Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arthur Scargill is Responsible For All Our Ills!

I was really surprised that John Redwood was in favour of the employee buy-out of Tower Colliery in 1994 when he was Secretary of State for Wales.

Even more amazing is that Arthur Scargill is nearly seventy years old. So you may think it's a bit bizarre to blame him for so many of our current problems - rising energy costs, higher inflation, higher transport costs, the rise of the Labour Party in the 1990s and Gordon Brown as our Prime Minister. But there is a link... trust me!

I worked in the coal industry for over 20 years and remember the Labour Government's attempt in the 1970s (I think it was 1974, to be precise, when Tony Benn was in charge of Industry) to develop a UK energy strategy. With the complete agreement of the then chairman of the National Coal Board - Sir Derek Ezra, as he was then - this was summarised as COCONUKE - coal, conservation and nuclear power. (Probably not the exact acronym but near enough!)

At the time, it was said that we had over 400 years of coal supplies - based on known reserves - and it gave great impetus to finding ways of burning coal more cleanly. I seem to recall there was a "fluidised-bed combustion" plant at Grimethorpe that carried out much of the early research into how sulphur (that causes acid rain) could be removed from the emissions. Other countries were also involved in this area of research and, of course, South Africa - forced by the international trade embargoes at the time - had already developed SASOL which was a coal-based process that supplied them with the fuel they needed to replace oil and its petroleum-like products.

As as result of the 1983/4 miners' strike in the UK the importance of coal in our energy mix was relegated to the bottom of our priorities and all the funding for developing its (cleaner) use was cut. No politician, or at any rate no Conservative politician, was inclined to give Arthur Scargill and his ilk the chance to hold the country to blackmail ever again.

Whatever you think about that political decision, it was undoubtedly a mistake not to look to the future. Now we are are relying more and more on foreign (Russian?) supplies of gas to heat our homes, generate our electricity and which dictates the prices we have to pay (because of the link to dollar-priced oil) to drive our cars, run our railways and fly our planes.

If Arthur Scargill had not led a large part of the mining workforce into that disastrous strike over the modest level of pit closures that had been proposed, we might still have had a sizeable UK coal industry. Many new ways of mining it and burning it in a more environmentally-friendly way could well have been developed. In the event, the strike precipitated an even more rapid close down of the industry than had originally been proposed.
If Joe Gormley had still been President of the NUM there would never had been such a damaging strike. He had once said: "My members now have mortgages, take foreign holidays and enjoy a better standard of living then ever before. I won't put that in jeopardy."
But the real legacy of Scargill's strike is that it created deep divisions between north and south, polarised politics and led to the creation of the NuLabour Party. The rest, as they say, is history....