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The attempted rehabilitation of Thatcher

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Channel 5 decided it was time to bring Margaret Thatcher back to life. Exactly what demand there is for her exhumation is not clear, but lovers of the neoliberal global onslaught and Margaret Thatcher's friend and ally, Augusto Pinochet are still cheering. Not so those who are enduring life threatening cuts to pay, benefits and "essential" services". So Mrs Thatcher vs the Miners was aired on Channel 5 during May 2021.

"A shameful contribution to British industrial history".

Ken Capstick was one of those invited to take part in the travesty and he responded immediately having viewed the finished programme:

"Tonight’s Channel 5 program about the miners’ strike was the most blatantly biased program about the strike I have ever witnessed. It was no more than a disgraceful attempt to resurrect the tainted image of Thatcher and a wrongful attempt to destroy Arthur Scargill’s image and leadership qualities in keeping miners on strike for 12 months in a fight to save the industry. It ignored the justice of our fight.

In the end it was a shameful contribution to British industrial history that only ended up tainting the credibility of Channel 5 and its duty as a broadcaster to be unbiased.

I have already made my views known to those from Channel 5 who produced this program and its twisted version of an historic event to rewrite working class history."

"Channel 5's new documentary about the 1984 Miners' Strike paints Thatcher as a hero and covers up her government's real intentions – it is just the latest establishment attack on the miners who fought back."

Ian Lavery M.P. was another person conned into taking part reveals Thatcher and her Government's true agenda. He wrote the following article for Tribune in response:

Failing the Miners Again.

"Channel 5 aired a documentary that blew the lid on a secret buried for almost four decades.

Admittedly, with a hugely sympathetic narration which depicted Margaret Thatcher as a heroine and Arthur Scargill as a bumbling idiot, you had to look very hard to find it. But the truth is that the British people have been repeatedly lied to.

I have told my story many times before. In 1984 I was an apprentice miner. Despite the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) arranging that we should be able to continue work, I joined my father and brothers on the picket line.

We stuck it out for the entire dispute – not because we wanted to spend a year without pay, not because we owed allegiance to Arthur Scargill, but because war had been declared on us, our community, and our way of life by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

For its failings and factual errors, the documentary gets one thing absolutely correct: that Margaret Thatcher meticulously planned the dispute and micromanaged the state’s mobilisation against the NUM and the coalfield communities in order to destroy opposition to her disastrous agenda of liberalising the economy.

It charts her vindictive quest for revenge on communities on whose backs Britain was built for bringing down the government of Ted Heath, her predecessor, and her use of the police, press, state, and judiciary as political tools against ordinary men and women fighting for a future for their communities.

It depicts the strike as pivotal to her tenure as Prime Minister – and pivotal it was. For a century, the miners had been at the forefront of improvements to working-class life in the UK. Without the decimation of the industry, it would have been impossible to press ahead with her reforms which sought to undo the post-war consensus that had prevailed for 40 years.

For more than three decades, it was claimed that Margaret Thatcher was simply a bystander in a dispute between the National Coal Board (NCB) and the NUM. Arthur Scargill’s claim that a secret closure list of more than 70 collieries was also vehemently denied, the government countering that only 20 economically unsustainable pits were at risk. But in 2014, cabinet papers pertaining to the strike were released which categorically proved both government assertions to be incorrect. The documentary fails to mention these facts at all.

It also fails to make any mention of the role Sir Ian Kinloch MacGregor played in the dispute. Handpicked by the government to gut the workforce of British Steel and move the industry into private hands, he was then moved to the NCB with a similar role in mind. Arthur Scargill correctly branded MacGregor as ‘the American butcher of British industry’. Where 170 collieries were working in 1984, only 15 remained by 1994. In 2015, there were none.

While presented in a celebratory manner in the documentary, civil liberties were dramatically curtailed across the coalfield. In the end, 11,291 people were arrested, with 8,392 being charged with breach of the peace or obstructing the highway. The NUM estimates that at least six in ten of those arrested were on bogus grounds. Men were told to accept lesser charges to avoid jail and were then forced off the picket lines. Many of these people who had never before been in trouble are still haunted by criminal records.

The documentary’s portrayal of Arthur Scargill as stumbling from one mistake to another is particularly galling. Scargill, in my view, is the most principled trade union leader in modern British history. Despite facing a militarised police force, a government intent on starving miners and their families, a hostile and incendiary press, and a judiciary in the pocket of the government, Arthur Scargill led hundreds of thousands of miners on strike for a full year. In the end his resourcefulness and cunning were defeated, but only by the full force of the British state being pitted against us.

It was equally as galling to see the triumphalist contributions of Neil Kinnock on the programme with no reflection of his own failings as Labour leader during the strike. Sadly, the solidarity expressed by Labour councils and the trade union movement to mining communities did not extend to the Labour Party leadership. We can only imagine what the outcome of the strike might have been had it done so. But to see him add weight to the premise—that this was a battle between two individuals, rather than the government being hell bent on destroying mining communities—is shameful.

The documentary goes to prove that history is written by those with the power. Having denied her active role in the strike for three decades, those closest to Thatcher now celebrate her use of state machinery to destroy ordinary people. Our communities still bear the direct scars from the Conservative government’s industrial vandalism, and the entire country has been shaped by the outcome of that dispute.

Perhaps the new attempt to paint Thatcher’s role in the strike as a heroic one is fuelled by the current state of British politics. We’ve entered a period where the truth no longer matters, and the taboo of a Prime Minister lying at the despatch box has well and truly been broken. We should not forget that Boris Johnson is on record as having joined the Conservative Party in support of Thatcher’s treatment of mining communities during the dispute.

As Britain drifts ever nearer to authoritarianism under an emboldened right-wing Conservative Party, we should never forget what the Thatcher government did to our communities and to Britain. Their agenda, unimpeded by a hollowed-out trade union movement, has fuelled rampant inequality in a country where both billionaires and poverty are on the increase.

But we should also remember the miners’ role at the vanguard of working-class politics. We can never return to coal, but the spirit of solidarity that built our communities and public institutions, and was prepared to fight for them, is something that should be the basis of our movement as we face the future.

The working class of our country has never been the ‘enemy within’ – they are the backbone of our nation. Some would do well to remember that."

Ian Lavery is the Labour Party member of parliament for Wansbeck.

It is clear that those who were responsible for producing the film were less than candid with those they approached. The article "Miners Failed Again" appears in Tribune. "Channel 5's new documentary about the 1984 Miners' Strike paints Thatcher as a hero and covers up her government's real intentions – it is just the latest establishment attack on the miners who fought back."

"Never seen anything so despicable."

Ricky Tomlinson, himself the victim of a stitch up in 1972, said he'd never seen anything so despicable. The miners and Arthur Scargill had his full support against such deliberate lies.

The Most Excruciating bit of State Propaganda.

Ian Isaac, a former miner, made this response:

A Truly Biased Inaccurate Load of Tosh.

Nick Wroughton commented:

"A truly biased inaccurate load of tosh. 'Scargill fell for this/was blindsided by that' etc etc. Using the same union rule (41) that areas such as Notts and S. Derbys had previously employed to force through a divisive bonus scheme, a Special Delegate Conference of the NUM (with its loose federal structure) decided to allow NUM (each area [unlike eg the T & G] a separate union within a national union) with pits threatened to defend themselves. Arthur had nothing to do with it."

"The Operational Briefing (of police at Orgreave) was something (I'd) never heard of".

A Channel 4 documentary on Orgreave Police Officer's damning revelation of his orders:

In 2016 Channel 4 interviewed a member of the police force who was "ordered to carry out instructions he believed to be wrong" clearly contradicting claims repeated in te Channel 5 documentary presented as historical fact:

"He says the operational briefing was something he had never heard of: a bizarre ticketing system whereby South Yorkshire Police officers would write statements even if they had not arrested the pickets themselves. That ran against the fundamentals of policing: the arresting officer makes the arrest statement concerning the prisoner, and nobody else." Channel 4 News 2/9/2016.

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1 Comment

David Jacobsen
David Jacobsen
Jun 14, 2021

A fair response from Ian Lavery to a Cook Report type documentoliary from Channel 5.

One issue worked into trade unionists and UK population since 1985: 'We' can never return to coal because its burn is the primary source of harmful carbon dioxide ommisions on the planet. A drip-fed myth that negates felled forests, road pollution. It also deters from a sensible understanding of coal carbon dioxide zero, technology on stream in power stations outside Britain. If Socialist inspired trade unionists grasp that nuclear power generation and waste storage continues to be the greatest threat to nature in the world. If the sleepy veil of New Labour propaganda pre-Blair led government that; dropped the policy commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament…

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