SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 176 March 2014

The Tories’ and right-wing Labour’s dirty war against the miners

Recently released government archives have shown the secret planning behind Thatcher’s assault on the miners in 1984. This prompted Labour spokesperson, Michael Dugher, to demand an apology from the Tories for their "deliberately calculated political approach guided by a complete hostility to the coalfield communities". What hypocrisy! Labour’s leaders joined the establishment’s attack on the miners and their union, exemplified in the 1990 conspiracy to discredit the National Union of Mineworkers’ president, Arthur Scargill. This incident was extensively documented by Guardian journalist, Seumas Milne, in his book The Enemy Within (published by Verso 1994 - revised 2004). In the first of a series of articles in the 30th anniversary year of the great miners’ strike, we reprint a review of Milne's book by KEN SMITH, first published in the Militant, 18 November 1994.

"Never underestimate the British establishment’s ruthless determination to destroy its enemies". With these chilling words from Roy Hattersley, Seumas Milne begins his gripping exposé of the bitter war conducted by the British state against the miners in the 1980s and 1990s. He outlines how the ruling class waged a coordinated, conspiratorial civil war against a key section of the British working class and in particular against the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Hattersley’s comments are ironic because in 1985, playing his loyal establishment role as deputy leader of the Labour Party, he said that Militant supporters in Liverpool [leading the struggle of the city council against Thatcher] were responsible for "political and literal corruption", a charge which he never bothered to prove – because he couldn’t. Unfounded corruption allegations at left-wing leaders became a common theme in the establishment’s repertoire throughout the 1980s. But what Seumas Milne’s book brilliantly shows is how this was taken to its most sinister and far-reaching conclusion against the NUM leadership in 1990.

It was then that the Daily Mirror and the Central TV programme, The Cook Report, alleged that miners’ president Arthur Scargill, general secretary Peter Heathfield, and former NUM chief executive Roger Windsor, took money from Libya and Russia during the miners’ strike to pay off their mortgages and line their own pockets. All the allegations against Scargill and Heathfield were subsequently shown to be completely untrue but they started off an unprecedented witch-hunt where, as Milne says, "the fingerprints of the intelligence services could be found like an unmistakable calling card".

This book will come as a revelation, with scenes reminiscent of a spy novel – except for the fact that all the events actually happened. But it is not a sensationalist ‘spook’ story with conspiracy theories everywhere. It has been meticulously researched, analyses the events that took place in their class context, and also does not despair that working-class struggle is pointless because of the role of MI5 and the security services.

What emerges is that the British ruling class pursued a 20-year vendetta against the NUM, where the Tory Party and the security services were the ones guilty of an unprecedented scale of subversion and corruption. The background to their ‘search and destroy’ mission against the miners, as Tony Benn called it, was the successful miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974, which eventually drove the Tory government of Ted Heath from office. The Tories meticulously planned to avenge their defeat and were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve it.

At the height of the witch-hunt in 1990 Arthur Scargill got a phone call from a Miles Copeland, an ex-CIA senior officer. Copeland said: "I don’t like your views Mr Scargill and I never have but I don’t like the way you’re being treated. You are being set up". Copeland went on to warn Scargill and Heathfield that both Ml5 and the CIA were behind the campaign. This was true but wasn’t proven until later that year when a group of dissident GCHQ employees approached Guardian reporters.

These intelligence service workers said that "a large-scale ‘Get Scargill’ operation – authorised personally by Margaret Thatcher and involving GCHQ, MI5 and the police Special Branch – had been run both during and after the miners’ strike. The operation had been aimed at ‘destroying’ the NUM leader ‘both politically and socially’, and was directly linked to the Mirror and Cook Report campaign. It had culminated in an abortive attempt by the intelligence services to deposit £500,000 in a Scargill-linked bank account in Dublin with the aim of framing him as an embezzler".

Now Seumas Milne has drawn together all the available evidence, done very extensive research, and shows conclusively and very specifically that this version of the ‘Scargill Affair’ was correct.

Two things stand out in the book. The first is the ‘curious’ role of Roger Windsor. Windsor was the former chief executive of the NUM who was caught embracing Colonel Gadaffi after allegedly accepting large sums of money (supposedly anywhere between £150,000 and two million) at a crucial time in the miners’ strike – October 1984. It was during that period, as Thatcher later admitted in her memoirs, that the Tories came within an inch of being humiliatingly defeated by the miners. Windsor’s ‘embrace’ came at a very appropriate time for the beleaguered Tories.

Windsor then left the NUM and ‘revealed all’ to the Mirror about the Libyan and Russian money (where over £1 million was said to have gone missing). What wasn’t ever revealed by the Mirror was that they published Windsor’s claims despite masses of evidence that contradicted him. They never put any of the allegations to Arthur Scargill or Peter Heathfield and they paid Windsor £80,000 for his lies.

All Windsor’s claims have since been proved untrue except for one thing – that he was given £29,500 to clear a bridging loan which he still hasn’t repaid to the NUM, despite saying publicly in the Mirror that he would. Milne’s book makes out a clear case, where the evidence is anything but circumstantial, that Windsor and others involved in this ‘sting’ were working directly or indirectly for MI5.

Windsor’s allegations unleashed a reign of terror against the NUM leaders. But what is especially abhorrent was the way in which a so-called Labour paper, the Daily Mirror, and Labour Party establishment figures, Neil Kinnock, Kim Howells MP and Kevin Barron MP, were the ones who led the attack on Scargill.

Kinnock even went as far as presenting the journalist of the year award to Terry Pattinson, the Mirror’s industrial editor, long after the allegations were disproved. It’s a tragic irony that principled trade unionists were being put to the rack over corruption allegations by the biggest crook and fraudster in history – [Mirror owner] Robert Maxwell – and a Labour leader who abandoned all his principles. But Seumas Milne also draws out the role of lesser figures like former left-wingers Howells and Barron (and others in the labour movement), probing their motives in being avid cheerleaders for Maxwell’s witch-hunt.

The second thing that stands out is that the book gives a class analysis of the events – showing the attack was motivated by more than just the brutal vindictiveness of the British ruling class. It steers away from the ‘conspiracy’ or ‘cock-up’ theories of much investigative journalism and shows, despite Tory claims, that the NUM was anything but a ‘busted flush’ after the 1984-85 strike. The book points out that in 1989-90 the proportion of electricity generated by coal reached an historic peak. Even after the miners’ defeat in 1985, Thatcher warned her cabinet ministers to "keep an eye on Scargill".

The book concludes that, despite the enormous body blows directed at the NUM, not all the immediate objectives of the assault were achieved. The campaign against Scargill caused enormous problems in the NUM but it did not succeed in smearing Arthur Scargill or breaking the NUM. Four years after the avalanche it is Arthur Scargill and the miners who have been vindicated and the Tories found guilty of ‘literal and political corruption’. No security force on earth can save the Tories from the accumulated anger and hatred of British workers that is set to blow.

Seumas Milne’s book, described by John Pilger as "the most important exposé of contemporary political Britain I have read", is essential reading for all those who don’t underestimate the ruthlessness of the British establishment.

Chronology of a class war


November: National Coal Board (NCB) announces 49 pits will close, triggering overtime ban by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).


March: All-out strike begins in Scotland, Yorkshire, Kent and South Wales. Sections of Nottinghamshire miners continue working – 8,000 police seal off the whole county.

April: The National Union of Railwaymen tells members to block movements of coal.

May: British Steel starts bringing coal to steel plants with scab lorries. TUC general secretary, Len Murray, declares that a one-day general strike in support of the miners would be ‘unconstitutional’.

June: The battle of Orgreave coke depot takes place on 18 June: 10,000 pickets face 4,000 police – 93 arrests are made, many injured, including NUM president, Arthur Scargill. Rail workers hold 24-hour strike in London in support of the NUM.

July: Strike-breakers take control of Notts area NUM. National docks strike called over British Steel’s use of scab labour. Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher denounces the miners as "the enemy within". Dockers call off strike on 23 July.

September: Broad Left Organising Committee organises a 5,000-strong lobby of TUC, which votes to back the NUM. On the 28th the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS) votes to strike.

October: Power workers in the right-wing EETPU union vote not to support the miners. NACODS call off strike after NCB make concessions on the colliery review procedure. The High Court orders the seizure of NUM funds. The Sunday Times runs a story of NUM executive Roger Windsor’s visit to Libya to get funds from the Gaddafi regime.

November: Price Waterhouse seizes NUM assets.


January: Arrests of miners and their supporters climb to over 10,500.

February: NUM accepts the review procedure as agreed by NACODS, and calls for talks.

March: An NUM special delegate conference on 3 March votes 98 to 91 to return to work. Scotland and Kent vote to return on 10/11 March. 700 sacked miners are still not reinstated.


5 March: Central Television airs the Cook Report which alleges, falsely, that Arthur Scargill and NUM general secretary Peter Heathfield used NUM funds to pay-off mortgages.


20 June: The three Daily Mirror journalists who made the same allegations as the Cook Report are jointly named 1990 Reporter of the Year. The award, presented by the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, came a day after Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield were acquitted of accounts charges.


13 October: Tory trade secretary Michael Heseltine announces the closure of 31 of Britain’s remaining 50 deep coal mines, immediately triggering mass anger. The NUM calls a mid-week 100,000-strong demo. Under pressure, the TUC calls a protest the following weekend – 250,000 people march through London in the pouring rain in support of the miners.

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