The Labour Party in Blackpool: Miners' double act in plea to fight closures

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The Independent Online
THE MINING double act of Arthur Scargill and Dennis Skinner brought the Labour conference to its feet yesterday in the only real emotional spasm of the week with delegates roaring their approval for a fight against colliery closures.

In an echo of the heady rhetoric of the 1984 miners' strike, Mr Scargill recalled his conference claims at the time that the Tory government had a hit list of pits earmarked for closure.

'I was told that I was ready for the loony bin. I was told that I was telling lies; 140 pit closures and 140,000 redundancies later, I ask this conference who told the truth and who told the lies,' the NUM president said.

According to a leaked confidential letter from Tim Sainsbury, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, to Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, another 30 pits are to be closed. About 25,000 jobs would go, with probably as many again in associated industries.

Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, said the Government wanted 'total revenge' on the National Union of Mineworkers. 'They want to close the lot down . . . Let's take up the cudgels on behalf of the miners and all those who have lost their jobs. Let's co-ordinate that struggle between those inside Parliament and those outside and let's fight tooth and nail.'

The rapturous standing ovations for the two left-wingers forced Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, to postpone an emergency statement on the row with the Bundesbank. Party leaders had hoped the statement would show the conference dealing with relevant issues, but following directly on such a display of sentiment and emotion it would have been eclipsed.

Completing the picture of the conference back in the acrimonious Eighties, Bill Jordan, president of the right-wing AEEU engineers, was hissed and booed as he tried to establish, on a point of order, that the NUM motion was not a call for the closure of the nuclear industry. Manufacturing unions supported opposition to pit closures but were not prepared to accept an attack on the nuclear, gas and construction industries, he said.

Delegates began chanting 'off, off' until Eddie Haigh of the National Executive Committee, chairing the session, threatened to suspend the conference.

The emergency motion had nothing to do with the party's nuclear policy, Mr Haigh said. Though Mr Jordan voted for the motion, his fears did not appear groundless. The motion describes the closure programme as an 'act of industrial genocide' and attributes it to the Government's obsession with nuclear power and the dash for gas-fuelled power stations.

Mr Skinner told delegates that John Major did not care about pit closures because there were no collieries near Chelsea, the Oval or Lord's.