Luddite and parochial to blame politicians for mines’ demise

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From: William Snowden, Butterbowl Gardens, Leeds.

I SHOULD like to respond to the long and provocative letter by Barrie Frost (Yorkshire Post, April 24) in which he reprised his fallacious arguments about “the destruction of our coal industry and coal mining communities” – by government diktat, he presumes.

Mr Frost views that vicious conflict through a distorting prism of parochialism, which obscures the compulsion and culpability of the striking miners. They elected to follow Arthur Scargill in his political confrontation, Mr Frost, eagerly and willingly down the crooked path to self-destruction. They indulged in truly shocking and shameful acts of violence and intimidation against their fellow miners who exercised their right to work, and against the thin blue line of police officers (the true, unsung heroes of that conflict), who sought to uphold the law.

During that conflict I used to visit an old friend who had retired from the Royal Navy. He and his family had been temporarily housed in the mining village of Grimethorpe. He was astonished at what he witnessed: “He (Arthur Scargill) comes here and they cheer him to the echo,” he told me, in bewilderment. “If someone had stolen thousands of pounds out of my back pocket...”

Mr Frost seems to think that governments are omnipotent; that they can manipulate reality and suspend the laws of economics. They cannot. As the British constitutionalist Walter Bagehot astutely observed: government is the art of the possible.

That violent and protracted conflict sounded the death knell for the deep coal mining industry.

As Mr Frost himself experienced, lost customers “did not return” because they had found alternative suppliers. For the miners it was a salutary but sadly fatal lesson in business practice, that you cannot treat your customers (existing and potential) with contempt and expect to keep them. The age of coal as a primary source for generating energy is over. It should not be regretted. Coal dust blackened our buildings, polluted the air and poisoned our lungs – especially those of the miners, who were engaged in such a dirty and dangerous occupation.

Miners were not “thrown on the scrapheap”. Indeed, they were offered the most generous redundancy package in the history of industrial relations. Many availed themselves of that generosity: one of whom I know relocated happily abroad. Others availed themselves of government training schemes, or enterprise allowances. One went on to become a Professor of History – in America. My friend Bob, after 25 years in the Navy, retrained as a computer salesman and went to live in the Midlands.

Mr Frost has a curiously skewed attitude towards international trade, and seems to think that importing energy supplies puts us “at the mercy of other countries”. We also import food and clothing and many other essential products, and we also export many goods and services. Britain is, and has always been, a trading nation.

Luddite attitudes are invariably negative and self-defeating. It does not do to dwell on the past, Mr Frost, to stoke up bitter embers that rarely glow with truth or reflect reality.