Anyone familiar with social media will be aware that one’s Facebook newsfeed can be a little like the virtual equivalent of passing a long, long sequence of billboards on the street. Some of the products being plugged have been memorised by the algorithms as items one has previously favoured whilst others appear out of nowhere; these appear because FB thinks they’ll appeal to the demographic it calculates the user belongs to – a calculation generally based on age, noted preferences, sex and so on. They’re routinely way off the mark for me personally and I tend to feel quite satisfied that this smart arse technology doesn’t know me as well as it reckons it does. Imagine your other half buying you an album for your birthday by a band that you’ve made it clear for years you absolutely hate. Well, it’s kind-of like that, but funnier. Mind you, videos, ads, links and promo material for charities or websites I sometimes don’t even remember ever giving the thumbs-up to regularly materialise in my newsfeed.
For example, over the last four or five years I’ve been receiving daily videos from a dog-walker in there – usually very charming and inoffensive shorts featuring the lady’s pooches having fun and that’s all, nothing more dramatic than that. I’ve no idea how these videos turned up in the first place, but I could think of a dozen others that I must have once clicked ‘like’ on and they’ve never forgotten. A similar tactic is used in an older cyber medium, that of the email. I’m not averse to signing e-petitions if I feel a particular cause is worthy of attention, but I often receive emails from groups I’m pretty sure I’ve never given any indication I support. I remember during the lead-up to the 2016 EU Referendum I was constantly receiving emails from the Remain lobby and yet I’d never once declared what my preferences were via any online platform, not even on the Winegum. To be honest, I hadn’t made my mind up for the majority of that campaign, anyway; I guess they were just chancing their arm in the hope I’d nail my colours to the mast.
In a similar vein, throughout Comrade Corbyn’s fun-packed tenure at the helm of the Labour Party I received emails from ‘Team Labour’, most of which I deleted without even opening. To be honest, emails of this ilk aren’t much different from Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at the door and not being able to take a hint when you don’t answer it. In fact, even though Jezza has gone, I’m still receiving occasional emails from Team Labour and received one today. This time I opened it solely on the basis of the headline, feeling I could refer to its contents in this very post. It came as no great surprise to see the message was related to a casual and characteristically clumsy remark made by Boris Johnson on the subject of the pit closures programme undertaken by the Thatcher Government way back in the 1980s. Boris spent a couple of days north of the border, and singing Maggie’s praises on Scottish soil perhaps wasn’t a great idea to soften the hostility of the Scots towards the Prime Minister; that was gaffe No.1. Gaffe No.2 was to imply the pit closures were inadvertently responsible for pointing the way towards a cleaner, ‘greener’ future. One can imagine how that went down in old mining villages, many of which languish beneath the broken bricks that once formed part of the ‘Red Wall’.
The post-war decline in heavy industry was a painful, protracted process for a country that had established itself as the workshop of the world via heavy industry. In many ways, that decline characterised the second half of the twentieth century for Britain, and though the inevitability of it was something that successive governments tried and largely failed to manage with a degree of delicacy, perhaps in the end it would take a less sentimental and ruthless approach to finally put the beast out of its misery. That ruthlessness was maybe at its most nakedly brutal in the mining industry, a drama that played out over a period of around 15 years, reaching a peak (or nadir) with the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. I’m not going to paint a black-and-white picture of heroes and villains here, but I will say that it wasn’t so much the loss of the industry as everything that had been built up around it that drove the deepest stake into the heart of those communities, communities that in many cases have never recovered and were effectively abandoned when the local pit closed.
Because nothing of any equivalent meaning and substance superseded the industry that had served as the glue holding such communities together for generations, the incredibly potent legend of the elite working-class heroes that were the miners has continued to exert a powerful grip on those parts of the country most affected by the loss of the pits. It’s not unlike the memory of an ex-girlfriend lingering as the gold standard of girlfriends when those who came after her failed to live up to her lasting impact. For many people of a certain age in the north of England, mining remains ‘the one’ and shiny bland business parks and call centres occupying cleaned-up land once blackened by the pit just isn’t the same. Not only do such ‘replacements’ fail to provide their employees with the same sense of having earned every penny of a good job well done that heavy industry tended to give its workers, but none come with the extended social network that surrounded an industry like mining – all of which vanished when the industry did.
Of course, the majority of these mining heartlands were also Labour heartlands, and the Left loves its legends; indeed, everything the Left has to shout about usually happened 40 or 50 years ago. The Miners’ Strike was the defining battle of the class struggle for the Left in the 80s – and the fact the Left lost the battle somehow makes it all the more perfect because it means the struggle didn’t end there; even if Identity Politics have now replaced class, it’s important the struggle is perpetual. Just listen to how the 2017 General Election remains referenced by Labour MPs as though it was a great victory on a par with 1945; if Corbyn had actually won that would’ve ruined everything; he’d have been on level pegging with Tony Blair, FFS!
Anyway, for those who were actually on the picket lines during the Miners’ Strike, the passage of time hasn’t really happened. I heard an ex-miner and veteran of Orgreave speaking on the ‘Today’ programme in response to what Boris had apparently said and his response was littered with references to Ted Heath, Thatcher and Arthur Scargill; but he evoked those ghosts as though they were all still contemporary political figures, as though they and the battle for that industry remained present tense. At one time, the likes of ‘the Germans’ were spoken of in a similar way by the generation that had fought the Second World War, decades after Peace in Europe had been declared.
The day after the last General Election and the complete collapse of the Red Wall, I saw a left-leaning friend who couldn’t comprehend the fact an acquaintance of hers had voted Tory. ‘And his father was a bloody miner,’ she said. The fact that, at that time, the Miners’ Strike had been 35 years before was irrelevant; this was clearly something each successive generation had to carry with them, even if the Tory turncoat in question had been born after 1984. Lest we forget, though, the Strike itself had exposed fault-lines in the social structure of pit villages as demonstrated by the divisions it opened up in families, divisions that have often never healed since then. Leave/Remain, Pro-vax/Anti-vax, Striker/Scab – perhaps the legacy of the Miners’ Strike is more relevant to modern Britain as a whole than just inherited bitter memories of betrayal and defeat in specific corners of Yorkshire. All of which means public servants of a certain colour still need to tread carefully when evoking it, even if treading carefully is beyond such an ungainly individual as Boris Johnson.
© The Editor