Last week, I led an historic debate in Parliament as part of Labour’s ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign. This follows the revelations from the 1984 Cabinet papers, which exposed just how much Thatcher and her government misled the public and how badly mining communities were treated during the Strike.
Our campaign is about ensuring that what happened is properly acknowledged and that coalfield areas, like ours in Barnsley, get the necessary support to meet the huge challenges we still face. For it’s not just about our past, but about our future too.
Despite denials at the time, thanks to the release of those Cabinet papers, we now know that there was a secret hit list of 75 pits planned for closure. The papers also reveal that ministers sought to influence police tactics and, most disturbingly, Thatcher even considered deploying the Army against striking miners.
My motion was passed by MPs in the House of Commons last week, but there is still a lot more we are calling on the Government to do.
Firstly, there should be a formal apology for the actions of the previous Conservative government during the Strike. Will we get one? Fat chance.
But secondly, all the details of the communications between the government and the police at the time of the Strike should be published. Without the transparency, we won’t get to the truth. Without the truth, we can’t have justice.
Thirdly, there needs to be a proper investigation into what happened at Orgreave. It is indefensible that the whole truth is yet to come out. That’s why Labour has said that if the Independent Police Complaints Commission can’t or won’t undertake a proper investigation, the Government should consider initiating a swift, independent review.
And lastly, we need to make sure that coalfield communities like ours receive the much needed support to deal with the consequences of the pit closures that still remain. We still don’t get our fair share in Barnsley and the Government needs to do a lot more to bring decent jobs and investment to our area.
Of course there have been many improvements in recent years – thanks to the efforts of the local authority, the investment we had from the previous government and the brilliant work of organisations like the Coalfield Regeneration Trust. But more that needs to be done.
The Justice for the Coalfields campaign and the debate in Parliament comes too late for so many of the miners and families in Barnsley who saw their lives and communities decimated after the Strike. But those of us who lived through and grew up during that period still feel a strong sense of injustice.
Of course we cannot undo the damage that was done. But we can shine a light on what happened and promise to provide the necessary support for regeneration that is still needed. As well as ensuring justice for the past, it’s vital we work to secure a better future for former coalfield communities too.