding a day-long event from 12-8pm on Saturday 21 June, looking at Women of the Miners’ Strike, with readings, film screenings and debates. I will read from Until Our Blood is Dry during the evening session at the event in Lambeth.