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Yeats Was Right: The Worst are Full of Passionate Intensity

As the 40th anniversary of the divisive 1984 UK miners' strike approaches, this post explores the passionate but vanishing working class solidarity that defined the dispute, contrasting it with the current decaying state of British politics.

Whenever liberal democracy is under threat, political commentators reach for William Butler Yeats and his poem “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Since the vote to leave the European Union, chaos hasn’t merely descended – it has ravaged the political landscape like a petulant child’s tantrum. The centre ground of UK politics is a wasteland. The Labour Party has abandoned the left, and now the centre left, chasing the Tories ever further into right-wing territory. That’s not to suggest Starmer’s Labour are now reactionaries. However, desperate to appear electable, they’ve exhumed the remnants of New Labour, eager to banish any trace of Corbyn’s socialism. Beware all who enter here – Blair’s ghost lingers.

Yet still, this decaying Tory rule clings to power. The sharks circle, sensing weakness, but none possess the ruthlessness to finish the job. Sunak may appear lifeless, devoid of ambition, but his potential assassins lack the killer instinct. This is the bleak landscape of British politics – devoid of inspiration, mired in cynicism. Democracy itself seems to be wheezing its last breath. Perhaps Yeats was right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Where are our woking class heroes?

In recent decades, the traditional champions of Britain’s working class have vanished. Once, trade union firebrands and impassioned Labour politicians held sway, their voices strident with demands for fairness and better lives for ordinary folk. But where are those figures now? Where is the rousing rhetoric, the fiery speeches that stirred hearts and demanded action? Think back to the likes of Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn, Derek Hatton, and Bob Crow; their very names evoked a sense of unwavering working class solidarity. The sense of abandonment within working class communities is palpable; a void exists where once there were heroes who understood and articulated our struggles. This absence begs the question: have the working classes been forgotten amidst shifting political priorities and a changing social landscape?

The Miners’ dispute 40 years on

Watching the BBC’s “Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story,” one is reminded that this was a visceral battle for the soul of Britain. Now, in a bold new documentary, the men and women on both sides of the struggle break their silence to tell their stories. Forget what you think you know—this is the strike told by those who were there, and for some, the remembering and talking do not come easy. As we approach the forty-year anniversary of that 1984 dispute and the hot June summer of Orgreave I’m sure there will be many more articles, books and TV programmes rembering events.

This documentary reveals the powerful sense of community that defined mining villages and towns. The story of striking miners is inseparable from the incredible women who rallied behind them—cooking in soup kitchens, making sure strikers had one good meal a day, and holding families together. Experience the cat-and-mouse game as pickets outwitted police checkpoints, a testament to their resilience in the face of adversity. But amidst the fight, there’s also profound heartbreak—a miner unable to bury his infant son, forced to make a devastatingly impossible choice.

These are the stories history often overlooks: a celebration of working class communities, their hopes, their dreams, and their unyielding spirit. This is real life, a gritty and essential chapter in Britain’s story.

The scenes of police violence on pickets at Orgreave makes you feel sick, there was no justification for the actions of Assistant Chief Constable Clement of South Yorks who ordered mounted police to break the lines of pickets or officers who lost all self control and brutally beat miners. I particularly liked Bruce a miner who kept notes on the police, South Wales ok, South Yorks bastards, the Met double bastards.

Former miners and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign have continually called for an inquiry into the policing at Orgreave. They believe the Conservative government orchestrated the police response, manipulated the legal system, and fuelled a false media narrative to crush the strike and break the mining unions. The campaign argues that this inquiry is crucial to expose alleged government corruption, protect democratic rights, and achieve truth and justice for the miners wrongly accused and abused during their fight for jobs and communities.

This BBC programme packs more of a punch than the Channel 4 three-parter “Miners’ Strike 1984: Battle for Britain. Hillary Cave NUM Education Officer between 1983 and 1988, who had detailed knowledge of what happened within the NUM and many of the coalfields during the dispute has complained about the Ch4 series.

Cave argues that the series misrepresented several key events and figures:

  • Role of Arthur Scargill: The documentary portrays Scargill as having sole decision-making power in the strike, while the author clarifies that decisions were made democratically through conferences.
  • Police Brutality: The series focuses on intimidation by miners but neglects the violence faced by striking miners.
  • David Jones’ Death: The series mentions a miner’s death but fails to clarify that he was a striker killed by suspected fascists, not by fellow miners.
  • David Hart: The series relies on biassed commentary from Hart’s brother, who portrays the NUM rallies as extremist.
  • Margaret Thatcher’s intervention: The documentary doesn’t mention documented evidence of Thatcher’s involvement in the strike, despite her public claims of non-interference.
  • NUM Democracy: The documentary suggests the left-wing leadership undermined democracy, but the author refutes this with examples of conferences where decisions were made.

Cave feels these misrepresentations require a response from the makers to set the record straight and avoid a formal complaint.

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