Crisis in the mines: Angry Tory MPs threaten revolt over pit closures

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The Independent Online
The Government's apparently unshakeable determination to shut down the majority of Britain's pits provoked a fresh wave of criticism from rank and file Conservatives yesterday, stretching party loyalty to the limit amid predictions of revolt on a grand scale.

Summing up the mood of many critics, John Armstrong-Holmes, Tory finance spokesman on Nottinghamshire County Council, declared he had been 'physically sickened' by Tuesday's decision.

'It is the most disgusting announcement I have ever heard in my life,' he told BBC radio. 'With a crisis situation in Nottinghamshire we want it to be quite clearly known that we dissociate ourselves from this decision of the Government and that we will stand hand in hand with all those mounting opposition to this destruction.

'It actually challenges Conservatives like myself, and many of my colleagues not only in County Hall, but elsewhere throughout Nottinghamshire, as to whether indeed we actually belong to the Conservative Party we thought we belonged to, and it's going to take a lot of soul-searching.'

Bill Cash, MP for Stafford, a fierce Tory backbench critic of the Government's European and economic policy, led an all-party delegation of Staffordshire politicians and church leaders to Tim Eggar, the minister responsible for coal, at the Department of Trade and Industry in London.

After attacking Mr Eggar over government 'callousness' and for sanctioning coal imports while British miners were 'thrown on the scrap heap', Mr Cash warned of next Wednesday's Commons debate: 'We're talking about protest on a national scale, of the kind that might not be withstood.'

Of Michael Heseltine's dismissal yesterday of 'short-term' ways out of economic difficulty, he said: 'If this coal closure measure isn't a short-term measure I don't know what is.' At the Tory party conference the President of the Board of Trade had promised intervention at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there would be no breakfast, lunch and dinner for redundant miners.

As Mr Heseltine warned them yesterday against 'wrecking tactics' and 'throwing away' the benefits of the redundancy package by taking industrial action, Sir Teddy Taylor, Tory MP for Southend East, accused the Government of adopting the worst features of a Victorian employer.

'If the Government continue to show little sympathy but near contempt for people losing their jobs at a time of acute recession, they will simply lose the support and sympathy of the population.'

Public reaction to the Government's decision would be 'very nasty indeed', he said later on BBC radio. Simmering beneath outrage over the pit closure programme was renewed anger, fuelled by the jobless figures, over wider economic strategy.

Sir Teddy said: 'The crucial thing is what's happening to manufacturing industry. Unless we are prepared to do something - and the obvious something is action on interest rates - the situation can only get worse and worse and worse.'

John Butcher, a former trade and industry minister, joined the chorus of Tory MPs calling for a cut in interest rates.

He told a meeting at the University of Warwick: 'Even with a two-point reduction, inflation will continue to fall for the next 12 months. If the Treasury continues to do nothing, there won't be much of a traded goods sector left in the UK on which to build any kind of recovery.'

Iain Mills, MP for Meriden in the Midlands car-producing heartland, said he had written to the Prime Minister and Tim Sainsbury, Minister of State at the DTI, calling for interest rate cuts and reforms of company car tax and special car tax.

After Gillian Shephard commented that she was 'deeply concerned' about yesterday's jobless figures, Mr Mills said: 'I view the figures as more than a matter for deep concern. We are going to have to do something about it.' The scenario opened up by closing pits was 'appallingly dangerous'.