Labour supports Thatcher's call to save mines

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The Independent Online
LABOUR yesterday joined forces with Baroness Thatcher, supporting her call to save closed or threatened mines by forcing electricity generators to stockpile more coal.

The alliance between Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, and the woman who spoke of the 'enemy within' during the 1984-85 NUM strike, follows private pressure from Lady Thatcher on Tim Eggar, the Energy minister.

The disclosure of her secret intervention in June, following talks with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, could threaten the delicate truce that has been reached between the former prime minister and John Major in the run-up to next week's Tory party conference.

But speaking from the Labour party conference in Brighton, Mr Cook said: 'The public are very much against the Government on this issue.

'I am prepared to accept support from any quarter, and on this occasion I am prepared to accept support from Mrs Thatcher.'

Lady Thatcher followed up an April meeting with Neil Greatrex, president of the Nottinghamshire- based UDM, with a letter to Mr Eggar on 15 June.

It pressed for a change in the law on the licensing of pits to private operators and employee buy-outs, and that generators be forced to hold coal stocks of at least 20 million tonnes, as recommended by the all-party Commons trade and industry select committee in a report this year.

Defending the Government, in his reply on 30 June, Mr Eggar insisted that legislation to remove the ban on licensing pits employing more than 150 underground workers would be difficult to take through Parliament. He made no commitment over coal stocks. Lady Thatcher's attempted repayment of her debt of loyalty to the UDM, who did not join the NUM strike, may have come too late and avoids entirely the central complaints of opponents of the closure programme.

They argue that the energy market is 'rigged' against coal, unfairly favouring gas, nuclear power and imported energy, and that the pressures to drastically slim down the industry have flowed substantially from Lady Thatcher's own electricity privatisation measures, so constructed as to ensure that the NUM could never bring down the government.

Defending Lady Thatcher from the charge of hypocrisy, Malcolm Edwards, former director of the then National Coal Board, insisted that she was trying to give constructive help to one of the biggest problems behind the coal crisis.