Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

After fifty years as a reporter and then broadcasters there is no doubt in my mind as to who were my two most intransigent interviewees: the Reverend Ian Paisley and Arthur Scargill. 

In the 1970s, as a correspondent reporting the Northern Ireland Troubles, I frequently interviewed Paisley, especially during the two week strike organised by the Ulster Workers’ Council which brought down the 1974 power-sharing assembly and executive. Paisley had championed the mobilisation of Protestant power station workers to bring Northern Ireland to a halt.

A decade later I faced an equally defiant– but eventually unsuccessful – Arthur Scargill as he led the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1984-5 strike against pit closures.

I could not help thinking of Paisley, lying in the Ulster Hospital being treated for a heart problem, as I listened to Scargill speaking in Birmingham at a rallyto commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Saltley Gates on February 10, 1972.

The Battle of Saltley Gates, outside the Saltley coke depot, was a demonstration of the power of the flying picket, the industrial muscle which Scargill mobilised to a devastating effect and which proved so strong that the then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath was forced to concede a 27 per cent pay increase for the mineworkers.  

One of my first assignments with the BBC was reporting the rota power cuts of 1972 and their alarming impact was a foretaste of the disruption that Northern Ireland faced in 1974.

Four decades later Scargill told the rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Saltley demonstration that although he was older he was just as determined, ready and willing to lead a “British spring” to bring down capitalism and create a fairer system of socialism.

Blanket coverage of the withdrawal of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood was another graphic illustration of the dominant position of financial news in today’s 24/7 media environment.  But for once there was – at least to begin with – a level playing field.

By using a government website to make the declaration that the Honours Forfeiture Committee had made its decision, Downing Street circumvented the anonymous briefings which drive so much of the financial news agenda.

A statement was posted on the Cabinet Office’s website at 5pm (31.1.2012) stating that it would be announced in the London Gazette that the knighthood conferred on Goodwin had been “cancelled and annulled”.  The scale and severity of his actions as chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland made it an exceptional case; he had brought the “honours system into disrepute.”

Headlines on the front pages of next day’s national newspapers denounced Goodwin in the lurid terms which have dogged him for the last four years – a level of abuse which has placed “Fred the Shred” on a par with the former mineworkers’ president Arthur Scargill who was turned into a similar hate figure thirty years ago.

From the very moment Goodwin was forced to resign in 2008 after RBS had to be bailed out by the taxpayer, he was subjected to a sustained campaign of press abuse, the kind of blanket character assassination not seen since the 1980s when the trade union leaders who stood out against Margaret Thatcher had their reputations trashed by the tabloids.

For the former mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill the last few weeks of 2011 will be a poignant reminder of the power which he once wielded over the British coal industry and the left of the trade union movement.

December the 8th is the 30th anniversary of Scargill’s election as President of the National Union of Mineworkers – and this December also looks like marking the end of the road for what seems to have become an increasingly desperate attempt to continue influencing the NUM’s day-to-day affairs.

Far-reaching proposals for the introduction of driverless trains and fully automated ticketing on London Underground raise the prospect of the kind of dispute with the rail unions not seen since the Thatcher years.

 

2012 is the 30th anniversary of the infamous flexible rostering dispute which paralysed the entire rail network in the first half of 1982 and became an early trial strength between the trade union movement and the government of Margaret Thatcher.

Removing the hidden taxpayer subsidy which meets the salaries of trade union representatives in workplaces across the public services would be a body blow to the British trade union movement.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has thrown down the gauntlet to union leaders: if widespread industrial action is going to be used to block measures such as the reform of public sector pensions, then the coalition government is ready to retaliate with the withdrawal of the agreement allowing union business to be conducted during paid time at work.