Paul Foot on Pit Closures

Paul Foot: a Man Whose Time Has Come?

Extracts from Any Questions

A recent ’Any Questions’ programme was a revelation. On the subject of pit closures, Lady Blatch represented ‘wet’ Toryism. The Labour spokesman was Donald Dewar. The socialist position, which struck a real chord with the Nottinghamshire audience, was represented by someone this magazine doesn’t normally see eye to eye to, the [Socialist Workers Party’s Paul Foot. We reprint below a transcript from the programme.

  1. What advice or consolation would the panel offer to a redundant miner? {[n the context of a local pit, Morton, closing.]


“I don’t underestimate at all the difficulties, the disappointment and the depression from one moment having a job and the next moment not. But it isn’t only miners who find themselves in that situation… I happen to be married to somebody who was in fact made redundant, under the Wilson government. He was a serving member of the forces and one day had a job and the next day didn’t, and we have small children and within six months of that we actually lost a child… So I’ve been through redundancy and I’ve been through the difficult time that follows that… All I can say on a lighter note is—people do come through these times. And I think the times are slightly better now in terms of looking for more employment… the redundancy does help in the interregnum between losing the job and trying to re-settle in some new work. The other thing is that the economic conditions have not been better for a very long time. Inflation is now low. Interest rates are now low. Unemployment is, and has been, coming down very consistently and very steadily for almost a year now. Thai’s cold comfort. But all I would say is, having been there myself with my own family, I know the feeling. It’s pretty awful. And I’d simply say that you have to think positively and set about trying to look for new avenues.” [Silence from audience.]


“I’m just looking round the hall here. Perhaps I should retail the grins on people’s faces mixed with embarrassment as they listen to a Tory Minister talking about her great care and concern for redundant miners. Circumstances in which I search around for the vomit bag when I hear things like that. But the truth of the matter is that the coal industry in this country has been deliberately and cynically destroyed by this government over the period of last 12 years. [Applause.] They claim that they did it because there wasn’t a market for coal. But at the same time they were subsidising nuclear power at a level at which, if that subsidy had been available to coal, it would have been possible for every single person in this country who buys coal to have had it free and still for the coal industry to make a profit. At the same time they said there was an excess of capacity for power, they started building gas-fired power stations—some of them next to the pits that are already closing down.

“Therefore, there is no other explanation, save that they did it deliberately. And why did they do it deliberately? They did it deliberately because of the defeat that they suffered at the hands of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1972 and 1974. And every single part of their energy policy since then has been devoted to destroying the entire industry—even in Nottinghamshire, where they were supported by people who broke the strike, they are now destroying the industry here. Pit after pit which was said to be reprieved is being closed down. Therefore my advice to a redundant miner is to devote the rest of your life to an implacable attack upon the Tory attack upon the Tory government and the capitalist system which it represents.” (Applause.]


“Well, I can’t offer consolation and I have to say that I think the people concerned have a right to be angry.

“I drove past Morton when I came off the train today. It’s a pit that could have had a future. I understand, I can’t pretend to know in detail, but I’m told that it’s producing goal at just over a pound per jugajule [sic], that it is producing coal at a cost which is lower than coal is being imported into this country. And I think what makes the situation so wounding is that there is an element of vindictiveness about it. And also an element of muddle and incompetence. Because what we have seen now is a government which has no coherent energy strategy whatsoever, which is subsidising here, which is supporting there, which is closing somewhere else for no apparent reason. There is no plan for the future. And I think that makes it peculiarly wounding. And it’s also insulting, because it is also an assumption that they put another two or three thousand on the redundancy terms, they will buy compliance. And I think I would find that if I was a proud worker in the coal industry, I would find that particularly unacceptable. Since October 1992, 25,000 people have left the industry and I think there’s only 15,000 in fact left in deep mining. And to talk about getting jobs easily if you came from that tradition at the stage at which many of these people are at, then it really is a joke. And, as I drove up the road again tonight, I heard on the wireless what British Steel redundancies at Doncaster, another 250 going in the textile industry in Nottingham, I mean the whole climate is one of a deep deep difficulty. And I think it’s a tragic series of errors. And perhaps the best consolation I can offer to people is that it’s a cock-up as much as anything else. But that’s pretty poor consolation.” [No applause.]


This article appeared in May 1994, in Issue 41 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at and