Cabinet papers reveal 'secret coal pits closure plan'
January 3, 2014 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Newly released cabinet papers from 1984 reveal mineworkers' union leader Arthur Scargill may have been right to claim there was a "secret hit-list" of more than 70 pits marked for closure. The government and National Coal Board said at the time they wanted to close 20. But the documents reveal a plan to shut 75 mines over three years. A key adviser to then-PM Margaret Thatcher denies any cover-up claims. The miners' strike began in March 1984 and did not end until the next year.

Other papers from 1984 reveal warnings of violence outside the Libyan embassy, in which WPC Yvonne Fletcher was killed.

The files also contain details of three warnings received by the Foreign Office of possible violence at the demonstration outside the Libyan embassy - known as the Libyan people's bureau - on the morning of 17 April 1984.
Guns planted in British embassy

A note in the files from Margaret Thatcher's private secretary, Tim Flesher, said the Italians, who were by then looking after British interests in Libya, passed on the serial numbers of the weapons the Libyans claimed to have found.

Police in London concluded they came from a batch bought from a dealer in London by the Libyan people's bureau. This, Flesher wrote, "suggests a quite extraordinary degree of incompetence on the part of the Libyans".

On that morning WPC Fletcher died and 11 people were injured when a machine-gun was fired into a crowd of anti-Gaddafi demonstrators from the windows of the bureau in St James's Square in central London.
posted by marienbad (15 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It was perfectly bleedin' obvious at the time that MacGregor and Thatcher were lying through their teeth when they tried to deny that they were seeking mass pit closures. You didn't have to be a lefty firebrand like Scargill to see that.
posted by Decani at 6:07 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Was hearing about these cabinet papers this morning on the radio. A bunch of other ugly stuff being reported too...intentionally ignoring Nelson Mandela and South Africa, refusing to see the parents of hunger strikers, hair-styling once every three days.

Tramp the dirt down.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:12 AM on January 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Coal is undoubtedly a dirty fuel, Dasein. But it wasn't as if the UK had an immediate replacement. A lot of coal was shipped in from overseas, and they tried burning the even dirtier orimulsion for a while in a couple of plants.

The pits were closed because no-one the Tories knew worked there.
posted by scruss at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yes, imagine the billions that City CEOs wouldn't have had the opportunity to pocket. The horror!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 AM on January 3, 2014

Yes, it was a false economy to close British coal mines, putting miners on the dole, while importing Polish coal in huge amounts. The unit cost of each ton of coal was indeed cheaper, because the Polish miners worked under worse conditions and for lower pay. However the overall cost to the UK economy was greater, because we were ultimately paying twice: once to import the coal, and a second time to support our miners to sit doing nothing leaving coal in the ground. This double cost was 'paid for' by the bonanza of North Sea Oil. Effectively the unearned income from Oil, which could have been used to improve Britain, was used to support millions of unemployed people.

This tactic was used to dismantle the manufacturing sector as well as the primary sector. The result was a loss of working class jobs: as Dasein says to undermine of the Unions, to reduce employment, and enable a low-wage low-security economy, with low exports. For some people (like Dasein) that is a great result. For others, like me, it is a desperately sad outcome, and is why we are in a recession now.
posted by communicator at 7:13 AM on January 3, 2014 [23 favorites]

It really says something about the statist mindset of much of Britain in the early 1980s that a plan to end subsidies for money-closing coal production needed to be kept secret. Now that unions have largely lost the ability to paralyze daily life in the way they could 30 years ago, it's easy to forget what Thatcher was up against - unions that would do anything to ensure continued employment for their members, no matter what the cost to British society as a whole. If Thatcher hadn't beaten Scargill, I wonder how many tens of billions of pounds would have been spent keeping open mines that lost money and produced the dirtiest fuel in the world.

There was an ongoing closure of coal mines in the UK from 1945. The union did not strike over this as the mines shut were small and former miners could find new jobs easily. The problem in 1984 is that the government thought it was a good idea to shut more coal mines when unemployment was 3 million.
posted by Thing at 7:20 AM on January 3, 2014

I think the two strategies should have been laid out before the electorate: dismantle British industry, or not. Spend the oil money on making jobs, or removing jobs. Then if the voters had wanted the Thatcher approach, well fine, lefties like me would have had to suck it up.

But at the time we didn't just have to make our case, we also had to explain what Thatcher was doing too. Right wingers who now say 'Hurrah - we destroyed the UK mining industry, that was the right thing to do' denied at the time that they were doing it.

It's very comparable to the destruction of the NHS now. In 30 years time that we will have documentary proof that the Tories are working to that end. Currently they are doing it while denying it.

I just want the choices to be set out honestly before the voters and let them choose. If they choose the right wing approach, so be it. I don't think that would happen.
posted by communicator at 7:22 AM on January 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Is there like an annual report or something like that for British Coal during this time period? I'd be interested to see just how bad the losses at the mines were. Like were direct cash costs higher than delivered coal? Or was that including the ongoing costs of reinvesting in the mines? Where did the replacement coal come from?
posted by JPD at 8:06 AM on January 3, 2014

However the overall cost to the UK economy was greater, because we were ultimately paying twice: once to import the coal, and a second time to support our miners to sit doing nothing leaving coal in the ground.

Generally it works out to be cheaper to just pay people to do nothing than to subsidize their work because if they're doing nothing they're at least not wasting other inputs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:11 AM on January 3, 2014

There's plenty of evidence that the Tories are trying to destroy the NHS.

The recent bill is evidence enough. Prior to the bill, by law the government *had* to provide a health service. Now they don't. If they laid everyone working in state health off overnight, simply shut all state GP's, hospitals, etc - and forced us all suddenly to use private health they would not be breaking the law (this would be insane as private hospitals are not kitted out for Accident and Emergency, but that's not my point here).

We no longer have a state health service. We now have a health market, one which currently is dominated by money spent directly by the state, and a market dominated by providers owned by the state. But that's very much a temporary situation. By not increasing the funding to NHS England (the source of the money in the market) in line with inflation it is in effect cutting the funding. Long-term we will be forced into private health hands because the state market and providers will not provide what we need. There is already plenty of evidence of all kinds of treatments no longer provided by state health.

Additionally, if you look, you can find evidence that the current health secretary (Hunt) has gone on record saying that the "NHS is a 60 year mistake", and that Oliver Letwin said within "5 years of a Tory election the NHS won't exist".

Back to the miners. The Tories wanted to crush the miners because they humiliated the Tories in the mid-1970's. The Tories have hated the NHS since its inception. And now they are crushing this too.

Democracy? No.

RE: the miners - look into the activities of one "David Hart": And look at re: "David Hart": "infinitely deniable".

Again - democracy? No. Fascism? Yes.
posted by rolandroland at 8:20 AM on January 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

I agree with you rolandroland. I think it is a shame that part of the energy of the left has to be expended on persuading people that the right are actually implementing right wing policies.

Of course it's complicated. Some of the people who claim not to believe it is happening want it to happen, but they have some residual guilt which inhibits them from expressing that wish openly. I think it was the same with the miners. Tory voters knew what Thatcher was doing but it was easier not to articulate that knowledge, perhaps not even in their own private thoughts.
posted by communicator at 8:34 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the mines are unproductive and costing money, why not invest in improving efficiency and growing other areas of industry? Instead, Thatcher and the Tories just chose to stop after the first items in the check-list:

1) Close mines
2) Break unions

It was poorly thought out, abysmally executed and generations of families were sold down the river. Proper investment of the North Sea oil revenue wouldn't have resulted in a society like Norway (we have too many people in the UK), but it would have laid the groundwork for a better future. Now Cameron wants to do the same for the NHS. It makes me sick to my stomach.
posted by arcticseal at 8:40 AM on January 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Quite apart from anything else, watch as the ludictrous scare stories about "health tourism", creates a pressing need to charge non-British people for hospital treatment (thus putting cash registers in every hospital) and turns into demands to charge everybody.

Don't forget: Tories - Lower Than Vermin.
posted by Grangousier at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

BBC Radio 4 has had programmes since 2005 on these government documents. Up until 2013, there was only one programme per year, but as papers are now being de-classified every six months, they're now broadcasting two per year. The latest episode was released this morning, and once I've finished work, I'll be diving into it.
posted by TheDonF at 10:07 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Where did the replacement coal come from?

Was it Socialist Poland, where wages were low and the workers were exploited?

Communicator notes that above, although it appears that the Polish coal industry is suffering now. It looks like it was cheaper to import coal from Europe than to mine it domestically.

There were probably some issues around type and quality as well, bur minor issues.
posted by Mezentian at 1:05 AM on January 4, 2014

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