The week in review: Home News

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The Independent Online
IT IS more than 18 years since the miners last brought down a Conservative government. By the end of this week, it did not seem too fanciful to suppose that, although decimated, they might do it again.

A wave of unexpectedly widespread dismay greeted the announcement that 31 pits are to be closed with a loss of 30,000 jobs - more than half the industry's labour force.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, said the reason for slashing capacity was that coal-fired power stations were more expensive to run than those using gas. His arithmetic was challenged by Neil Clarke, chairman of British Coal. Many saw it as a politically motivated move to destroy a group of workers who had caused such trouble to previous Tory governments.

The closures were due to start yesterday, but the High Court intervened to delay them while it considered the unions' case for an injunction. The Government is setting aside pounds 1bn for redundancy payments, with the proviso that any miner taking part in industrial action to protest at the closures forfeits the right to compensation.

Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said there would be a strike ballot among his members, but that he would first explore other methods of putting pressure on the Government. Roy Lynk, leader of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, took direct action by staging an underground sit-in at one of the pits to be closed - Silverhill Colliery in Nottinghamshire, where he used to work.

Many Conservative MPs attacked the plan and the brusque manner of its announcement, while the press was uniformly critical. 'The Government is beginning to sound woefully out of touch,' said the Daily Mail, while the Daily Express told the Prime Minister that he needed to inspire with words and deeds, or 'soon it will be too late'. A Sun headline asked bluntly: 'Dear Mr Major, do you have a plan to get us out of this bloody mess?'

If John Major did, he did not disclose it. He was busy at Birmingham hosting an EC summit to discuss the fallout from another crisis - the British withdrawal from the exchange rate mechanism and doubts about the Maastricht treaty.

With shares, jobs and the pound all on a downward spiral, and British Rail announcing another fare increase, the BBC's proposed all-news radio channel, had it been operating this week, could have offered nothing but round-the-clock misery. Defying critics, the BBC announced a firm date, 5 April 1994, for the start of this contentious service that will deprive Radio 4 of its long wave frequency.

The Booker Prize jury reached a split verdict for only the second time in its history, making the award jointly to Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient and Barry Unsworth for Sacred Hunger. Bookmakers paid out at half the odds.

The American singer Madonna arrived to launch her book, Sex, which could well receive a different kind of recognition: the Crown Prosecution Service is deciding whether to bring proceedings against it for obscenity.