Wednesday 7 December 2022

A Vital Ingredient

Over on the excellent Labour Heartlands, Paul Knaggs puts it best:

Many an old miner will be sat at home watching the news wondering when the world really did turn upside down, with not a single mention of the ideological decision to take on the miners for no other reason than to reduce the power of the unions. The Tories have gone and opened up a coal mine, we can only hope Thatcher is turning in her grave.

For all the weak-livered liberals who think that’s a bit hard, then I would point out that hard is what happened to my family and countless others in our former mining communities when the Tories carried out their ideological war on them in 1984.

A war that brought economic devastation to working-class communities, wrecking the prospects of young people for generations. There is no amount of investment that would ever come close to diminishing the deep-rooted hatred those former mining communities feel towards the Tories.

However, one cannot diminish the importance of the British coal industry over its 200-year lifespan neither can we ignore this once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise one of Cumbria’s poorest regions, creating thousands of jobs and boosting infrastructure in this often overlooked part of the old Labour Heartlands.

New technology has brought this once unattainable coal within reach. This is a colossal 750 million ton seam under the Irish Sea that new technology has made attainable coal and, in Cumbria, there is now much support for the idea it should be used to help the area.

Michael Gove, the levelling-up secretary, gave the green light for the project on Wednesday, paving the way for an estimated investment of £165m that will create about 500 new jobs in the region and produce 2.8m tonnes of coking coal a year, largely for steelmaking.

Local Labour politicians are almost all united in their support, he adds. They feel let down that those in Westminster are not behind them. “The party is a broad church and everyone is entitled to an opinion,” Councillor Mike Hawkins tells The Independent – but he adds that the disconnect may be why this area “is now the former Red Wall”.

The new mine would bring 500 well-paid jobs, WCM says. That, advocates reckon, would itself lead to another 2,000 in the supply chain. Investment in infrastructure would almost certainly follow, they say. In a ward, Whitehaven South, that has some of the most deprived areas of the region and an area, Copeland, where more than a quarter of all children live in poverty, according to the End Child Poverty campaign, such possibilities would be genuinely transformative.

There are many valid arguments about the environment and use of coal, there are also many valid arguments about how environmentalists are willing to turn a blind eye to importing coal as if we all don’t live under the same sky, coal that is needed in the manufacturing of turbines, turbines used for wind farms…

Dr Lisa McKenzie puts it extremely well when she says: “If the UK is to undergo a green industrial revolution, so the theory goes, it will require huge amounts of such steel. While low carbon methods for making this are beginning to be developed – notably in Scandinavia – they do not yet exist in a way that could be used to produce the sheer quantity currently required to build, for example, a wind farm. For now, coking coal remains a vital ingredient of the modern world’s infrastructure. What are we going to do, ship it in from Germany or Poland?”

Now to get Lisa’s and my friend Dave Douglass in as union rep.

We must celebrate the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past. That means growth, industry, what someone once nearly called “the white heat of technology”, and the equitable distribution of their fruits among and within the nations of the world, so that everyone might enjoy at least the standard of living that we ourselves already enjoyed.

There is always climate change, and any approach to it must protect and extend secure employment with civilised wages and working conditions, encourage economic development around the world, uphold the right of the working class and of people of colour to have children, hold down and as far as practicable reduce the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and refuse to restrict travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich. In Britain, we must be unequivocal about regretting the defeat of the miners in 1985.

We sent our manufacturing to India and China, yet now we have the gall to criticise their carbon emissions. And we expect to depend for energy on the Sun, the wind and the tides, precisely because it is beyond our power to stop them from doing what they do and we just have to live with it, yet we also expect to be able to stop climate change rather than finding ways of living with it. I am strongly in favour of solar, wind and tidal energy in the mix. The base of that mix is nuclear and coal. The coal without which there can be no steel, and thus no wind turbines or tidal turbines.

Any economic arrangement is a political choice, not a law of physics, and the “free” market cannot deal with climate change while defending and expanding our achievements. That is precisely why it is being promoted. But instead, we need the State, albeit a vastly more participatory and democratic State than has often existed. The energy sources to be preferred are those which provided high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs. Harness the power of the State, and deliver an all-of-the-above energy policy based around civil nuclear power and this country’s vast reserves of coal. Around those twin poles of nuclear power and of the clean coal technology in which Britain was the world leader until the defeat of the Miners’ Strike, let there be oil, gas, lithium, wind, solar, tidal, and everything else, bathing this country in heat and light. This is why we have a State.

Fracking? There is no problem with any energy source in principle, but none of that shale gas has turned up yet, and if it is anywhere, then it is in heavily populated areas that could do without the earthquakes, the poisoned water, and all the rest of it. Say it again, harness the power of the State to bathe this country in heat and light from oil, gas, nuclear, wind, wave, tidal, solar, and that without which there could also be no steel for rigs, pipelines, power stations or turbines, namely coal. Britain stands on one thousand years worth of coal, and was the world leader in clean coal technology until the defeat of the miners in 1985. Do not vote for anyone who will not say that the miners were right.

We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.


  1. You always said coal would be back once Thatcher had been dead long enough.

    1. 10 years in April, so this breach in the dam was about due.