Remember what happened to Scargill

I can remember exactly where I was when I experienced my first spasm of savage Right-wing indignation. It was 1984, at breakfast time – about 10.40am – and I had a spoonful of Harvest Crunch halfway to my lips. The place was the Junior Common Room of my college.

For the previous two decades I had viewed politics with a perfectly proper mixture of cynicism and apathy. Whatever I read under the bedclothes, it certainly wasn’t Hansard. Like everyone at my school, I had undergone vague sensations of enthusiasm when the Falklands were recaptured, but otherwise, frankly, I did not give a monkey’s.

Occasionally I would glance at the political columnists in the newspapers, and be amazed that anyone could pay them to write such tosh. I hadn’t a clue who was in the Cabinet. The world was too beautiful to waste time on such questions.


So I was sitting there in a state of glorious indifference, hungover, probably lovesick, when something happened that caused a sudden streak of rage to course across my brain. Someone was rattling a tin in front of my nose.

I looked up. I stopped crunching my Harvest Crunch. It was one of the goateed Marxists, and he wanted me to cough up for the miners. Normally, I was as soft a touch as the next man for your right-on cause: debt relief, leprosy projects – count me in.

But, as I reached for my pocket, I found myself remembering some stuff I’d read about these miners, and the chaos they were causing with their illegal strike. Oi, I said to my fellow-student. No, I said. I won’t give any dosh to these blasted strikers, because, as far as I can see, they are being execrably led, haven’t had a proper ballot and are plainly trying to bring down the elected government of the country.

The bearded student Marxist (I think he’s now at Goldman Sachs) looked so amazed that he almost jumped out of his donkey jacket, but I stuck to my ground.

In fact, I became ever more indignant; and of course I think back now to that instinctive burst of middle-class outrage, as I look ahead, with mixed feelings, to the campaign of disobedience over hunting.

The other night I was ranting before an audience of about 200, about the monstrous illiberalism of the ban. There was much applause and hear-hearing, as I flayed Blair for his cowardice. I said that I could understand the sense of betrayal in the countryside, and the desire of so many to raise the standard of revolt. As I spoke, a cry was taken up from table to table. “Otis!” they called. “Give us Otis!” Across England there are thousands of people yearning for someone to marshal them in rebellion. They need a Spartacus, a Wat Tyler, a Joan of Arc.

It may indeed be Otis, the son of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, or it may be someone else. In this week’s Spectator, Charles Moore says that the Countryside Alliance has passed its Chamberlain period, and is now in need of a Churchill. Charles is far too modest to point out that he is himself ideally suited to the role, and that all his life has been but a preparation for this moment and this hour.

But if they cannot persuade Charles to serve, someone will be found over the next few weeks and months, and you can bet that the generalissimo will launch a serious and organised campaign. These people have innumerable Land Rovers. They have land. They have digging equipment, and bulldozers, and access to prodigious quantities of manure. They own the fields next to key strategic railways and motorways. They know all about burning bales of hay. There is no doubt that they could cause major economic disruption.

All my romantic instincts tell me that their cause is high and noble and just, and deserves support. But when they speak about “bringing down Blair”, I must confess that I fear for what will happen to them; and not just to them, but to every other cause with which they are associated.

Go back to that miners’ strike, and the Scargillian revolt. Remember how people began with some feelings of sympathy for the rebels. We all heard their message; the threat to the communities, the Hovis ad pit villages, the way of life that would never return.

But suburban Britain was never likely to indulge Scargill for long, and as soon as police were pictured with blood running down from under their helmets, the mood began to turn. Neil Darbyshire was spot-on in these pages yesterday, when he noted the basic apathy of suburbs on the question of hunting. Middle England may be interested in principle in the doctrine of liberty, but if the pro-hunt lobby starts impeding their liberty to use the motorway, or to get home for supper, then there will be hell to pay.

Scargill led his men to ruin. Defeat in the miners’ strike meant not just the end of trade union militancy; it meant a wholesale rout for that kind of socialism. It was not just catastrophic for the National Union of Mineworkers; it was a disaster for trade unionism. The whole effort and enterprise was discredited, and membership has been on a steady downward path ever since.

And the miners’ strike was a disaster not so much because of the aggressive tactics used, but because they failed, and Scargill was seen to have grossly misunderstood the public mood; and the tactics failed because, in the end, suburban Middle England looked at him and said no, stuff it, we don’t want you to use bully-boy tactics to bring down the elected government.

That is why the coming leader of the countryside revolt must ponder his tactics hard. If they fail, it is a defeat by association for everything they stand for – shooting included. It may be possible to win, but the worst thing would be to pick a fight and lose.

Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator
News: Ferry vows to bring down Blair

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12 thoughts on “Remember what happened to Scargill”

  1. [Ed: Apologies – as a novice I have gone and hit the wrong button, unwittingly deleting the 4 comments posted …perhaps this can be rectified soon by the technical experts]

  2. Congratulations, Melissa, on having the courage to admit such a mistake. You are neither the first nor the last to do this.

  3. I don’t approve of hunting with dogs, but this ban is wrong, not because hunting should continue per se, but because the logic of the thinking behind this legislation is deeply flawed.

    Unless everyone who has objected to the hunting of foxes is a legitimate, beard-wearing Vegan (sorry, Vegans, but you do, you know), then one must draw this conclusion: the anti-cruelty mob must be hypocrites. Were they not, they would be up in arms about the abolition of local slaughterhouses, an issue which has contributed massively to animal suffering in this country. Daisy and Buttercup are now transported for hours in miserable – indeed, often lethal – conditions in order to provide one’s delicious, cheap and entirely inhumane Sunday Roast.

    God forbid we suggest that cruelty is cruelty – that would require consistency from the House AND the people.

    If the issue is not cruelty, then let us be honest about what it is. It’s pure jealousy and it stems from a government which has a very strange picture of us, as Londoners.

    It goes something like this: we’re all crammed into London (everyone, except the six people who live in the countryside, all of whom obviously hunt); we’re living in Prescott’s much-vaunted “affordable housing” – all of which is to be developed on alluvial land, which means in ten years’ time it will be uninhabitable and in the intervening period it will be uninsurable. We scrape our hard-earned London pennies together to buy Moroccan or Vietnamese take-away which – if we can get to the takeaway through the seething hoarde of crims which stalk our streets – we will take back to our gardenless, sodden hovel – dodging terrorists and yobs en route and hoping (if we’re under 16) that we make it home without an ASBO or custodial anklet applied to our person; meanwhile Johnny Landowner out there leaps about in some sort of red garment that doesn’t even have a Nike logo on it, in acres and acres of greenery with five labs and a Percheron. He probably even knows where his children are. They probably don’t even suffer from the awful speech impediment that most London kids seem to have these days, where each syllable pops from the slack lower lip entirely disjunct from its neighbours.

    One need only to have heard the distressingly Dalekian tones of Prescott over the weekend to confirm this suspicion. I rather hope he meets his match, or is at least forced to address all forms of cruelty, the unnatural and profit-making as well as the natural and pleasurable.

  4. You make a good point there Rachel. Unfortunately, it is a flawed one. Item A is cruel. Item B is crueler. So, do we say we should not deal with Item A because of that? By that measure we do not deal with assault because murder is worse, or theft because robbery is worse. If something is bad, it is bad, regardless of whether something is worse.

    As it happens, hypocrisy on matters of animals does inflame me also. I am a vegetarian, not a vegan, and I am a vegetarian on the basis of necessity, or rather the opposite of it. I do not need to eat meat, therefore I do not. No doubt someone will point out that I don’t need to drink milk, but I work in the world of the practical and veganism isn’t. And yes, it does annoy me when people talk about cruelty to animals when tucking into their factory farmed chicken and chips. But again, the fact that something is worse is not the point. One thing at a time.

    In the context of fox hunting, hunting live animals is not necessary because drag hunting is there as a decent alternative. Human rights is a red herring here.

  5. Well written Katherine! I utterly fail to understand the argument that if X is more/less/as cruel and allowed to exist then Y should be left alone.

    Hunting is a sport from another (ignorant) time. As a solution to controlling the fox population it’s as effective as computing with sandstone or ensuring a reasonable harvest via the death of virgins. I loath the argument that “It’s always been done this way”. So what?

    I have to say I’m deeply disappointed that Borris would defend the thing. I thought him better than that. Mind you – Stephen Fry is arguing for the “right” to smoke and he’s supposed to be quite bright too.

  6. The trouble with complex, contentious issues is that the arguments tend to be driven to their most extreme – evil hunters/ignorant townies/lefties v toffs/’cute’ speciesism – conclusions.

    Regardless of their opinion, anyone who understands anything about hunting knows it’s not that simple.

    I’m not opposed to killing foxes. I am opposed to hunting with dogs. Foxes have to be killed sometimes, and packs of dogs aren’t statistically an effective or humane way of doing it. That said, galloping over the countryside (even in pursuit of the inedible) must be an incredibly exhilarating thing to do, and it will be a real loss to many communities if they can’t do that anymore. In the event of a ban, drag hunting will be an option for many, though not all. Some people will probably lose their jobs (I don’t trust numbers from either side). Some hounds will be put down, but then hounds are generally shot at the end of their comparatively short working life.

    Katharine was eloquent in dismissing the idea that any sensible person chooses to care about this issue instead of more important ones.

    I want Parliament to focus on more important issues, but hunting is going to be banned, if not this time then another: there’s too much political vanity involved for it not to be. We’re stuck in a parliamenary Groundhog Day. Those who complain that this is a waste of parliamentary time have the solution at hand.

  7. It’s probably the difference in the thought processes, there are always victims and the vast majority of the miners were victims. Not donating because you didnt agree with Scargill is a pretty shallow thing to do. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it there were people suffering there.

    I was a 13 year old son of a peaceful striking miner in the heart of the Notts coalfield at the time, I was spat at, beaten, ostracised and life was generally made hell for me. Years later, I don’t hate these people, I understand that they were fighting for what they believed in, as was my family. Being right or wrong is not the major thing, it’s believing in it and following that belief that is the main thing.

    I abhor fox hunting, dont believe in it for one nano-second, but there will be victims in its banning. If faced with an out of work huntsman begging for money then I will donate without a second thought. Because it’s about the people.

    And thats the difference between us and you.

  8. I visited my home tome of Walsall for the first time in years last week. And the headline on the front page of the ‘free sheets’ indicated that a ban on fox hunting with dogs and horses would have a detrimental effect on the local saddlery industry. So not only are we talking about the foxes, dogs, dog workers, stable hands, farm hands and ‘toffs’ on the hunt itself, but you must also consider the supporting network of local industries and communities and the effect that a total ban will have on them. It may not be immediate, but will be long term.
    I will admit that 20 years ago I would have been on the side of the fox and very anti hunting. But I am older and a bit more informed. I may not ally to Boris’ politics (or indeed to the others who comment here), but I will agree that the countryside alliance need to tread carefully, not seem too bullish and educate townies like me.

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