Even by this prime minister’s inability to tell the truth, his recent portrayal of Margaret Thatcher as the original Greta Thunberg is gobsmacking.
According to Boris Johnson, Thatcher’s epochal decision to begin closing down the UK coal mining industry in the 1980s resulted from her gazing into a crystal ball and seeing global warming.
As someone who reported the entire 1984-85 miners’ strike following the first pit closure at Cortonwood near Barnsley, I can tell you that this came as a bit of a shock. I spent a few moments asking myself if I had misunderstood an event that consumed a year of my life. Did I miss the real story?
Johnson’s take on one of the most significant peacetime events of the past century, which he flippantly spouted forth during an interview at a Scottish wind farm, sent me leafing through a book on the strike I had helped to write. I could find no index entries for “global warming”, “climate change”, “greenhouse gases”, “low carbon”, “pollution” or even “renewable energy”. Instead, a lengthy chapter on the strike’s origins reminded me of the document that had influenced Thatcher’s thinking.
Written by one of her cabinet ministers, Lord Carrington, it argued that the miners had ample ability to throttle the political and economic life of the country. Since striking miners had effectively overthrown the previous Conservative prime minister Edward Heath in 1974, it was feared they would do the same to Thatcher. And so, under the cover of reorganising coal stocks the government spent more than two years furtively moving extra coal to power stations to prepare for what was seen as the inevitable showdown with the National Union of Mineworkers and its Marxist leader, Arthur Scargill.
Only when the stockpiles were in place did Thatcher pick a fight with the NUM by closing pits and shipping in coal from Poland. She did not foresee the serried ranks of wind turbines sprouting up in the North Sea but a future that was free from the domination of trades unions.
Johnson’s piece of historical revisionism, denialism – call it what you will – is doubly ridiculous because at this very moment his government is considering two new fossil fuel developments: the sinking of the UK’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years near Whitehaven in Cumbria, and the tapping of the vast Cambo oilfield to the west of Shetland. Like Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he says one thing while brazenly doing another.
I expect more Johnsonian humbug on the run-up to the crunch COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, where he will do a lot of posturing about his government leading the way on decarbonisation by planting lots of trees and fixing distant deadlines for zero carbon emissions that he himself won’t ever have to meet.
The problem with having someone like Johnson as prime minister is that the totally wrong person is in Downing Street at the worst possible moment, with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting that climate change is already here and already causing chaos, as seen by this summer’s devastating floods in Germany and wildfires across Turkey, Greece, Sicily, France and Spain.
Margaret Thatcher will rightly go down in history for destroying the coal industry and its tight-knit communities. We already know that Johnson will be remembered for distortion and hypocrisy.