National Archives release: Margaret Thatcher nearly sent in the Army to crush miners, secret papers reveal

Files released under the 30-year rule reveal how the Thatcher government tried to stifle the National Union of Mineworkers’s funding from the Soviets

Union leaders suspected of smuggling “suitcases full of banknotes” from Moscow into Britain during the miners’ strike were placed under surveillance by MI5 as part of a plan hatched by Margaret Thatcher’s government to end the industrial unrest, according to secret papers.

Senior aides to Mrs Thatcher were so desperate to choke off the flow of money from the Soviet Union to the National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill that they considered using MI5 to tip off Customs officers to search officials believed to be bringing cash into Britain after collecting it from Swiss bank accounts.

A “secret and personal” memo sent to Mrs Thatcher by Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong at the height of the strike in 1984 suggests the discovery of the money “might well leak” and damage the reputation of the NUM or the consignments could be seized to pay a £200,000 fine outstanding against the union and Mr Scargill.

The close involvement on the Security Service in operations against the NUM is one of several files released under the 30-year rule by the National Archives in Kew, west London, which cast new light on the tactics deployed or contemplated by Mrs Thatcher’s government as it fought the defining industrial conflict in one of the most fraught years of her premiership.

A separate document reveals that the prime minister, who survived the Brighton bomb in the same year, secretly considered calling out troops and declaring a state of emergency amid mounting concerns that her government was facing defeat in the epic 12-month strike over plans to close 20 loss-making pits which sparked brutal picket line clashes such as the infamous “Battle of Orgreave”.

More freshly released information from the National archives:

Call out the troops to deal with McCluskey and Co? Not any more  

National Archives release: Libya warned Foreign Office of embassy violence ahead of Yvonne Fletcher murder

National Archives: When Mikhail Gorbachev was left outside No 10

National Archives: French planted 'bomb' in London to test security

John Biffen’s withering verdict on Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet meetings: 'Miserably disappointing' gatherings full of 'unctuous self-satisfaction'  

Plans were drawn up in July 1984 for thousands of military personnel to be mobilised to commandeer trucks and move vital supplies of coal and food around the country after the outbreak of a docks strike while miners were still out.

Amid a warning from former Cabinet minister John Redwood, then the hawkish head of the Downing Street policy unit, that a victory for the unions would be “the end of effective government in Britain”, the papers reveal how Mrs Thatcher’s closest aides sought to counter what many in her circle considered to be little short of a left wing insurgency.

After being alerted by MI5 to the shipments via Switzerland of suspected Soviet cash to the NUM, Sir Robert warned Mrs Thatcher in November 1984 that there was nothing that could be done legally to prevent the money entering Britain.

The existence of a financial lifeline to the NUM in the closing months of the strike was acknowledged within the Soviet Union after the TASS news agency reported that £500,000 had been donated by Russian miners to their British brethren.

But in London there was no doubt that the funds came with Moscow’s approval and may indeed have come directly from the Kremlin’s coffers.

While noting that there were no powers to stop the money being brought into Britain, Sir Robert, who as Cabinet Secretary was Britain’s most senior civil servant, indicated there would be methods of making life difficult for the NUM.

He wrote: “If a representative of the NUM could be detected entering this country with a suitcase full of bank notes, it might be possible for him to be stopped and searched by Customs.”

With more than a hint of tongue in cheek, he added: “Such a discovery might well leak: the Customs can be a deplorably leaky organisation, and so can the police.”

The memo made it clear that MI5 was watching NUM staff to see if they travelled to “foreign destinations” to pick up cash consignments, adding that any attempt by the union to process the money through its bank accounts could be “discreetly” reported to the official in charge of enforcing the £200,000 fine against the NUM for contempt of court.

Sir Robert also hints at behind-the-scenes briefings to sympathetic journalists to ensure that Mr Scargill was asked uncomfortable questions about the cash.

He added: “I am afraid that this is not certain to yield results, but I am satisfied that it is the best we can do.”

A reply to the document from Robin Butler, Mrs Thatcher’s private secretary, makes it clear that she was fully aware of the cloak and dagger operation. Mr Butler replied: “The Prime Minister has read and noted your minute.”

Whether the proposed interception of cash-mule NUM officials ever took place goes unrecorded. But MI5 has previously acknowledged that it conducted surveillance of Mr Scargill, monitoring contacts between him and the Communist Party of Great Britain. On its website, the Security Service insists that it was “less fearful of subversion than the Prime Minister”.

Such concern that the strike was merely the backdrop to a wider ideological struggle (Mr Scargill described the strike as a “social and industrial Battle of Britain”) is revealed to have pervaded the government’s response to the strike.

In his memo to Mrs Thatcher, Mr Redwood said the purpose of Britain’s left wing was to “oppose and destroy” while officials drew up contingency plans to conserve coal stocks, including the possible imposition of a three-day week. In one briefing, Norman Tebbit, then trade and industry secretary, warned that coal stocks were beginning to run perilously low.

In the end, however, the government emerged victorious. The national docks strike soon petered out and by late November significant numbers of miners were returning to work.

 

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire An es...

Electrical Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Long term contract role - Electrical Pro...

Product Support Engineer - Mechanical

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: You will be working with the support pro...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice