Cold spite that killed our coal.
THE one thing that made me mad this week was Tory ministers claiming Labour didn't care about the mining industry because Harold Wilson closed more pits than Thatcher.
But as someone who was there and had a family who'd been down the pits, let me tell you the real story and how Thatcher played a part in killing an industry that was still alive and kicking.
Since 1913 there had been a decline in the production of coal. Until 1947, the pits had remained privately owned and the bosses weren't keen on investing.
So Labour nationalised the mines - costing PS358million - to ensure that we had the means to control the production of coal to fuel the post-war economy.
Clement Attlee set out a Plan for Coal to increase mining and safeguard jobs.
But when the Tories came back in 1951, they scrapped the planned investment and increases in coal production to pursue a different energy policy - relying more on oil and nuclear. The black gold beneath their feet was not a priority.
But by the 1970s, the cost of oil increased by 600 per cent and coal looked a far better deal.
So when Labour returned to power in 1974, Harold Wilson developed a new Plan for Coal.
The mining industry would be expanded through a massive investment programme and production increased, mainly by developing coal reserves it had not been able to mine before. But at the same time, Tory MP Nicholas Ridley was writing another report that would be Thatcher's blueprint for the death of the mining industry.
Ridley suggested building up coal stocks to prepare for a strike, that power stations should be fired by oil not coal, increasing coal imports, cutting welfare benefits for strikers and their families and setting up a mobile police squad to handle "any social disorder arising from picketing and industrial violence".
So when Thatcher returned to power, she ripped up our Plan for Coal and replaced our targets on coal production with very high financial ones, making viable pits "uneconomic" overnight.
During Harold Wilson's government more mines were closed than under Thatcher. But our closures had been agreed with the union and the National Coal Board on the basis that those mines didn't have enough coal left or were genuinely economically unviable.
If you add up the figures from 1947 to 1997 you see the real picture - 345 pits were closed under Labour governments but 597 went under the Tories.
A total of 235,000 mining jobs were lost under Labour but 458,000 under the Conservatives.
Thatcher closed the mines because she wanted to smash the unions, protect her government and end all state subsidies.
Under her reign, 70 per cent of the remaining mines closed and 80 per cent of the miners were thrown on the scrapheap.
In all, 193,000 miners lost their jobs, communities were destroyed and now we're dependent on foreign oil and gas.
She buried an industry that was still fit for purpose.
But it was never about economics or communities or fairness. For her it was just sheer political spite.
John joins marching miners
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|Title Annotation:||Editorial; Opinion, Columns|
|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Apr 21, 2013|
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