A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

by Harry on January 12, 2009

Toward the end of the Miner’s Strike in 1985 I was accompanying some student march to County Hall, shaking a collecting tin, when I was confronted by a balding middle aged man in, I kid you not, a bowler hat and pin stripe suit:
(Angrily) “What are you complaining about now? I’m not going to give money to bloody students, the state already pays for you”
(Cheerfully) “Oh no, I’m not complaining about anything.” (I didn’t go into what I suspected was our agreement on the immorality of the state subsidizing the passage of the most privileged children in society into its elite, but I conveyed that complex message with a grin). “I’m collecting for the striking miners”.
(Surprised) “Oh”. He looked me straight in the eye, with genuine sympathy. “They can’t win you know. But..” he produced a 20 quid note and placed it in my tin “at least they might give this bloody shower in charge a run for their money”. (One of the lessons of collecting for the miners was never to judge a person by the way they dressed.)

Memory triggered by:

from Randy Newman’s wonderful Harps & Angels. You have just a few days left to hear it in its proper context. I hope.

Unless there’s some heroic parenting, on the other hand, my daughters have their entire lives to hear this in its proper context (particularly recommended for Laura).

{ 51 comments }

1

MH 01.12.09 at 5:43 pm

When I was on my semester abroad in Britian (during Major’s time), I cannot recall anything that suprised me more than hearing students complain about the amount of their subsidy. It took weeks for me to understand that getting into a university meant that you not only didn’t pay tuition, but that you received a stipend to live. That idea never occured to me, so I never thought to ask the types of questions that could have clarified the issue for me.

2

ejh 01.12.09 at 5:52 pm

I feel cheated: I would very likely have been on that march and I don’t remember seeing any pin-striped chap. (Actually I don’t remember seeing anybody like that in Oxford, except possibly a proctor.)

3

Harry 01.12.09 at 6:02 pm

Oh, I should have specified County Hall in London (not Oxford).

4

Cryptic ned 01.12.09 at 6:10 pm

“shower”? Is that a kind of person?

5

Phil 01.12.09 at 6:17 pm

A shower is a group of people, and is used in a derogatory sense.

6

Katherine 01.12.09 at 6:17 pm

It’s a collective noun for a certain kind of people. I think, although I may be completely wrong, that it’s short for “shower of shit”.

7

Phil 01.12.09 at 6:28 pm

Yeah that is right Katherine. I just had a quick google to try and find the origins of the phrase and one suggestion that seems plausible to me is that it was how drill sergeants referred to their new recruits.

8

Barry 01.12.09 at 7:27 pm

Or perhaps a public-school reference to a clique which, ah, ‘shared a shower’? We *are* talking about those shocking Etonian degenerates, aren’t we? :)

9

harry b 01.12.09 at 7:37 pm

Well, maybe not, it was the time when Thatcher was firmly in power, with Tebbitt her loyal henchman. Your comment makes me worry that my interlocutor was one of the Etonians…

10

belle le triste 01.12.09 at 8:12 pm

11

Cryptic ned 01.12.09 at 8:40 pm

That’s MR. Acker Bilk.

Whose Wikipedia page is probably the only one to contain this as its “See Also” section:

See also

* West Country accents
* Django Reinhardt

12

Ben 01.12.09 at 9:11 pm

What an excellent combination, although probably not so simultaneously – the Wurzels remixed with Django seems unpalatable. Although I must admit this is only in my mind, and not from a realised event, I’d rather keep it that way. I wonder what other completely implausible and hilarious linkages Wikipedia can throw up?

13

astrongmaybe 01.13.09 at 1:36 am

How did you know he was balding, if he was wearing a bowler hat?

14

harry b 01.13.09 at 2:29 am

Well, no hair was visible at all. Maybe balding is the wrong word. (I really, really, doubt he was shaving it to be trendy – this was even before pony tails were kosher).

15

Andrew 01.13.09 at 2:59 am

@13.
Everyone wearing a bowler hat is balding!

16

Barry 01.13.09 at 3:10 am

Andrew 01.13.09 at 2:59 am
“Everyone wearing a bowler hat is balding!”

If he had a Financial Times and an umbrella, then he could just be in uniform.
(‘Yes, Minister’ reference)

17

nick s 01.13.09 at 5:55 am

If he had a Financial Times and an umbrella, then he could just be in uniform.

Or a Homepride man. (I note, expatishly, that Homepride appears to have done better than B&B among the bowler-hatted brigade.)

18

riffle 01.13.09 at 6:31 am

astrongmaybe reads blogs with much more close attention than I usually do: kudos.

That’s a good tune, one of many Newman has created (including “Political Science,” which generates from a similar impulse; “When She Loved Me” –weep-inducing in the context of Toy Story II; most of the LP “Rednecks,” etc. etc. )

There’s one Randy Newman song that if I really work at it (like viewing a more difficult dual-object optical illusion) I can see as ironic, but which I can instantly and emotionally stir an eye-welling, breast-swelling patriotic feeling in me. That song is “Follow the Flag.”

You can stand alone
Or with somebody else
Or stand with all of us, together
If you can believe
In something bigger than yourself
You can follow the flag forever

They say it’s just a dream
That dreamers dreamed
That it’s an empty thing that really has no meaning
They say it’s all a lie
But it’s not a lie
I’m going to follow the flag ’til I die

Into every life a little rain must fall
But it’s not gonna rain forever
You can rise above–you can rise above it all
We will follow the flag together
We will follow the flag together

I can’t believe that Newman wrote an unironic, non-cynical song, but it really works for me as a national anthem: and I’m a liberal Bush-hatin’ lifelong Democrat.

I found a video of him performing it live, though I like the CD version better, with string accompaniment and studio patriotism added. At this point I’m not sure anyone –even Randy Newman himself– could convince me that “Follow the Flag” isn’t a great straightforward patriotic song.

Randy Newman is fantastic.

19

Bob B 01.13.09 at 8:47 am

Readers may be interested in these media reports about the background to the mining strike:

“Also named is Vic Allen, a retired professor of economics at Leeds university, who was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and went on the first Aldermaston march. A firm Stalinist, it is alleged he passed on information about CND to his East German handlers.

“After the revelation this weekend that he had been ‘an agent of influence’, he said he had no regrets. . .

“Prof Allen was an ally of Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. In 1987 he published a book, The Russians Are Coming. His pro-Soviet views were well known. . .”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,271697,00.html

“Vic Allen, 77, a former leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said he had ‘no regrets’ over providing information to the East German Stasi secret police.

“The retired Leeds University professor, from Keighley, North Yorkshire, said he did pass on information about CND’s activities. But he said he considered that perfectly legitimate because he belonged to a pro-Soviet, pro-East German faction of the group.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm

Michael Crick’s biography of Arthur Scargill and other histories make clear that Prof Allen was a personal friend of Scargill.

In Yorkshire, members of the National Union of Mineworkers were not permitted to ballot on whether they wanted to strike.

Btw from January 1985 to 1990, Putin was a KGB liaison working with the East German Stasi in Germany and therefore placed, presumably, to read the incoming intelligence assessments from Prof Allen. By various accounts, Tony Blair was active in CND during the early 1980s. Indeed, he was first elected to Parliament in 1983 on a manifesto which would have committed an incoming Labour government to unilateral nuclear disarmament and to withdrawing from the European Common Market.

20

Francis Xavier Holden 01.13.09 at 11:06 am

That bowler hatted gent was surely Angry of Mayfair:
http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=8YpAdK0CrTY

21

engels 01.13.09 at 12:15 pm

I didn’t go into what I suspected was our agreement on the immorality of the state subsidizing [emphasis added] the passage of the most privileged children in society into its elite

I’ll confess that I have never been able to understand how any ‘socialist’ could believe that the immorality of Britain’s post-war higher education system could have consisted not in the fact that it was–to a large extent but obviously not completely–monopolised by a small class of privileged families but that these families did not have to pay directly for the use they made of it, as if higher education were properly a kind of commodity, a luxury good to be offered for sale in Marks and Spencers to anyone who can afford it, or whose parents can at least. But then my understanding of these issues is shaped not be a desire for approval from middle aged stockbrokers but a sense of solidarity with the many young people whose chances of self-realisation have been smashed to pieces at the very start of their adult lives by the retrograde education (and employment) policies of our current ‘Labour’ government which from your casual repetition of this particular Blairite canard it sounds awfully likely that you approve. If that’s the country you want to defend, you can keep it. It certainly isn’t ours.

22

ajay 01.13.09 at 12:16 pm

If he had a Financial Times and an umbrella, then he could just be in uniform.

If he just had the umbrella, he could have been out of uniform. (Official civilian dress for officers in the Brigade of Guards: suit, Guards tie, rolled umbrella, bowler hat. This is really true.)

23

laura 01.13.09 at 1:06 pm

Ha. Those are great, Harry. Esp. the Terry Scott. Thanks for the shout out.

24

Bob B 01.13.09 at 10:05 pm

Curiously, my post on the background to the mining strike, citing real news stories in The Guardian and the BBC with links, seems to have been censored.

25

Alex 01.13.09 at 11:47 pm

I’m beginning to think Ajay was ordered to resign his commission for marrying an actress.

26

Harry 01.14.09 at 2:38 am

Bob B — no, held up in moderation, no idea why (except that I’ve been travelling and meeting all day, so just got to moderate). I don’t think the software is sophisticated enough to recognize smears by association. (FWIW in South Wales communists who the anti-Scargill faction that wanted to end the strike early).

Engels — absolutely agree that the restriction of HE mainly to children from the most privileged families is more immoral than subsidizing them, but didn’t say, or imply, or do any Gricean implicature, otherwise. And both are minor injustices compared with the existence of substantial inequality. And if you’re complaining about the grin; I found over those many months of collecting that smiling, being friendly and polite, and approaching everyone who was not openly hostile, was the most effective way of generating cash which, in the circumstances, was all I cared about. (My comment about not judging people by what they wear was serious; men and women in business and office suits were no less likely to give or be friendly than students (almost all of whom where I was were either indifferent or hostile) or people dressed like hippies). Well, most of us learned pretty early on not to approach people in police uniforms.

27

harry b 01.14.09 at 3:27 am

Oh, my actual views about the new arrangements? Well, I’d much prefer a graduate tax; I also think that the settlement they arrived at is superior to what they proposed. A much higher threshold for full tuition and maintenance grants would be much better than what they have. And it is a bit rich to remove the subsidy only after opening up access. So I’m not a fan of the new arrangements. But the people who have their chances for self-realisation smashed to pieces at the very start of their adult lives are not going to college, and wouldn’t be even if it were free and there were a generous maintenance grant.

The Miners Strike was in 1984/5. A university degree was a commodity for most of the people I went to college with, like something they bought from Marks and Spencer, and I did think at the time that they (and I) should be charged for it. The people I went to school did get subsidies, I suppose, in the form of YOPs schemes (or whatever they were called by then), etc, but they did not get the relative freedom from daily stress that characterized college for my peers, and everyone knew that YOPs etc were a ladder to nowhere. As a socialist I thought that was a scandal, and I still think that it was (as, I’d add, did most of the people I went to school with, hardly any of whom went to college of any sort).

I agree with this chap, too:

28

Bob B 01.14.09 at 5:33 am

#26 Harry: “I don’t think the software is sophisticated enough to recognize smears by association.”

Not a smear by association but part of the reality of what went on. You were in London at the time while I was in Yorkshire in the middle of it. Remember that the Labour Party in opposition didn’t back the NUM strike and other trade unions backed off supporting the NUM. Members of the NUM in Yorkshire were not permitted to ballot on the strike and any who kept working were dubbed scabs and abused. Why do you suppose all that was?

The fact is that both the Thatcher and Major government sunk billions of taxpayers’ money into supporting the nationalised coal mining industry – I suggest checking out the external borrowing requirements of the nationalised industries (including coal) in David Butler (ed): Twentieth-Century British Political Facts (8th ed. 2000), p.444, which is hardly a partisan source.

The strike issue was about sinking even more taxpayers’ money in the mining industry.

“The Conservative Government wanted to avoid any strike or confrontation. . . “
Peter Walker, the cabinet minister responsible for the mining industry at the time:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3503545.stm

29

Phil 01.14.09 at 8:03 am

Not a smear by association but part of the reality of what went on.

Vic Allen was a Stalinist? Scargill was a Stalinist? Newsflash, Bob – we all knew. (OK, we didn’t know at the time about Cde Vic actually being on the Stasi payroll.)

Remember that the Labour Party in opposition didn’t back the NUM strike and other trade unions backed off supporting the NUM.

Extraordinary evidence is only required for extraordinary claims. The absence of LP support and union solidarity for a highly controversial & risky strike, led by an avowed socialist with well-known Stalinist leanings, was extremely regrettable but extremely unsurprising.

Members of the NUM in Yorkshire were not permitted to ballot on the strike and any who kept working were dubbed scabs and abused. Why do you suppose all that was?

a) Because they were accountable to the NUM leadership, which opposed a ballot.
b) Because working through an official strike is quite widely regarded as scabbing.

30

Bob B 01.14.09 at 1:05 pm

I doubt many readers here have the patience and interest to follow the detail of a debate on the historic year-long mining strike in Britain 1984/5.

It’s relevant to appreciate that world oil prices fell by about half over 1985/6 so any government commitment to maintain mining industry jobs regardless of economic context – the demand of the strikers – would have become hugely costly for taxpayers as the price of coal for electricity generation relates to oil prices and the energy content of coal. Losses of the state-owned coal industry would have become even greater.

It’s also relevant to appreciate that one reason the strike failed was because millions of tons of powerstation coal had stockpiled above ground prior to the strike. Too much coal was being produced at the time compared with demand for coal for electricity generation. Indeed, so much that there was a problem finding where to put it all.

See, too, this news report in The Economist of May 27, 1978 (p.21-23) on the prescient Ridley Report to the Conservative Party on policy for the party in government for the future of the nationalised industries, including (explicitly) coal:
http://www.co-opnet.coop/viewtopic.php?t=367&highlight=ridley+report

The Ridley Report of 1978 anticipated the likelihood of a mining strike during a future Conservative government and proposed contingency planning ahead.

Readers interested in dispassionate sources on the strike could try:

Martin Adeney and John Lloyd – two eminent journalists: The Miners’ Strike (1986)

Gavin Lightman QC: The Lightman Report on the NUM (Penguin Books, 1990)

The latter was commissioned by the NUM executive in order to find out what really happened to the monies collected and donated in support of the miners’ strike. Leading recommendations of that report in 1990 included: ” . . a proper account is urgently required of the monies and property of the Union . . ” as the destination of substantial sums, including a reported donation from Soviet miners, couldn’t be accounted for.

31

Bob B 01.14.09 at 9:10 pm

Something of interest worth remarking on which I forgot to mention earlier.

A popular topic of conversation in Yorkshire mid 1984, after the strike had started, was whether the increasingly violent course of industrial action would succeed in bringing down the Conservative government in a way similar to that in which a mining strike during the winter of 1973/4 had brought down Ted Heath’s Conservative government at the general election held in February 1974.

At the time of 1984/5 mining strike, the Conservative government had been in place, with a large majority, since a general election held on 9 June 1983 where the Labour manifesto had been, perhaps aptly, described by a leading Labour MP (Gerald Kaufman) as the “longest suicide note in history.”

Aware of the prospect of political subversion and perhaps of the links between the NUM and the Stasi, MI5 (Britain’s internal Security Service) appointed a serving officer, Stella Rimington, to head up operations to monitor the course of events.

By various informal accounts later, it seems that pretty well anything and everything of relevance that could be bugged or monitored was bugged or monitored and that MI5 had a mole or two inside the NUM close to the top. So impressive was Mrs Rimmington’s performance that in the early 1990s, she was duly appointed Director General of MI5, the first woman to hold that post:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Rimington

32

harry b 01.14.09 at 10:36 pm

Right, I do think it is worth mentioning that the government deployed the secret services to spy on its political enemies. It is also worth mentioning that, from fairly early on in the strike, the police acted without due regard for the law they were charged with upholding (I was a victim of this lawlessness myself, and while I recognise that the behaviour to which I was subject, and which I witnessed, would not now be tolerated, it was widespread at the time).

33

Phil 01.14.09 at 10:55 pm

It’s relevant to appreciate that world oil prices fell by about half over 1985/6

Relevant to what, other than demonstrating the wisdom of hindsight?

It’s also relevant to appreciate that one reason the strike failed was because millions of tons of powerstation coal had stockpiled above ground prior to the strike.

Absolutely – this is one reason why I referred to the strike as “highly controversial and risky”. I’m not sure who, or what, you’re arguing with now.

34

Bob B 01.14.09 at 11:36 pm

“Right, I do think it is worth mentioning that the government deployed the secret services to spy on its political enemies.”

C’mon. I don’t know how it was in London at the time but in Yorkshire, as mentioned, a popular topic of conversation was whether the mining strike would bring down a government that had been elected the previous June with a majority of c. 170 when the turnout at the election was more than 70%.

For all that, as I learned from personal conversations, avowed leftists felt robbed of an election they had expected to win comfortably with the most “socialist” manifesto that the Labour Party had had since 1945 – nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawing from the European Common Market.

The industrial action in the strike became increasingly violent and political subversion wasn’t just a hypothetical possibility. Women and girls who worked as clerical workers for the coal board and who weren’t on strike were abused and harassed on their way to work. There was mass picketing. I repeat, the strike was not supported by the Labour Party and other trade unions backed off supporting the NUM.

“Relevant to what, other than demonstrating the wisdom of hindsight?”

I don’t know for a fact whether the government was expecting the steep fall in world oil prices 1985/6 but remember, the NUM was getting professional economic advice from at least one economics professor. In fact, I was told by academic contacts that another economics professor was also advising the NUM. What I do know is that taxpayers would have paid a huge price if all mining jobs had been guaranteed regardless as the NUM demanded.

“I’m not sure who, or what, you’re arguing with now.”

I’m concerned with analysis, not with playing a blame game.

35

Phil 01.15.09 at 12:44 pm

I’m concerned with analysis, not with playing a blame game.

In that case, would you care to advance an identifiable argument?

36

Bob B 01.15.09 at 4:47 pm

Well, Phil, try rereading the thread for starters. I freely admit that there are no soundbites and many will probably have much difficulty in rebutting the analysis with the citations.

37

Katherine 01.15.09 at 7:31 pm

It may be the case that the mining industry had to change (and I really don’t know enough to know whether that was the case), but there are ways and means of doing an unpleasant but necessary task. The Thatcher government seemed to do it with relish.

38

engels 01.15.09 at 8:41 pm

Well, Harry, that´s a rather disreputable mixture of workerism, libertarianism, Blairism and cynicism, if you ask me. Yes, some working class people are resentful of students, something I understand very well and have a great deal of sympathy with. Other people some working class are resentful towards include immigrant workers and relatively well-off women. As a socialist, though, I am not sure that anything of value grows out of such sectarian resentments.

(I hate to break it to you but philosophy professors are generally treated as working class heroes where I come from. Perhaps they should fund your own research? Compared to students they seem much more unambiguously members of a privileged elite. And that system seemed to work pretty well in the nineteeth century, which seems to be the reference point on these issues for many of Blair´s supporters. Taking on part-time work, as shelf-stackers say, would no doubt be a hardship for some of them, but there far more serious injustices in the world, right?)

I find it hard to believe that your argument that since the university system is already dominated by market imperatives we should not only accept this state of affairs but seek to consolidate it is actually meant in earnest. Actually I was reminded of these satyrical remarks from the Communist Manifesto:

For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.

Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.

Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalised community of women.

Perhaps you endorse Marx and Engels´ satyrical conclusion here, which is arrived at by chain of reasoning structurally parallel to yours?

As for your assertion that:

the people who have their chances for self-realisation smashed to pieces at the very start of their adult lives are not going to college, and wouldn’t be even if it were free and there were a generous maintenance grant

it is simply false, on any reasonable understanding of the reference of your definite description (´the people who…´). These are some of the people but there are many, many others. Not everybody who begins university is able to complete her degree and of those who do it is ridiculous to assert that in a capitalist society they will all find fulfilling jobs, humanly tolerable jobs or even any job at all. As a university teacher you are surely aware of this. You are also doubtless aware that in the UK since the introduction of these policies HE dropout rates have risen greatly, especially among students from poorer families.

Anyway, to try to make my original point clear, it´s not the position on tuition fees which I find frustrating so much as the argument you give for it, which I do think is a particularly disreputable Blairite canard. The underlying principle and point of agreement between you and your stockbroker friend is that state subsidies of learning are unjust because they involve appropriating the earnings which other people are able to receive through their own efforts and ownership of productive resources. That is a libertarian argument, not a socialist one at all, even if you think (misguidedly in my opinion) that it can be employed in order to achieve material gains for workers.

39

Bob B 01.15.09 at 9:36 pm

Hi Katherine – C’mon. The Thatcher government didn’t want the strike. It cost taxpayers’ money which had many more politically appealing uses. The strike was totally pointless and stupidly timed with all that powerstation coal accessibly heaped in stockpiles above ground. The Thatcher government easily won the next general election in 1987.

The strike achieved absolutely nothing beyond impoverishing and embittering the strike-bound mining communities – many pits in the East Midlands, after balloting, (sensibly) went on working. In South Wales, an innocent cab driver was killed by striking miners. The donations, at least those that did get to striking miners, simply extended the agony.

The rhetoric of Scargill – president of the NUM – is open to the interpretation that he regarded the strike as an end-in-itself, a necessary part of the revolutionary struggle of the working classes. Towards the end of the strike, Mick McGahey, union VP and a card carrying member of the Communist Party, distanced himself from Scargill whom, he suggested, was just trying to create a monument for himself.

Afterwards, Scargill went on to create his own political party: the Socialist Labour Party. In elections nowadays, even in mining constituencies, the party regularly features at or near the bottom of polls with fewer votes than the British National Party. Indeed, it’s touch and go whether it gets more votes than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

As for energy prices, world oil prices got down to $10 a barrel in 1998.

The history of the British coal industry after its privatization by the Major government in 1974, is reported here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Coal

40

Aidan Kehoe 01.15.09 at 9:55 pm

Katharine, the Germans basically did with their mines what the NUM wanted done with British mines, and it has cost them a lot, of the same order of magnitude as re-unification. Now, Germany was in a better financial position in the 80s than was Britain, but God knows they could have done with that money in the 1990s.

41

Phil 01.15.09 at 10:24 pm

I’m not having that, Bob. You began with

“Readers may be interested in these media reports about the background to the mining strike:”

and revealed that Scargill was a bit of a Stalinist & Vic Allen was in receipt of Moscow gold.

I’ll be blunt: so what? What proposition are you advancing about the strike? Anyone who knew their way around the Left knew perfectly well that Scargill was a bit of a Stalinist and that Vic Allen (to the extent that he had any impact on anyone) was a tankie; neither of these facts had any influence on whether or not anyone on the Left supported the strike, and nor (I would argue now) should they have.

42

Bob B 01.16.09 at 12:29 am

Sorry, Phil, but my response to Katherine has been censored again – admittedly it includes a link to a relevant entry in Wikipedia – and the response may satisfy your request for an argument.

I’m saying that all the evidence shows that the 1984/5 mining strike was totally pointless and that this is widely recognised nowadays in election results where Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party regularly comes at or close to the bottom of polls.

43

engels 01.16.09 at 2:23 am

Harry, looking back over the two comments I have posted I see that there is (i) something of a lack of cogency and (ii) a rather unpleasant tone, neither of which were intended. And I imagine my second comment may not come out of moderation in time for you to respond before the thread closes anyway. So I´m sorry about that and for flying off the handle somewhat about an issue which has only a glancing relevance to your post; and thanks for explaining your position anyway.

44

harry b 01.16.09 at 2:34 am

I think Bob was mainly trying to fill in younger and non-British readers and to undermine any romanticism they might have had about the strike, no? I don’t remember having any romanticism at the time, though no doubt I did. The idea that they would bring down the government was laughable, and while no doubt plenty of Yorkshire miners and Trots fantasized thus, the government of the day, I am certain, harboured no such delusions. The Ridley plan was a political, more than an economic, plan, which saw the devastation of union power as the key goal. It was a massive success, and I would say it was pretty clear only a few months into the strike that the government couldn’t lose (I got seriously active in August 1984, splitting my waking hours from then on pretty much equally between studying and doing various activities to raise money — but by September I already couldn’t see how a victory could be achieved). Scargill’s Stalinist sympathies and friends were relevant to the bad strategy and tactics adopted, but not at all to any sensible person’s choice about whether or not to support the strike.

I’ll give you my own anecdote though. I was attacked by a police officer during what was, effectively, a police riot, during the last ditch demonstration 10 days before the end of the strike. Having beaten me up, he arrested me. When we were in the van he picked out a mate of his to act as a witness, and told him that I had thrown a bottle full of liquid with a rag hanging out of it at him. His mate said that he had seen that. In the van they proceeded to continue beating up various of us who had been arrested. In the police station they stopped attacking us, but turned their attention to the few women, all of whom were verbally harassed and groped by several of the police officers. When, eventually, the case came to court, the two police officers managed to succeed in contradicting not only themselves, but each other, in their descriptions both of what I purportedly did, and also what else was happening around them. These contradictions were clearly pointed out. The magistrate found me guilty. Most amusingly, when a police complaints officer visited me (after my dad, mortifyingly embarrassingly, called them) he basically said he believed every word I told him, that this was just a standard story, and that there was no chance of any complaint succeeding. The widespread criminality of the police during the strike was licensed from the very top, and was, in my opinion, much worse than the use of the secret services against the government’s political enemies. I have no regrets about working in support of that strike, and I would be ashamed if I hadn’t.

None of this addresses the economic case for and against pit closures. There are all sorts of good reasons for relying less on coal, and the economic argument for slowly scaling down the industry with appropriate measures to ensure that communities were not devastated and that well paid and skilled work would be available for members of those communities, was a good one, I think. I might have felt a real dilemma if that had
been what the strike was against.

45

harry b 01.16.09 at 2:37 am

Thanks engels, I was much more upset that it was you, than I would have been from some random person, and really appreciate the apology. Offense was taken, but has now evaporated!

46

Bob B 01.16.09 at 3:00 am

Harry – I see that my posts are still being censored, a surprising denial of freedom of expression in an academic forum.

47

Bob B 01.16.09 at 3:04 am

Katherine and Phil – My apologies but you are not permitted to read my responses.

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harry b 01.16.09 at 3:38 am

Bob — you’re very touchy. Or very rude. The moderation software is catching something and holding things up — I am not, and wouldn’t (and my day has been long and full, leaving no time to check for moderation). If it makes you feel better look at comment #5 in the Cohen reading group thread, which was also held up. Why? I’ve no idea.
In fact you are being touchy and rude, now I look at your comment.

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Mike G 01.17.09 at 1:55 pm

I didn’t go into what I suspected was our agreement on the immorality of the state subsidizing the passage of the most privileged children in society into its elite

I attended college from 1984-1986, and back then UK student grants were means tested according to assessed parental income, with “the most privileged children” receiving lower awards than those from less well-off families. Everyone received tuition fees, however, if that is what you meant.

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Meh 01.17.09 at 2:02 pm

It’s worth noting that Bob B omits any mention of the volume of coal imported from South Africa, any consideration of the ethics of that, or indeed the continued dependence of the British electricity generation system on South African coal for years afterwards.

Let alone the fact that the “dash for gas” leaves us in the energy security hole we are in now.

As for his assertions that the government of the day didn’t want the strike, that contradicts the memoirs of most of the politicians from that government.

Guess what Bob, you aren’t the only person on the internet who was in Yorkshire at the time, so your fake “authority” doesn’t wash.

The most amusing part of the whole business in retrospect was the way the scab union got shafted by British Coal and the government afterwards. They’d been promised job security in return for helping to undermine the strike, but many of them got the P45 all the same.

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engels 01.18.09 at 3:40 am

Shorter, politer version then: I was very surprised to see you endorsing this, not as a necessary concession to current political realities and the rpessing needs of universities but on principle and giving reasons which at worst sound like an appeal to libertarian intutions (if ´agreement´ with the stockbroker is taken at face value) or at best the kind of thing that eg. Margaret Hodge was saying at the time (´why should the dustman subsidise the doctor´ was the question she posed, I believe). If you do defend Hodge´s reasoning I would be interested to know how you think this can be made to work as a principled argument, rather than just a piece of rhetoric (no govmt programmse which primaily benefit the middle class? So no more public libraries, museums or NHS then?) And I have to say that it seems unlikely that we will see eye to eye on this as I do think it was a best a significant step backwards, and one which has had, as it happens, a destructive impact on the lives of some people I know and care about personally.

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