In March this year, 35 years to the month since the end of the miners’ strike, environmentalists were caught dressing up as miners. Their media stunt was intended to protest against a proposed expansion to the Bradley coal mine in County Durham. Martin Raine, a real miner working at the site, was quoted saying: ‘It is our jobs at stake here and instead of allowing us a voice the BBC showed fake miners with fake cardboard helmets and interviewed a student bussed in by Extinction Rebellion who got the basic facts wrong.’
Miners (and former miners) are no more likely to join eco-protests against mining jobs than Thatcherites are to sign up to Extinction Rebellion. Then again, according to Boris Johnson’s latest comments, Margret Thatcher was an early incarnation of Greta Thunberg with a handbag. In an interview, Johnson thanked Thatcher for closing ‘so many coal mines’, paving the way for the ‘smooth’ transition his government are planning away from fossil fuels. No doubt the police at Orgreave were really showing their care for the planet as they horse-charged and truncheoned miners.
Johnson’s misfired quip has led to something of a backlash. Led by Starmer and Sturgeon, politicians, activists and pundits are queuing up to demand an apology. It was a crass and tone-deaf remark — I was furious and agreed with Coffee House regular Patrick O’Flynn that Johnson was ‘taking the piss out of communities that were torn apart’. Johnson laughed and told reporters ‘I thought that would get you going’. It is a telling Westminster bubble moment that Johnson’s desire to have a dig at green-leaning journalists by associating their eco obsessions with their hated bete noir in Thatcher mattered more to him than pointing out the disregard for the devastation of red wall communities. His careless contempt for the lives of working-class people is all too obvious in this throwaway comment.
However, that dull, ubiquitous demand that the Prime Minister should say sorry for ‘offensive’ comments misses the point on many levels.