Many pit closures under Labour in the 1960s and 1970s.

I reissue a previous post:

The plight of the coal industry

The third of the commanding heights of the 1940s economy to  be nationalised alongside steel and rail was the coal industry. It employed 700,000 employees in the later 1940s, producing around 200 million tonnes of coal a year. The number of employees slumped to just 235,000 by 1979 on the first election of Margaret Thatcher.  Many of the employees lost their jobs under Labour governments, who accepted a large number of pit closures as the industry  struggled with costs and falling demand. More job losses followed in the 1980s and 1990s, along with a bitter strike about whether individual pits could be economic or were exhausted.

Today there is no deep mined coal produced in the UK, and a very small opencast coal industry. We now import most of the reduced amount of coal we do need. An industry employing well over 700,000 at peak has all but disappeared. It was nationalised for most of the post war period, but this did nothing to arrest the long term decline. Indeed, there were occasions when the nationalised management took too pessimistic a view of the economic prospects for individual pits. I remember helping the miners at Tower Colliery take over their mine from the NCB when the NCB said it had to shut for economic reasons, and go on to make a success of mining more coal from it for many years.

The nationalised concern did have substantial investment programmes from time to time, developing a range of new super pits with better machinery and operating at larger scale. None of this arrested the long term decline in coal use and coal output. More recently governments have turned anti coal on environmental grounds.


  1. MiC
    August 6, 2021

    I maintain that the main reasons for the closures were politically strategic – to smash the Unions and Labour-voting communities, and not economic. Indeed some pits could have been kept open on the latter grounds, and many more if the total cost e.g. unemployment benefits etc. were taken into account.

    This would have allowed a gradual transition away from coal in a way which gave regions and their people time to establish alternative economic staples with far less trauma, but I surmise that this was all part of the plan.

    Ecological considerations were pretty irrelevant surely, since the UK’s need for coal was met by plentiful and cheap imports, so such claims just do not stand up.

    1. lifelogic
      August 6, 2021

      It was mainly economic considerations far cheaper coal could be imported for regions with more easily extracted resources and/or cheaper labour, simpler employments laws…

      We should however certainly be fracking more natural gas. Stuff in the paper about people switching to electric lawn mowers. Unless you like mowing your huge lawn every day far better to keep you petrol one (even in CO2 terms). The argument for getting a new electric lawn mower is even less sensible than switching Allegra’s sound old VW golf to a new £35k electric car. Saves no new CO2 after manufacture of new car and battery and costs about £50k more over six years.

      1. Sakara Gold
        August 6, 2021

        As usual, your post is full of rubbish. Thatcher closed the pits because the sulphur dioxide emissions from the coal fired power stations that their output fed were poisoning lakes and waterways in Scandinavia with acid rain. This was so bad that the Swedish and Norwegian foreign ministers visited London with their science teams to present the evidence.
        British coal was always high sulphur coal. The CEGB developed a system of flue gas desulphurisation which was sold to Germany as it made burning coal in power stations here uneconomic.
        We need more offshore wind farms and a grid sized energy storage system, and not fracking

      2. dixie
        August 7, 2021

        @LL Who has huge lawns these days, houses built since the 80’s at least have small gardens and builds since 2000 lucky to have more than a patio. These don’t justify expensive petrol mowers and electric is used instead. In my case I use a battery mower where the batteries get charged from solar panels – so I avoid emitting CO2, particulates etc per use whereas you have chosen to do the opposite.
        ICE vehicles emit far more pollution after manufacture than EVs, many cost less than £30k and your £50k more over six years is ludicrous – my previous merc cost more than my EV and service costs alone were six times more than the EV while fuel costs are around 1/3 of petrol/diesel.

        You should consider whether you are all that representative of any sizeable group in this country, even Conservatives.

    2. IanT
      August 6, 2021

      Strangely, I was discussing this with my wife this morning.

      We were staying in a small apartment off Lancaster Gate and she remembers going into the local grocery store and it being lit by candlelight (this being during the three day week). A year or two later and living in a Black Country pit village, I also remember the locals ( who had not been balloted on industrial action e.g. so would not get union ‘strike’ money) being very unhappy when Yorkshire miners turned up at their gates and picketed them.

      Of course most young folk don’t recall these things, they just see pictures (mostly on the BBC) of police on horses chasing down miners and are told it was that awful woman Thatcher. No it was that arrogant idiot Arthur Scargill…..

      1. lifelogic
        August 6, 2021

        +1 – I remember Ted Heaths three day week rather well. As a child we rather looked forwards to lighting the candles and playing cards, scrabble or similar.

        1. Micky Taking
          August 7, 2021

          Some of us had a great excuse for getting off to bed…

    3. Peter2
      August 6, 2021

      Coal was being replaced by gas.
      Both in industry and in the home.

    4. SM
      August 6, 2021

      So why, MIC, were so many mines closed by Mr Wilson prior to Mrs T’s fight with the mining unions?

    5. No Longer Anonymous
      August 6, 2021

      Miners couldn’t vote secretly and intimidation was rife. There was secondary picketing and my Northern relatives recall people dragged out of social clubs and being beaten for being ‘scabs’.

      The NUM tried to oust a government by violence. They had to be brought to heel.

      Alas mining towns were put on welfare and the community spirit and family unit was destroyed resulting in social decline though not a lack of money – the unemployed having generous welfare, central heating, cars and double glazing which is all many a working miner wanted.

      Also the closure of mines has green zealotry a lot harder to resist. Our dirty activities still go on – they were merely outsourced to China which has left us woefully exposed to infections.

      The past sixty years has been a disaster in UK governance.

      I bitterly regret having voted Tory for much of it and especially at the last general election.

      The boat people are doing us a big favour. They are showing us who the Tories really are.

      This is going to matter when the economic depression really bites.

    6. dixie
      August 7, 2021

      So what politics were in play when Labour closed even more pits – was Wilson & co also trying to smash the unions and Labour voting communities.

  2. Iain Gill
    August 6, 2021

    the coal board for all its failings did provide a useful public service, it took the output from some of the worst schools in the country and educated and trained them up, so that it was possible to leave one of the worst schools in the country and get a good structured education and training. and it was perfectly possible for people to end up highly qualified, as pit deputies, engineers, some degree level, and so on. and in terms of class within the coal board it was possible for under & working class people to rise to very senior levels, in many ways more meritocratic than most of todays big businesses.
    this is a side of the story I would like to see considered a lot more.
    nowadays those leaving the worst schools in the country often have no similar means of escape.

  3. Micky Taking
    August 6, 2021

    Now we refuse opening or re-opening plausible mines to supply specific steel making, and tiny supply required for the national favourite of Preservation steam railways. Carrie sleeps soundly.

  4. Nota#
    August 6, 2021

    From my perspective looking from the outside in. At the start of the Thatcher era the UK had built up and nationalised industry posture that caused every cost and wage rise would automatically be laid at the taxpayers door. The Socialist Government needed to win the next election so logic is pay the workers more and the did because they could.

    The Lady simply looked at what was coming into the exchequer and what was going out then pointed out the exponential growth in cost of nationalised industries without payback was not sustainable. If you produce something that relies on others(the taxpayer) to subsidies its cost in the market place you are on a hiding to nothing. It was simple a House Keeping Budget.

    Likewise in todays World we now have another Socialist Government that is mirroring those of the pre-Thatcher era. This Government gives money to those that would otherwise pay for things themselves, this Government is living in hope that if it bribes the millennials they will win the next election. The taxpayer is then expected to fund these aspirations solely at their own personal cost while not being able to afford the same luxuries. The Entitlement mentality wins with this Government every time. The easy one to highlight is the ‘battery’ car purchase, then all it charging points, they are paid for by those that cant even dream of getting on the bottom rung of the ladder.

    Of course into the equation come HS2, soaking up billions in taxpayer funding while local infrastructure is not up to scratch and is going down the pan. Who really want to get on a train somewhere to the west of London to travel to well outside Birmingham – when the direct center to center inter city train as actually quicker ( the smoke and mirrors is the bit is the city centre to city center additional transit required). It seems to be another friends of friends schemes, if it could create a return those that are now profiting would be paying for it themselves.

    Giving, subsidising and awarding handouts creates imbalances unfairness to all. Those that pay tax pay considerably more to shore up those that don’t. This pans out across all ends of the spectrum, large companies contribute less to the economy they feed of than the small guy. So on and so on.

    The UK has horrendous tax burdens, it suffers ridiculously high energy costs, creaking education, health system and infrastructure, because rather than ‘investing'(it only an investment if the return is their to fund the next investment), creating an actual return, creating a future, Governments get so wound up in their own ego’s, they forget who they serve and are only interested in the next election.

    1. No Longer Anonymous
      August 6, 2021

      Of HS2

      Builders around here can’t get wood or cement.

      It is being blamed on HS2, rightly or wrongly.

  5. jerry
    August 6, 2021

    Nice try Sir John but your diversionary (re)post will not shield Boris from his gaff, the environmental argument around coal in the 1980s was with regards Sulphur (acid rain), not CO2 – in fact was the (supposed link) to CO2 emissions even made/’proven’ during Mrs Thatchers time in No.10, after all the UN’s IPCC was only created in 1988…

    If the argument had been about CO2 then why opt for natural gas as a replacement for coal, a gas that gives off as much -perhaps more- CO2 than coal when burnt. Surely the Thatcher govt would have embraced bu8ilding more new nuclear, along with widespread electrification of BR network, keeping the existing coal & oil fired power station until enough new nuclear was on-grid, not make the CEGB waste tax payers & customers (and later, post privatisation, investors) money on converting many to furrinesses to burn natural gas.

    1. MiC
      August 6, 2021

      No Jerry, for the same energy yield methane only produces about half the CO2 of coal, but the pits were closed so that their coal – at least for the time being – could be replaced by often high sulphur imported coal, which exacerbated the UK’s acid rain causation, not by gas.

      Re diversion though, it also takes away attention from this:

      According to government and health service figures collated by the online science publication Our World In Data, Malta, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Ireland have all overtaken the UK in terms of the percentages of their populations who are fully vaccinated.

      While Britain’s campaign was bound to slow first as it ran into harder-to-reach, more vaccine-hesitant groups, the rate of decline is dramatic: the UK is currently administering a fraction of the daily doses of some EU states.

      Reply It’s called personal choice. UK vaccinated higher proportion of population sooner than EU saving lives.

    2. Peter2
      August 6, 2021

      Because gas created less smoke and pollution which was the exciting big thing back then
      Don’t you remember Jerry?

      Gas is better
      Coal 229 pounds per million therms of CO2
      Gas 118 ditto

      1. jerry
        August 7, 2021

        @Peter2; Duh! We were talking about the early 1980s, not the early 1950s, never heard of the “Clean Air Act 1956” (and as amended in 1968)?…

        My point still stands, if CO2 was the reason for shutting coal mines then why opt for gas, why not just do as France did (in the 1960s), build many more nuclear power stations, the shift to gas in the 1980s was political, not environmental.

        1. Peter2
          August 7, 2021

          @Jerry Duh!
          The 1980 saw a drive to reduce pollution and improve air quality.
          Coal was being replaced by gas mainly.
          Gas central heating instead of coal fires in homes for example.
          I didn’t say CO2 was the main reason.

          1. jerry
            August 8, 2021

            @Peter2; “The 1980 saw a drive to reduce pollution and improve air quality.”

            Wrong it was the 1950s & ’60s that saw a drive to reduce pollution and improve air quality, hence the Clean Air Act of 1956, and as amended in 1968. That act was not even revisited by Thatchers government. Heck even Tetraethyllead in petrol wasn’t banned until the 1990s, which rather torpedoes your claim!

            “Gas central heating instead of coal fires in homes for example.”

            That by the 1980s were using, by and large, smokeless (heavy pollutants free) processed coal, hence why I suggested you read up on the Clean Air Acts. Whilst industries were either using ‘smokeless fuels’ themselves or developing ‘scrubbing’ technologies to remove harmful pollutants, as others have noted, and as other countries use to this day.

            “I didn’t say CO2 was the main reason.”

            But Boris has, hence the current debate. The key dates for the fate of the coal industry here in the UK were 28 February 1974, followed by 11 February 1975 and then 4 May 1979. Politics, not pollution, sealed its fate.

          2. Peter2
            August 8, 2021

            I didn’t say there wasn’t legislation to improve air quality in earlier years.
            The original post was about more modern years.
            The big move to gas central heating was in the 70s and 80s
            Coal declined in popularity over decades under political parties of both Labour and Conservatives.
            To try to fix it all on to Boris is ridiculous.
            But do carry on Jerry.

          3. jerry
            August 9, 2021

            @Peter2; “I didn’t say there wasn’t legislation to improve air quality in earlier years.”

            Indeed you did not, although you did attempt to imply such legislation was a product of the 1980s, “The 1980 saw a drive to reduce pollution and improve air quality.”, when in fact, as I pointed out, the Clean Air Act (1969) wasn’t revisited until the 1990s.

            “The original post was about more modern years.”

            Indeed, hence why both you and Boris are wrong to suggest the mass closure of the UK coal industry post 1985 was out of concern for CO2 emissions, as I pointed out, back in the mid 1980s no one gave a flying fig about CO2, any supposed link had not been made. Hence why there wasn’t just a shift towards natural gas in the 1980s but also cheap and abundant fuel oils by the CEGB and others.

            “The big move to gas central heating was in the 70s and 80s. Coal declined in popularity over decades under political parties of both Labour and Conservatives.”

            No one has claimed otherwise, but even then … there was a very big push in the late 1970s, into the 80s, towards the increased use of domestic electric heating, surely even you have heard of “Economy 7” storage heating, using cheaper off-peak electricity, at the time almost certainly provided for by coal fired power stations…

            “To try to fix it all on to Boris is ridiculous.”

            Oh do keep up, try following the news! No one is trying to blame Boris for the coal mine closures, after all he was still a student in the early 1980s… People are blaming Boris though for his recent historically, factually, inaccurate claims about the whys and wherefores of the 1980s pit closure policies, that is what the debate is about – or was until you posted your trade-mark whataboutery. 🙁

  6. Alan Jutson
    August 6, 2021

    There are some industries which perhaps should be under some National control.
    It is always debatable as to the choice, but certainly the very basics of life should perhaps be on the list.

    Water supply and water treatment, utility power generation, (gas and electric) Construction and maintenance of roads, Defence/Armed Forces, Police and the judicial system.

    Problem has always appeared to be poor investment, management and control, and its no wonder when you look at the CV’s of many of our Ministers who think they always know best.

    1. Alan Jutson
      August 6, 2021

      Without now being reliant on importing coal, we have no secure steel making industry.
      Given the World wants to ban coal fired anything, is that a problem for the World, as you still have to mine for the many raw materials (and scar the planet) to make many things, electric car batteries included.
      If we stopped drilling for oil we will have no more plastics, so many goods would either then be more expensive, or not viable to produce in the first place.

      The World is a balanced Planet, it does not take much to disturb the equilibrium.
      Thus always be careful what you wish for, and the law of unintended consequences.

      1. dixie
        August 7, 2021

        Hydrogen can replace coke in steel making and oil is not the only source of plastics.
        While many current plastics are petroleum based some are fully recyclable, such as PET-G which is superior to the earlier common plastics ABS and Polycarbonate as well as glass and Aluminium in some applications, including food grade products.

  7. Mark B
    August 7, 2021

    Good morning, Sir John

    Is there any reason why I cannot access the other articles on this site on this topic ? I am very interested what others have to say.

    1. hefner
      August 7, 2021

      You have to search on Sir John’s website using the original date, 12/01/2018

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