Dennis Skinner on the Battle of Orgreave

Skinner Book Pic

Mike last Thursday put up a piece reporting that an all-party parliamentary group had demanded that Theresa May open an inquiry to reveal what really happened during the Battle of Orgreave in the Miner’s Strike. The MPs signing the demand include Sir Peter Bottomley, who was Employment Minister during the Strike, Angus Robertson, the leader of the SNP’s parliamentary group, Tim Farron, the leader of the Lib Dems, and much of the parliamentary Labour party, including Jeremy Corbyn.

The Battle of Orgreave was one of the most violent confrontations during the Miner’s Strike, when 6,000 police from all over the country charged the strikers on horseback, arresting 95 of them. However, the men were later freed after the trial against them collapsed.

Mike, however, remains pessimistic about ever getting the truth out of Theresa May.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/26/will-we-get-the-facts-about-orgreave-from-someone-like-theresa-may/

Indeed. This is a government that utterly despises any kind of transparency and democratic accountably. Mike has described at length, and ad nauseam, the way Ian Duncan Smith and the DWP tried to block at every turn the requests from him and other bloggers and disability activists for the release of the official figures showing how many people had died after being declared ‘fit for work’ under the assessment system. This is a government that has reviewed the Freedom of Information Act itself to tighten it up to prevent the release of any information that may be embarrassing, uncomfortable or just plain awkward for the authorities. They have even declared that Freedom of Information Act requests should only be made to understand why an official decision was made, not to challenge it.

It is a deeply authoritarian attitude. They take it as their right to govern, and the public’s duty to obey unquestioningly. The Daleks would be proud.

I’ve been reading Dennis Skinner’s autobiography, Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences (London: Quercus 2014). The notorious and celebrated ‘Beast of Bolsover’ comes from a mining background, and entered politics through his activity in the NUM – the National Union of Miners. He has always campaigned vigorously on their behalf, as well as those of all working people. He was a staunch supporter of the Miner’s Strike, organising much public support for the strikers. And as you’d expect, he has some very harsh and very pertinent things to say about Thatcher. He also gives his view on the Battle of Orgreave, the violence inflicted against the miners by an out-of-control police force, and the gross distortion of justice and attack on the working class it represented. He writes:

The police state imposed by Thatcher abused miners as the enemy within. Striking miners were stripped of civil rights, victims of summary justice. the courts were a tool of her oppression. Strikers were barred from picket lines and jailed on the uncorroborated testimony of police officers who made it up as they went along. It broke my heart to see miners trickle back to work towards the end, starved and beaten.

We suffered a strategic defeat in the June of the British Steel coking plant in South Yorkshire at the Battle of Orgreave. In hindsight, the field wasn’t an easy place for us to make a stand with a mass picket. the ground was too open, and there were few choke points where we could stop the convoys of lorries. the police in riot gear, with their dogs and mounted cavalry, lined up in their thousands. It was as if they wanted us there, coppers shouting mockingly ‘See you tomorrow’ when they went off a night. We were well and truly battered by the police. Some of the coppers were out of control, bashing anybody in reach. Mounted officers rode their horses at miners and used batons as swords. To escape being trampled under the hooves I climbed up a young tree, the sapling’s thin branches straining and threatening to drop me into the path of the cavalry. It was like a scene from a massacre in a Wild West film.

Orgreave confirmed the BBC was part of the campaign against the miners because the film broadcast on TV was reversed and it was forced to apologise after the strike, which was too late. The BBC showed the miners throwing sods of earth at the police and then the police retaliating but it had happened – and was filmed – the other way round. The BBC lied just like the Tory government.

The police would boast about overtime and taunt workers who’d not been paid a penny for months by waving £10 notes in front of them. I gave all my wages to the NUM, every penny in that year. I’d done the same in the 1972 dispute. I was seen as a miners’ MP and had been elected to Parliament only a couple of years before. In ’84 I was talking to NUM officials who’d said they wouldn’t be paid. ‘What about you, Dennis?’ they asked. My answer was: ‘I’m going to do what I did in 1972.’ I didn’t want to do anything else. (Pp. 203-4).

The hostility of the police was frightening, officers breaking the laws they were sworn to uphold. They were emboldened by immunity. Heads of miners were cracked and men wrongly arrested in their thousands. thatcher turned Britain into a police state. (Pp. 204-5).

It’s possible that following the Hillsborough inquiry, that has exonerated the Liverpool fans and put the blame on the stadium, the company operating it and the police, we might see justice in this area too. But I doubt it very much. Hillsborough was a terrible accident. The massive use of disproportionate force by the police to break the miners was a deliberate policy by that Tory idol, Maggie Thatcher, about whom no evil must be spoken. She did it deliberately to break the miners in retaliation for the way they had overthrown Ted Heath a decade earlier. Her policies are synonymous with the Tories, and the Tories cannot criticise and will not criticise the Leaderene. We need and deserve an unbiased report into Orgreave. But I very much doubt we will ever get it under this mendacious, deceitful and deeply secretive government.

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