It would seem that, regardless of any political affiliation, the miners will continue to pay a high price for being pawns in the 1984 battle between Margaret Thatcher and the NUM until the last man dies.
Never let it be said that money isn’t the route of all evil.
The last remaining Nottinghamshire Colliery at Thoresby finally ended 750 years of production in the summer of 2015, closely followed by Kellingley in North Yorkshire At the time of originally writing this article Thoresby was winding away peacefully in my corner of the county where you once couldn’t walk five miles in any direction without landing in pit yard. The Nottinghamshire countryside has gained a few more hills as the spoil heaps have been grassed over. New Industrial and retail parks have sprouted where the pits used to be and a few more besides, funded by the European Area Regeneration Fund. I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Ted Heath, he was probably only one of a few politicians who I believe meant well, but fell foul of human nature and adverse consequence. Sometimes we forget politicians are human, but on the other hand, so do they.
These days I drive around the countryside which is more green and pleasant than it ever was. The shadows of the turning pitheads and rising spoil heaps rise in my memory and fall back to that place where you smile at the good things, forgetting the bad. There is a silence; a stillness that echoes of something once mighty now gone and a world moved on.
The pithead at Clipstone with its two exposed pithead wheels perched on high steel towers still stands as a protected monument, broken and bedraggled in a large of area of derelict land waiting for some bright spark to come up with an idea of what to do with it. I pass it often, every time taking my eyes off the road to look it as it passes me by, half believing the wheels are still turning.
Loss of heritage is not an easy thing to reconcile, especially when the loss is relatively sudden and affects entire communities. Speaking personally I lost a great deal, including my marriage, which couldn’t withstand the pressure of long term employment uncertainty. In the years after the strike the world seemed to stop turning for a while, once thriving populations had the rug pulled out from beneath their feet leaving defeat and desperation etched across every face. Even with retraining, it was hard for ex miners to find secure work and I clearly remember a story circulating of an ex miner from a nearby community taking a shotgun into the forest to end his life rather than face a life without a job. The immediate effect of the loss of the pits was to push unemployment in the UK to 3.25 million at the same time the Yuppie revolution began in the cities. It is difficult not to think that Margaret Thatcher had no reason to decimate the industry as she did other than a stubborn will to prove a point and it’s noticeable that Ian McGregor didn’t stay around to witness it.
There came a point in my career when I stopped being a bean counter and found myself walking the carpeted corridors of Whitehall as a visitor to fill a new role. Rubbing shoulders with our leaders, even if only in passing, with offices full of bright young things running in the wake of MP’s with oversized polished desks, leather furniture and TV’s continually showing the news channels, it’s easier to understand their detachment from the real lives of the population they control. It’s a very long way down when you’re sat at the top of the ladder and those at the bottom must seem more like ants than people. Life in politics is about power and policy and precious little to do with the common man.
1984 should never have happened. In my opinion, the dispute should have gone to arbitration then there would not have been a ‘winner takes all’. With pay restructuring across the Industry, the lowering of coal prices to the Energy Industry and the loss of only those pits that were proved to be uneconomic, the Industry could have survived as a profitable enterprise until natural forces intervened, but it was not to be. Those who held the power, the government and the NUM, had other agenda’s to fill and no desire to be led by compromise.