Pit closures were a Labour policy; Wilson shut twice as many as Thatcher
My not so distant ancestry would be English dockers and Welsh miners, who worked in the valleys as well as southern Africa. On a tour of a mine in South Wales, I wasn’t the only person who looked rather bored and unimpressed when the tour guide diverged into a tired old rant on the evil witch who ruined the mining industry; he didn’t back up his statements with facts, but rather he had actually clearly ignored them.
Of all the mines shut, an incredible two-thirds were shut during the rule of left-wing hero Wilson; hence most had been shut before Thatcher even became Prime Minister. In 1964, 545 mines where open, but Labour governments shut down 326 of them, more than half. When Thatcher took over, the pace of closures actually slowed, with only 6 closing in her first year as Prime Minister. Overall she only shut 154 mines over 11 years, while in just 4 years more Labour had shut more than double that number down.
Nonetheless, of course, the pit closures are an awkward topic. Yes, the Welsh economy collapsed, communities died, and many people did have to leave their homeland and move to London or Australia for work. My family moved into other areas of engineering, including sales and digital.
However, beyond the fact that Labour shut more mines, what we notice is a situation, whereby in 1960s Britain was being flooded with cheap coal from American and Russia, meaning no one wanted British fossil fuels. Now, I do generally support free markets; the role of the state is not to prop up unprofitable businesses – but I feel a bit of occasional economic protectionism, placing of tax on imports, can save industry, protect jobs, and keep the country thriving.
Moreover, businessmen should have been shifting their attention to the fast-growing emerging digital market. Long gone were the days of coal-fed industry, with trains switching to diesel. Demand for coal had fallen; both Labour and Tories knew it. The Industrial Revolution was a part of distant history, and coal would increasingly be seen as dirty, or simply too expensive. Oh the irony! The Greens that berate the Tories actually hate the use of fossil fuels.
Governments, left or right, from the 60s right up until today, including those of Blair and Gordon Brown, have closed pits. It’s clear that Thatcher did not go out of her way to shut mines just to be evil or just to profit the elite, and neither did she come up with this plan or decide upon it, but simply completed what was not a Tory, but a Labour, policy! Some mines were no longer profitable. Why should someone on a low income, struggling everyday to pay their bills, to feed their children, to keep a roof over their heads, be paying to prop up the failings of businessmen?
The great irony is that Thatcher is condemned vehemently for sticking to a Labour policy despite the undemocratic opposition of Scargill and the trade union thugs. In 5 years from 1965 to 1970, Wilson shut 211 mines – the highest number per year ever. He shut more mines in 5 years than Thatcher did in 11; hence mine closures were actually reduced, not increased, by Tory rule.
Therefore, any criticism of Thatcher is a desperate attempt from a left-wing minority to criticise a right-wing politician; rather, they should criticise the governments of all colours, red or blue, who did not put enough tax on imports, and who did not encourage training of workers.
There is this human tendency of ‘confirmation bias’, where we think of an idea then try to make the facts fit, selecting those we like while ignoring those that are too awkward to face. When people are frustrated with their lot in life, we want someone else to blame, and scapegoats are found, be it the Jews in Nazi Germany, the whites in Zimbabwe, the Indians in Uganda, or just the middle-class in Britain.
Many people angry with Thatcher don’t analyse how many mines were shut and by whom, and neither do they want to hear the facts; they just want some posh toff to bash. When I hear their comments, I notice that they fail to realise it’s not the middle, but upper, class who are the rich elite; and after they fail to make this basic distinction, their attempt to comment on history or economics is rather weak.
The reality is that the economies of Wales and Northern England will remain weak for as long as we fail to sufficiently tax imports, and for as long as there will be insufficient retraining.
The government is appointed by the people, as our accountable representatives, and most voters are actually working class. The predominantly working class electorate had voted in Thatcher as their voice; Scargill’s influence on the state was dictatorial, not in the spirit of what John Locke wrote, and a subtle attempt at coup d’etat. Thatcher won elections fair and square; she was the voice of the people, with approval ratings of circa 50%.
Long gone are the days when kids where shoved up chimneys, not all workers even wanted to strike, and a minority was trying to force their political preferences, rather akin to the pathetic riots outside the Tory conference in 2015. Hence for the sake of democracy, for the continuance of what the People’s Charter stands for, for the working class to have a voice, the arrogant aggressive trade union bullies absolutely did need to be reminded how Britain works. While trade union bosses earn six figure sums, even more than the Prime Minister, they fight for workers tax to be spent on feeding an already dead industry.
We must stop yearning for the industrial revolution; time to tax imports, and adopt the digital. We were a world leader in engineering and we would be now, if we were a little less stubborn but accepted the need for change the trade unions resist even today as London moves to a 24-hour Tube service. We invented the railways, etc., and led the world in industry, building incredible ships, aeroplanes, and so on. This incredible momentum should have seen us now still in the position of world power; Wales or Northern England could have built Microsoft, Google or Apple out of perhaps not a garage but the British boffin’s garden shed. We invented both the computer and the Internet; so what went wrong?
At Bletchley Park, the birthplace of the modern computer, I heard a volunteer moan about how Thatcher’s reforms had ruined the industry; this was absurd and lacked any logic. The failure to tax imports was the problem; Chinese cheap electronics are cheaper.
Moreover, we lost focus, and became stubborn. We failed to see the potential of all this new digital technology because we were obsessed with coal; we were living in the days of Brunel and not building on that legacy. The British economy suffered as we ignored the digital future and demanded to live in the past. Until recently, the name Arthur Scargill was better known than either Alan Turing or Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
It could be said the great failure was not closing the mines, but in that the government didn’t retrain, but let’s not forget that the left-wing socialist Labour government was in power during most of the period of mine closures. Moreover, blaming the government the resultant unemployment is totally unfair – this is not communist USSR; the government is not to be a nanny state that holds our hands and makes all decisions for us. The fact is consumer demands change, and there have been so many opportunities to train, especially as the IT industry boomed. The real failing is in the lack of British digital start-ups.
(Sources of data referenced in article: http://www.conservativehome.com/leftwatch/2013/04/wilson-closed-more-coal-mines-than-thatcher.html)