Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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.

Fresh claims have been made about government manipulation of the BBC’scoverage of the 1984-5 miners’ strike.  It is now alleged that specific instructions were issued from the “highest level of government” to ensure that the BBC’s camera crews focused on the miners’ violence and not on “the police smashing heads”.  The allegation has been made by the former Daily Mirror industrial editor Geoffrey Goodman, chairman of the editorial board of British Journalism Review, who insisted he has an “impeccable source”.  But in a speech on the Untold History of the Miners’ Strike, former BBC industrial correspondent Nicholas Jones said he did not believe that such instruction was issued. However, he acknowledged that towards the end of the year long strike the balance of coverage tipped firmly in favour of Margaret Thatcher and the National Coal Board.     

When Arthur Scargill visited the Camp for Climate Change erected outside the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent in August 2008, he found himself at odds with a group of activists who back in the 1980s might well have joined him in challenging the policies of Margaret Thatcher.  Undaunted by the placards of environmental campaigners declaring “No new coal”, he used his guest appearance as honorary president of the National Union of Mineworkers to mount a valiant defence of the need for a new and integrated energy policy based on coal and renewables which he hoped would result in the closure of all nuclear power stations.  Delighted though they were both by the publicity which Scargill attracted and his criticism of the stop-and-search powers being exercised by riot police around the camp, the protestors seemed in no mood to be swayed by what smacked of special pleading by the NUM and they were adamant that if there was to be any real chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there had to be a ban on any future investment in coal-fired generation.  Nonetheless Scargill was as ambitious as ever in presenting an action plan to revive the coal industry: + closed pits should be re-opened.+ coal production should be increased to 250 million tons a year (more than twice the level of the pre-1984 level out of output).+ approval should be given for the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations designed to incorporate the latest carbon capture technology. 

Marching to the Fault LineBy Francis Beckett and David HenckeConstable £18.99

Review  by Nicholas Jones

If a campaign ever has to be mounted to safeguard the access which has been established under the Freedom of Information Act, then this book should cited as evidence.  It reveals in the cold print of Whitehall documents the alarming lengths to which Margaret Thatcher went to mobilise the forces of the state against the National Union of Mineworkers in what is now remembered as the Great Strike of 1984-5. Secret memos to the Prime Minister, minutes of cabinet committees, letters from secretaries of state, police statistics and a host of other official records were trawled over by the authors after they succeeded under FOI in gaining release of the documents from the Cabinet Office and the National Archives.