Was Scargill Right? – Sam Hill, age 18

Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2015 – Year group 12 and 13


Scargill. It’s a name that brings controversy wherever it is mentioned, a hero to many northerners and the epitome of the devil to so many southerners. The man that led the NUM in a crusade against Thatcher, the police and the plans for pit closures. The man who has been criticised for calling a strike without a vote from those he was meant to represent. The man that fought Tony Blair’s rewriting of Clause IV in the the Labour constitution. Arthur Scargill will forever be a controversial name, Thatcher’s reverse, perhaps the last true union leader, but whatever your opinion of him, whether he is a hero or a villain to you, you’ve got to wonder, was Scargill right?

As someone living in Oxfordshire, a safe Conservative constituency, I’ve always been surrounded by those that believe Thatcher to be an omnipotent, God-like woman that ended some sort of great socialist threat. In fact, even one of my own Grandfather’s supports what Thatcher did. However, as a 17 year old looking back on the events of the past I cannot help but think, why was such a thing allowed to happen? Why were over 20,000 people expelled from their jobs? And most of all, how, even 30 years after the strikes, has their not been some effort to alleviate the suffering of northern communities?

Let’s take that last point, the entirety of City of Wakefield, a borough of one of our largest counties, Yorkshire, was described by an EU survey as the ‘poorest place in Britain’ and ‘one of the poorest areas in the EU’. That was back in 1994, and things haven’t got that much better since, 11 years on. Unemployment is still almost 5%, that’s 1-2% higher than the national average whilst several of the Eastern wards are described by government as ‘deprived’. This is typical of the many areas now with ex-mining towns such as Seaham and Dawdon now suffering from a lack of employment opportunities, even with substantial regeneration work taking place. Something simply must be done.

Now, I can’t stake too much of a claim but my other Grandfather descends from a long line of coal miners and I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard from other ex-miners what the closure of the pits did to destroy, not just industry, but communities as well. I once sat  on a wall looking out to sea and just listened to a conversation taking place behind me, an old man was speaking to his wife or a lady of some description, someone he felt he could confide in. The man said something along the lines of ‘I wish the strike had never happened’. I was surprised, I thought ‘wow, this man has all the characteristics of a miner, I don’t understand’. He continued, ‘that strike caused a divide between me and my friends, my family, all because I felt I needed to stay at work’. Unbelievable, this man was one of those people i’d heard my uncles and cousins speak of, this man was a ‘scab’. However, this man, probably in his late years now, certainly did not look like the devil that he was made out to be. He seemed to me like a perfectly honest man that had been caught in a terrible situation, being forced to make a choice that has probably scarred him for years after. That conversation stays with me until this day, that man was on the other side of the picket, and in some respects he still is. He said himself of the split caused even within his own family, now just imagine that split magnified to a community level. Yes… And that split is still evident from the talk of those that lived during that fateful year of strikes, a community of people that will remain divided until something definitive happens.

Of course, there doesn’t seem to be the question of re-opening the coal mines anymore, a large percentage of those are now housing estates or in severe disrepair. However, that does not mean that government cannot stimulate the economy in other ways, why can’t the north become a hub for British industry once again? There’s certainly a the potential workforce for it! Think about it, this ‘budget deficit’ is the big lie. Britain has run on a deficit for almost 100 years, some of Britain’s greatest ever achievements have been able to happen because of this borrowing, take the NHS for instance, that would never have become the pinnacle institute for free healthcare if it had not been for American loans after the Second World War. Take another amazing feat, the almost full employment achieved by the Attlee government in their short tenure; this would not have been possible without loan financed public works. Why don’t we now take a look at today? The UK economy has grown slowly since 2010 while the deficit has been partially reduced, but to what avail? The ordinary citizen does not see any major improvement, we’ve had our public services cut, our jobs cut and our bedrooms taxed. I cannot therefore understand why this thirst for reducing the deficit is such a big issue, especially when it comes before the welfare of those living on this island. I say that enough is enough! I’m no economist but the North, and some areas of the South too, could benefit from a public works revolution, more housing, more jobs, the fixing of roads, the provision of food, the creation of homes for the homeless. That is what is needed, not this deficit reduction. What we need is more spending, let’s face fact, we aren’t going to fall back into recession within the next 10 years so let’s spend more in the present and see fast economic growth. We can worry about balancing the budget after we’ve placed the people’s welfare first.

‘Scargill was right’. Scargill warned that closing the pits would leave a lasting legacy, and it has. But this legacy can be changed while there is still time. Even as a Socialist I would like to say ‘Scargill was wrong’ because he predicted nothing good could come of the mine closures, with so many suffering. No, I disagree, something good can happen, these ex-mining towns can grow again, they can thrive with the creation of new industry, they can thrive with funding and they can begin to build the community spirit which was shattered 30 years ago.

But none of this is possible if we don’t expose the lie, the lie that the deficit and money are more important than people, more important than our rights, more important than bonds with each other. Hunger for money caused this disaster, it is now time for money to play a part in solving it…