Nottinghamshire & the Miners Strike

Being a Notts lad with previous generations of my family working at Notts pits (but having not lived there myself since 1964) and a life-long trade unionist the 1984/85 miners strike has always interested me, yet strangely I knew little of it on the ground in Notts.

I was a trade union officer in the civil service on Merseyside from around 1979 until 2013 so the work and conditions of my members was so far removed from that of coal miners to be almost of another world. Obviously, I recall the miners strike from my early days working for my union together with the political and social turmoil that flowed from it. However, considering I was born in a mining community and had relatives who were or had been miners I have little knowledge of what they felt about the strike. It’s not that my branch of the family living on Merseyside wasn’t in touch with relatives living in Notts but I really don’t recall the crisis that was the miners strike being the subject of family discussion. But, as I have recounted before, I do recall general talk about the run down of the mining industry.

Both my grandads were miners, one died from pneumoconiosis (a disease of the lungs due to inhalation of dust, characterized by inflammation, coughing, and fibrosis) and the other of lung cancer if I recall correctly. I also had two uncles who were miners. Here’s a link to my previous posting about coal mining and my family connections with it:-

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So I wanted to know more about the miners strike and particularly about what went on in Nottinghamshire. Eventually I plumped for a book titled ‘Look Back In Anger – The Miners Strike in Nottinghamshire 30 Years On’ by Harry Paterson published in 2014.

Harold Wilson’s Governments closed more pits than Thatcher

The first thing which jumped off the page at me was the revelation (to me anyway) that Harold Wilson’s Governments had closed far more pits (290) than Maggie Thatcher did (160). Coal mining in the UK had clearly been in significant decline well before Thatcher came along, she just brought that decline to a swift and extremely bitter end.

TUC and Labour Party leaders didn’t throw their lot in with the miners

That the miners strike was a class based conflict i.e. the ruling elite against the working class colliers is a given but it was fight instigated by the ruling elite who were determined to break the power of 1980’s trade unions. And don’t think that the TUC and Labour Party leaders threw their lot in with the miners because they didn’t. Indeed, you could say that they stood to one side with embarrassed looks on their faces whilst making the odd supportive but meaningless comforting comments to the strikers.

Police used by state to deny freedom of movement

The role of the Police throughout the strike was at best worrying as they were being used by Government to stop the free movement of striking miners around the UK. Yes that’s right UK citizens were having their right to travel around the country curtailed by the forces of law and order. A parallel to some extent with our present somewhat bizarre Brexit situation where the leaders of the Tory and Labour Parties back a Brexit which will stop the free movement of UK citizens across the EU. Of course, there were outbreaks of terrible violence throughout the dispute and fingers have been and still are being pointed at the Police for being the cause of it as opposed to them being tasked with bringing it to an end as you might expect!

UDM was not formed until strike was over

Another interesting fact is that the UDM (Union of Democratic Mineworkers) was not formed until after the strike had ended so the strikers and non-strikers were members of the same NUM union. Both unions went into very significant decline in terms of their membership after the strike as so many pits closed over a relatively short period.

But what of Nottinghamshire where the vast majority of miners worked through the strike? Clearly there had been times before the strike where Notts miners had worked through disputes so Notts miners holding views in conflict with their national trade union was not new. There also seems to be a strand of thought that says the Notts working miners throughout the dispute felt that they would not be significantly affected by pit closures and where pits did close the miners would simply move to other (local?) pits. How wrong that proved to be.

Coal miners had a history of following work around the UK. One of my Grandads was from a family which had moved from the Sunderland to Notts probably because of plentiful mining work. Of course it was not unusual for pits to close because they had hit a ‘white wall’ i.e. the pit had been exhausted of coal. Pits had also closed over generations because the remaining coal was uneconomic to extract.

My view is that the book comes to the conclusion that there were many historical, economic and social reasons why many Notts miners did not take part in the strike and that individual miners will have held differing views, but with a common thread to them. That Notts miners were in conflict with their own union leadership most of the time seems to be a given. They seemed to value the federated nature of the NUM highly probably to a far greater extent than any other mining area in the UK.

Working Class Conservatism

Working Class Conservatism also plays into this too. My grandparents on one side were of this political belief, living in a council house but running a fruit and veg business; a shop and after my grandad came out of the pit and horse and cart round. I don’t know much about the politics of my Mum’s parents, who were from the same Notts community, but as Mum was a Chapel Liberal I’m guessing that they may well have been too.

We look at Conservatism these days as being mainly a political creed of the wealthy and probably, after Brexit, of the far right too. But back in the day and probably to some extent now (Mansfield has a Tory MP) working Class Conservatism lives on, but why it has clung on so much in the former Nottinghamshire coalfield is an interesting question. Whatever the reasons are it clearly played significantly into the Miners Strike.

As a radical Liberal of the left I struggle with class based politics as I don’t subscribe to tribalism in politics or in life generally. To that end the book I’ve just read being full of references to socialism and trade unionism being what class based politics is all about jarred with me at times. However, it is actually a great and informative read and I feel better informed having read it.

Why do we allow ourselves to be lied to?

I am sure that the vast majority of folks reading this will say I don’t want to lied to. But…….

And the but is this. We are all lied to on a regular basis by the media, politicians, businesses etc. Some lie openly but most lie in a way that some of us will not detect because the lies told feed our prejudices. So, in my case, if I hear a story slagging off Yorkshire County Cricket Club I will want to believe it as a Notts supporter. Now are you getting my drift?

But what if the lies we are told are about far more important things than a sporting allegiances? Without doubt we have been told lies [unless I am lying to you now of course] about the EU, immigration, the NHS, tuition fees, the Iraq war, taxation etc. etc. etc. in recent years.

Beware someone who tells you something that they know you are likely to want to agree with because it may well not be true, particularly if they are selling you something, trying to get your support or indeed wanting your vote.

Look at it this way newspapers play to the prejudices of their readers. They work on the basis that if we tell our readers something often enough they will believe it and repeat it as fact. Some of the more disreputable politicians do the same thing, but we know that don’t we?

I was once told by a politician that you need to find out what people are most upset about and then keep sending them messages (e-mails, leaflets etc.) that repeat those concerns and that whether those concerns are real or not does not matter.

Our problem is that with our busy lives we do not have the time, or say we don’t have the time, to find out the facts before we take a stance on things. We repeat what our family, friends and neighbours tell us without question at times and that is how falsehoods become ‘facts’ in public mind.

You could say that we are too lazy to check things out when someone we trust gives us an easy answer that fits with our prejudices, but that’s exactly how we are had by newspapers, politicians and businesses. They all put a lot of time and money into how messages are played to us so that we will react as they wish us to.

So if Auntie Mary or Uncle Fred for example is hooked by a dodgy message or ‘fact’ and then repeats it to the rest of his/her gullible family, who take it on board, then that dodgy message is spread just as the originator of it intended or at least hoped.

When polled we say that we hate lying politicians, rip-off business people and that we don’t trust what the media tells us but the fact that we are had quite often indicates that we are not actually very good at knowing when we are being lied to. This is particularly the case when we hear a ‘fact’ that we want to believe but is in fact a lie or a gross distortion of the truth.

Let’s look at few examples:-

* The NHS – we all now seem to take it as fact that we were lied to during the EU Referendum about £350m per week going into the NHS if we voted to leave the EU. Indeed, the very people who told that huge fib have openly now said it is not now going to happen! A big lie indeed.

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* Tuition Fees – This one sunk Nick Clegg (and rightly so) as he negotiated away his pledge not to increase them and indeed to scrap them. Strangely though some of us who were angry with him then voted for alternative politicians in the Labour or Conservative parties who were the instigators and promoters of Tuition Fees! So we were upset that Clegg had said one thing and done the opposite but by our actions we endorsed the policy of tuition fees. Now there’s a odd muddle for you.

* Taxation – It probably started under Thatcher but certainly Blair, Brown and Cameron built on it i.e. that we can have low taxation and great public services. And guess what, we can’t! We even had some recent nonsense from the Tories about a law to make it illegal for Parliament to increase some taxes. Their stance is built on the fact that we don’t like paying taxes so we like a message that says we don’t have to. We are also distracted by media messages that tell us that our taxes are wasted by fat-cat public sector bosses – we like that message too. That message may well be true at the margins but those that spread the message intend us to think that public money is wasted by hundreds of billions of Pounds each year. We want to believe it, so many of us do. Of course, this one is difficult for us to check out so the media and politicians who peddle that message are on to a winner.

If we keep believing what media outlets, businesses, politicians etc. tell us without checking things out, whilst trying to keep both an open mind and sceptical inquiring outlook, we will keep getting had! But are we too busy or too lazy to become better informed and less gullible?

Borough of Sefton – What a mixture of diverse communities that have little in common with each other

The debate about the future of Sefton Borough has recently been ignited again by Southport Councillors calling for the Borough to be split. I share their frustrations despite living in Lydiate and representing Maghull and Lydiate on Sefton Council.

This wall art is on a former railway now pedestrian tunnel behind Bootle's New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

This wall art is on a former railway now pedestrian tunnel behind Bootle’s New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

Sefton is an odd place geographically and my guess is that few would suggest otherwise. It is, of course, this odd geography that is in many ways the underlying problem. At one end we have the seaside resort of Southport and at the other the northern part of the Port of Liverpool in Bootle. Between are numerous communities many of which are agricultural by their history but which are now very much part pf Liverpool’s commuter belt.

Sefton Council's Logo

Sefton Council’s Logo

Sefton started its tormented life as a troubled child of the infamous 1974 local government reorganisation. Frankly, it has rarely been happy with itself since despite now being a middle-aged 41. Many folk resented being taken out of Lancashire and that cry can still be heard pretty much across the Borough.

Two places strike me as being more out of place in Sefton than maybe others are, although this is just a personal view and other people may hold differing but just as valid views. My two are Southport and Lydiate. The Southport case has been rehearsed many, many times and it is no surprise that this large former County Borough resents being ruled by folks who live miles away as is the case at present with Sefton Council’s Cabinet all representing Bootle Constituency seats.

The Southport issue is, therefore, amongst other things, about the loss of former power and control over its own destiny and being ruled by others who don’t have any affinity with the Town. Having said that one counter-argument that can’t be forgotten is that Southport would not have gained European money to the extent that it did (by being in Merseyside) had it been outside of what is now called the Liverpool City Region. An issue for me now is that West Lancashire is not also an equal partner within the City Region. This means that virtually all of Southport’s hinterland is outside of Sefton and Merseyside and to all intents and purposes behind a ‘Cold War’ type invisible wall.

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Lydiate is an interesting example of Borough’s bizarre geography as its only land connection to Sefton and therefore Merseyside is via a short boundary with Maghull. Its far larger boundary, in effect the other 3 sides of the community is with West Lancashire. Out on a limb is one way of putting it.

The challenges that Southport and Lydiate share are mainly caused by the invisible local government wall which is their boundary with Lancashire. Over the years Sefton Council has become increasingly Merseyside-centric and the much-needed closer working with Lancashire/West Lancashire has become little more than throwing notes tied to stones over that invisible barrier. This ‘we don’t do business with Lancashire’ approach is now firmly rooted in Sefton’s local government officers so it is not just a politicians issue. Despite Lydiate Parish Council striving to keep up links with its West Lancs Parish neighbours and Southport councillors wanting to re-establish working relationships with Lancashire County & West Lancs Borough Councils (that are at least as comprehensive as those which Sefton Council has with Knowsley and Liverpool Councils) the pull of what Merseyside wants always wins.

At one point it was possible that the Local Government Boundary Commission may have recommended that our Borough be split but it backed away from that in favour of telling Sefton to decentralise itself and empower its diverse communities. It was supposed to be the end of ‘one size fits all’ Sefton Borough and for a while it was with Area Committees being set up and Parish Councils (10 of them now and all in the middle of the Borough) being brought into the Sefton family rather than being seen as troublesome beggars who rarely got more than a pat on the head!

St. Helen's Church, Sefton Village, where the Borough gets its name from.

St. Helen’s Church, Sefton Village, where the Borough gets its name from.

I think if fair to say that Labour went along with decentralisation because they felt they had to rather than being of the view that it was a good thing in itself. Of course, centralising power is the Labour way so it was no surprise they were at best highly suspicious of giving it away. The Tories too were hardly keen but with the Lib Dems being decentralisers by nature the Council, which was in balanced for many years, found a way forward.

When Labour took control of the Council though you could almost feel the process of decentralisation being reigned in the following day. This was no surprise to those of us close to the action. Labour’s power base was and is in the Old Labour heartland of Bootle where Tony Blair’s New Labour was seemingly hated as much as Margaret Thatcher. So much so that I recall Labour members of Sefton Council joyfully shouting that they were ‘Old Labour’ at Council meetings during Blair’s rule. The point being that Old Labour wanted power and they wanted it in as few of their own hands as possible – Decentralisation was definitely off the agenda once Labour took control.

So a few years on is there any wonder that folks from places like Southport are unhappy? They have every reason to be unhappy, in my view, as the process they tried to make work after the Boundary Commission’s fudge has not only ground to a halt but has been slammed into reverse!

For local governance to work it needs to be representative of all the communities is serves – Sefton Council is not representative and it certainly is not working for its diverse communities from my perspective.

Thatcher – the cost of her funeral, the fuss around her death and why she came to power.

In these days of economic austerity it seems odd, indeed unacceptable, to spend so much public money on her funeral; even odder when it seems that the nod to the scale of the arrangements was given during the last Labour administration.

As to the fuss I am wondering what on earth we are thinking as a society. Mad songs, the right wing wanting to treat her as a Saint and the left wanting her to be seen as a representation of the Devil! What next. I will choose to ignore all the nonsense today.

Thatcher was the result of failed Conservative and Labour Governments throughout the 60’s & 70’s. Heath, Wilson, Callaghan all failed with both economic and industrial policy and the country was going to the dogs in 1979. Sadly, Thatcher was the political giant of the time whom the electorate put in office although it has to be remembered that she never had even 50% of the voters on her side.

Our warped and misrepresentative electoral system so loved by Tories and the majority of Socialists and recently endorsed 2 to 1 by the Country in a referendum was the cause of her gaining free reign to do what she wished. On that basis to hear Socialists ranting against her whilst they supported and indeed continue to support our appalling first past the post electoral system means they really don’t understand that changing the electoral system is the best way to ensure that another Thatcher is stopped in their tracks.

I did not vote for Thatcher but I did vote for electoral reform. Those on the left who oppose electoral reform but rant against Thatcher need to understand that the system of election they support delivered her and the policies she promoted.

I look upon Thatcher as I do Beeching

Not being a Conservative I have never been able to get my head around why they so idolised her. It’s like me being a railway enthusiast trying to understand why some folks thought Beeching was doing us a favour by closing many of our railways.

Frankly, I saw Margaret Thatcher as being a negative influence on our society. Yes, OK I am from Nottinghamshire mining stock so you could say I have an axe to grind but even putting that prejudice to one side I just saw her as a divisive figure who seemed to be promoting a view of the world which on one level you could say was playing to our most self-interested instincts.

It also has to be said that her government started what I see as the start of the decline in our financial institutions via the demutualisation of our building societies. This move, which seemed to symbolise greed over sensible management of savings, played very much to our more selfish instincts as we gained and then sold shares in mutual institutions that subsequently were either taken over by big banks or went bust because they were no longer managed well.

Sadly, instead of being able to celebrate our first female Prime Minister I really do wonder whether she helped to lay the foundations for our seemingly more selfish society.