Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

The recent death of prominent trade union leaders demonised during the industrial conflicts of the 1980s was a reminder of the price that can be paid when public figures get on the wrong side of shifts in public opinion -- a fate that might well await the Brexit cheerleaders.

Union officials involved in the so-called Winter of Discontent and the momentous strikes of the Thatcher years were already unpopular enough with large swathes of the public, but they became hate figures after being constantly traduced by the tabloid press.

Three decades later, the late NUPE leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe -- vilified at the time for calling out on strike grave diggers, hospital workers and the like -- found himself hailed as a hero by countless thousands of lowly-paid workers who credited with having done so much to help establish the national minimum wage.

The irony today is that that the popular newspapers that helped to turn union leaders into hate figures might find their slavish support for ardent Brexiteers -- such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees Mogg et al -- is nowhere near enough to save their "heroes" if public opinion swings against them once Project Deception is exposed for what it is, and the nation has come to terms with the full consequences of a hard Brexit.

Files released by the Home Office have so far failed to reveal the operational secrets behind the Battle of Orgreave.

But they do show that officers of the South Yorkshire Police remained entirely confident that they believed their tactics were justified and effective in dealing with the largest confrontation during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

If the operational order for the day is ever released for public inspection, it might show whether the police set a trap for the pickets, luring them into a confrontation, as the National Union of Mineworkers has always suspected.

More documents are to be delivered to the National Archives, and 65 South Yorkshire files are also in the process of being examined, as the hunt continues for answers to the many questions raised by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

In view of the refusal of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to authorise a public inquiry into the events that day, the Orgreave campaigners are determined to discover who was responsible for a “military” style assault on the pickets by 6,000 or more police officers that resulted in countless men being “seriously injured, falsely arrested and wrongly prosecuted”.

Donald Trump’s attacks on the truthfulness of the main stream media might have shocked the political establishment in Washington, but they have been a tried and tested ploy of South American revolutionaries – and were the weapon of choice for Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

Studies just published by the British Journalism Review and the Columbia Journalism Review explore the thinking behind the tactics of lashing out at reporters and accusing them of peddling fake news.

In his paper for the BJR, Nicholas Jones says Trump’s brazen assault on the veracity of journalists has been as calculated and carefully crafted as the abuse fired off three decades earlier by Scargill.

Words and phrases used by the NUM President in his sustained denigration of the main stream media were almost interchangeable with the tirades of the US President about the ethics of the leading American news outlets.

When Trump harangued reporters and television crews corralled in media pens to accompanying boos from his supporters, his attacks mirrored Scargill when he berated the British news media for supporting Margaret Thatcher.

 

When reflecting on the lasting impact of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a struggle that has become so firmly embedded in the collective memory of political and industrial events of recent years, I am often tempted to hit fast-forward rather than press the play-back button. How would a year-long fight-to-the-finish that pitted the country’s strongest trade union against an all-powerful Prime Minister, play out three decades later? Given the revolution there has been in communication techniques, what would the chances be of success if there was a repeat of the grassroots revolt against the decimation of the coalfields and their communities?

Black and white photographs taken by friends, family and supporters at the 1984 Battle of Orgreave helped subsequently to demolish Police prosecutions for rioting that were levelled against 95 striking mineworkers.

But at the time, very few close-up – and potentially incriminating – pictures made it into the news coverage of the mainstream media.

Most press photographers and television camera crews were penned in behind police lines, and therefore kept largely to the perimeter of the eight-hour confrontation between pickets and mounted police.

While newspapers and television news bulletins captured the scale of the conflict – and especially the graphic images of police on horseback charging through the pickets – there was nothing like the visual record of hand-to-hand combat that would be available today as a result of the abundance of camera phone pictures and videos that invariably emerges from demonstrations and protests.

No wonder the iconic photograph taken by John Harris of Lesley Boulton, cowering as a mounted police officer approached her with a raised baton, has become an enduring image of the strike, reproduced repeatedly to illustrate the violent response of the police as the pickets assembled outside the Orgreave coke works on June 18, 1984.