on 11 March 2010
Seamus Milnes book takes as it's starting point the 1990 Daily Mirror/Cook Report "scoop" regarding Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers associate Peter Heathfield. They were accused of embezzling monies to pay off their mortgages from donations made by Libyan Trade Unionists during the 1984-85 Miners Strike. The story led to Scargill and Heathfield being subjected to a number of lawsuits from their own Trade Unions executive, as well as a variety of Government bodies, investigations by the Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office and left Scargills reputation in tatters. After months of official investigations, it turned out that the accusations were entirely false: one didn't have a mortgage, the other had paid his off out of his savings. Not only that, but the one person who had been involved in fraud (not counting the then Daily Mirror proprietor Robert Maxwell who enthusiastically supported the false claims) was the Daily Mirrors and the Cook Reports single source: Roger Windsor, the leading non-elected officer of the NUM through-out the Miners Strike of 1984-85. The information that Milne collated for this book strongly suggests that Roger Windsor was an informer, or agent, for the security services whose head of Trade Union espionage during the Miners Strike was Stella Rimmington, later to be the first female head of MI5.
Milne goes beyond debunking the smear campaign against Scargill and Heathfield to looking at a variety of other issues surrounding the Miners Strike. The activities of the Media, the Conservative Party, the right-wing of the Labour Party, MI5, a disparate bunch of right wing loons (not to be confused with MI5!), Special Branch and GCHQ during the strike, and in the subsequent destruction of the NUM and the British Coal industry are forensically scrutinized. The story that emerges is an ugly one that reveals the reality of power in Britain's "Democracy", the systematic emasculating of the Trade Union movement during the 1980's, the beginnings of what became New Labour, and the subversive and undemocratic nature of the Security Services role in British political life (as was again made clear with regard to the role of MI6 in the campaign for the Iraq War in 2002-03).
Milne's book is dense with detail, clearly written and essential to a full understanding of the Thatcher period in particular, and the British political scene in general. As an example of investigative journalism "The Enemy Within" is exceptional, and one that I can't recommend highly enough to anyone who is serious about the real story of what was possibly the most important event in post-war British history.
on 20 April 2014
This is a very interesting book that mainly seeks to address the manifold accusations thrown at Scargill and Peter Heathfield after the miners' strike. Whilst you may have your own opinions about Scargill, you are left in no doubt as to the relentless attempts by the establishment to destroy the reputation of an man completely innocent of the charges he faced. Although the book has a slightly polemical tone, it leaves no stone unturned and is incredibly detailed, especially in terms of the various financial dealings, although sometimes it is difficult to keep track of the figures involved. The better chapters are the ones concerning the crooked Maxwell, and how the lengths the security services went to, to undermine the miners. You are left astonished how the striking miners and their leaders were able to last out for a whole year given the full force of the establishment machinations they faced. Cleary, the author is of a left-wing persuasion but the book is not simply an anti-Thatcherite rant (Thatcher and Ian McGregor are barely mentioned), the Labour Party and other figures associated with the Labour movement come in for criticism too for their failure to support the miners' cause and rallying to vilify Scargill. The preface to the latest edition is also a brilliant critique of Thatcherism (and the myth that her policies were a necessary evil) and the unfettered capitalism that resulted in the 2008 economic crisis.
on 30 August 2004
When newspapers pronounce the guilt of a high profile figure, they splash the story across the front-page. When it later transpires that the story is false, they may occasionally print a retraction or correction - but they usually "stick it inside somewhere" at the bottom of a page.
This excellent book provides a thorough account of the real truth behind the smear campaign of the early 1990's directed against the National Union of Miners and Arthur Scargill in particular. A campaign with one goal, but many players - the media, the Tory government and the security services - the objective of which was to follow through Margaret Thatcher's aim of ensuring the coal miners (and unions in general) would never again be in a position where they might hold the country to ransom, or bring down a government.
Seumas Milne's updated and exhaustive work exposes the truth, once and for all, about a campaign that ultimately failed because it was based on a foundation of lies and misinformation.
Milne only touches on the strike itself, and twenty years on there is a real need for a similarly exhaustive study of the 84-85 miners strike to accompany this book (hopefully written by an correspondingly impartial observer), so that students and historians can in the future, fully understand the lasting significance of these events.
The book itself in extremely well written and makes easy reading. If I have one criticism, it would be regarding Milne's explanation of the truth about the "Libyan money". The point is clearly made quite early on, but reiterated and re-explained too often afterwards.
Forget Michael Moore's rants about the corruption and lies in the US: read this book and discover some home truths about those that we entrust with our money, our lives and our security in this country.
on 26 January 2008
I bought this revealing book primarily to improve my facts of an event which happened when I was about 10 years old. My only real memories of the stike were images on the TV of police and miners clashing at picket lines.
What this book reveals is that even the reports I watched on the TV were 'spliced' to show the miners attacking the police first.
This must read covers dodgy legal professionals, machiavellian MPs, even shadier journalists, moles, and the unaccountability of MI5 which makes worrying reading.
Whilst explaining the important events of the 'conflict' Milne's remarkable work leads us through a modern history lesson of the current pathetic state of British politics, the fact there is no real difference between New Labour and the Tories. Unfortunatley the miners strike helped many different organisations to exorcise the Right's nemesis, powerful trade unions and has taken away the mouthpiece of the working man and woman.
The style of writing is top class and facts are presented in an easily digestible fashion.
on 13 June 2015
In his 'Preface to the Fourth Edition' of The Enemy Within, Seumas Milne confidently declares that the 'aftershocks of the miners' strike of 1984-5' (ix) are still being felt in 'Britain thirty years later' (ibid). He's not wrong. The conflict, waged like a civil war, 'pitted the most powerful and politicized trade union in the country against a hard-right Conservative administration bent on class revenge' (ibid). For most observers, the outcome was never in doubt, although Milne shows just how close society came to total collapse. In doing so, he exposes the connivance of the security services and politicians in breeding this industrial brinksmanship; he also reveals the lengths the government were prepared to go to in order to subvert, silence, and destroy Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers. That no one has 'ever been called to account for any of these abuses of power' (xvi) infuriates Milne, for the destruction of the coal industry was an unnecessary war driven by 'political revenge' (xxi) and Thatcher's tyrannical urge to break working-class solidarity. Both these points are true, and Milne spends the rest of his terrifying book explaining how she did it.
Milne is in no doubt that the aftermath of the miners' strike paved the way for the triumph of Thatcher's neoliberal doctrine. But before she could dismantle the state and prioritise the wants of Big Business, she had to do away with Scargill, Britain's 'best-known trade unionist and unrepentant class warrior' (p.1). But why was she so keen on destroying Scargill? Well, because Scargill epitomised everything she hated, desperate as she was to 'avenge absolutely and unequivocally...[the Tory Party's] double humiliation at the hands of the miners in the historic strikes of 1972 and 1974' (p.6). To support this aim, Thatcher used all the powers at her disposal (whether they were legal or not) to ensure that the 'Facts were never allowed to get seriously in the way of a campaign that...offered the chance to destroy once and for all the symbol of militant class trade unionism that Scargill obstinately remained' (p.3).
So just what, exactly, was the strategy for bringing down Scargill? Basically, the Daily Mirror (guided by the nefarious Robert Maxwell) and the Cook Report unleashed a rotten campaign to expose Scargill as an embezzler. Yet the allegations were first published in 1990, five years after the end of the miners' strike. So this begs the obvious question: why go after Scargill again, especially when he'd already been defeated in 1985? Because the Tories felt that Scargill was still an influential rabble-rouser and bogeyman and one who, despite presiding over a smaller union, still commanded the utmost respect of the hard-left trade union movement. By discrediting the Scargill of 1990 the Tories felt they were discrediting the Scargill of the 1980s. They also wanted to shift attention away from the final pit closures, which publically proved that everything Scargill had predicted in the mid-1980s was coming to pass. So that's what they did, they hounded him, in the faint hope that they could prove that 'the Robespierre of the British labour movement, the sea-green incorruptible, the trade-union leader that ''doesn't sell out'', had been exposed as a grubby, silver-fingered union boss lining his pockets at his members' expense' (p.42).
And they nearly succeeded. Milne recounts the various intrigues in painstaking detail, a move which can make for torturous yet fully warranted repetition. There are numerous points in this book when the reader must stop to untangle the plenitude of threads that constitute this weird tapestry of lies. There are also a number of points when the reader must consult the 'List of Abbreviations' at the back, for this is an acronym-laden text populated by long-dead unions and union organisations. Anyhow, the main insults and slanders tossed at Scargill and his NUM associates are exposed for the fantastic concoctions they were. In fact, seeing the evidence on show, it makes you wonder how anyone could have believed the rubbish in the first place. That Scargill didn't shrivel into a paranoid ball of nerves is a testament to his character, because a lot of the stuff in this book reads like it's from the pages of an awful espionage novel. For instance, on page 343 alone, we are told of how someone 'repeatedly tried to force' Scargill's car off a road and down 'a steep incline', of how Scargill was walloped with an iron bar at a rally in Derby, which was completely missed by the masses of media present and which earned his assailant a 'nominal fine', and of how Scargill was 'shot at as he got out of the car in front of his Worsborough home'. Such, then, was the rather chilling persecution aimed at Scargill at the height of the miners' strike.
Milne lays the blame for most of these incidents at the door of the secret service. He even goes as far as to say that 'Britain's secret state remains a dangerous political and bureaucratic cesspit, uniquely undisturbed by any meaningful form of political accountability' (p.371). The evidence here is certainly damning, and Milne reiterates his view that without Thatcher's 'personal go-ahead, the operation[s] would have been illegal' (p.310). But one thing stands out more than anything else in this book: Milne's utter hatred of Thatcher and her free-market fundamentalism. Milne is happy to attack all those who call her reforms a success in creating wealth and delivering prosperity, for they did not such thing. No, Thatcher redistributed wealth from the poor to the rich (the higher profits going hand-in-hand with higher inequality) and slashed the workers' share of national income through privatisation, deregulation and her assault on the trade unions. In short, she achieved nothing but socialism for the rich, who distributed the profits among themselves, and socialism for the poor, who shouldered the burden of the national debt.
And we're still feeling the effects now, which is a point Milne reinforces in his 'Postscript to the Fourth Edition'. Here, he tells us that 'Two decades after The Enemy Within was first published, Britain's coal industry and miners' union have been all but destroyed; the country's power supply is in the grip of a profiteering private cartel; job and workplace insecurity has mushroomed; the security services are booming on the back of a ''war on terror'' without end; blacklisting of trade unionists and police infiltration of protest movements has flourished' (p.378), etc, etc. It's a grim litany of the disasters faced by the contemporary working class. Nevertheless, it also highlights the need for a truly radical agenda, and one which must act quickly to eradicate the insidious inequality unleashed by Thatcher and her Tory progeny. Whether it can be achieved remains to be seen. But, considering the composition of the current political forces, and their slightly differing versions of austerity, I wouldn't hold your breath. If anything, it seems like it's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better...