Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

The soul searching of a former BBC correspondent

Just like the sustained scare story over weapons of mass destruction which preceded the war against Iraq, the year-long pit dispute was played out against an equally well-entrenched narrative aimed in this case at demonising the enemy within. For the British news media, the confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill had as much potency as the fight to the finish with Saddam Hussein. Many journalists have reflected ruefully on the way they were taken in by the pro-war propaganda of George Bush and Tony Blair in the months leading up to the US offensive in March 2003 and similarly when I think back to my reporting of the 1984-5 strike I have to admit that in the end I got ensnared by the seeming inevitability of the Thatcherite story line that the mineworkers had to be defeated in order to smash trade union militancy.

The 25th anniversary of the pit dispute has provided a timely opportunity to reveal what happened when I become Arthur Scargill's stand-in driver at the height of the strike:

 Using my BBC reporters car in the middle of the 1984-5 miners strike to give Arthur Scargill a lift to London was not something which I ever dared to mention in my broadcasts about the pit dispute.  Just days before our four-hour drive, he had been arrested and subsequently injured during the Battle of Orgreave when ten thousand pickets faced four thousand police officers.  The near-unanimous view of the press was that the President of the National Union of Mineworkers posed an even greater danger to the state than he did at the start of the dispute.  Scargill shunned almost all personal contact with journalists during the year-long strike and he remains as aloof today.  My brief stint as his stand-in driver came about by chance.  I have to admit that at the time nothing from our conversation struck me as being particularly newsworthy; Scargill was too astute for that. But I ended up feeling at a slight disadvantage, fearing I could have compromised my own impartiality and might be accused of taking sides in the dispute.  Once the strike was over I occasionally re-read my notes and, as the years went by, I began to realise that I possessed a rare insight into the thinking and personal routines of the union leader who commanded the most divisive industrial dispute since the general strike of 1926.  

 

If Britain is to avoid the threat of power black outs, the government has little alternative but to give the go ahead to a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power stations.  But how could a country, which Arthur Scargill says has “over 1,000 years of coal reserves”, end up facing an energy shortfall?  Nicholas Jones says the 25th anniversary of the 1984-5 miners’ strike (March 12, 2009) provides an ironic backdrop at a critical moment.