Saturday 7 August 2021

Boris is at least honest about Thatcher and the miners


Boris Johnson’s remark about coal mining and Margaret Thatcher is entirely truthful. The statement

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.

has been condemned by Nicola Sturgeon Keir Starmer and polite opinion in Scotland, but what part of it is false? If it had not been for Margaret Thatcher and her victory in the Miner’s Strike Britain would have continued to dig coal at the previous rate, we would have used that coal for longer in our power stations and we would have made less progress towards not using fossil fuels than we otherwise would have.

Was Margaret Thatcher motivated by the desire for Britain to have greener energy? Not entirely. She recognised that coal mining had become uneconomic in Britain and this was her primary motivation for taking on the National Union of Miners. But the recognition that coal was uneconomic implied that other forms of energy would be needed in the future. Thatcher was also one of the first serious politicians in Britain to realise that the use of fossil fuels was problematic because it damaged the environment.

The recognition that digging coal and heavy industry generally was both uneconomic caused a great deal of job losses in the 1980s and damaged communities dependent on this industry. But what if Margaret Thatcher had not been elected? In the 1980s we could have had as an alternative Government either Old Labour or else some sort of Tory Wet Government managing decline. Labour would have continued digging coal and using it to fuel power stations and would have tried to prop up this industry with subsidy. A weak Tory Government like Edward Heath’s unwilling to take on the unions and to recognise that subsidising failure just made Britain poorer would have done nothing to prepare Britain for a modern competitive world.

Jobs in heavy industry would have been saved if there had been no Margaret Thatcher, but they would not have been saved for ever. Heavy industry would still have been uneconomic. We were simply unable and unwilling to follow the practices in Germany that could make a profit from such industry.

The SNP and Labour both wish to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. So, when would they have closed down the mines? They would not have done so in the 1980s and condemned Thatcher for doing so, but in order to reach Net Zero they would have had to close down the mines at some point. This would have had exactly the same consequences for people’s jobs. So, while condemning wicket Tories for closing mines Sturgeon must accept that logically if she had been in charge, she would have had to do just the same. But clearly if fossil fuels damage the environment, it is better to close them earlier rather than later.

In the 1980s and indeed all the way up to 2014 the SNP believed that the economy of an independent Scotland depended on heavy industry and North Sea Oil. But clearly if Net Zero is desirable today, it would have been better if we had left North Sea Oil under the sea. The SNP argument until very recently indeed depended on fossil fuels. Now like everyone the SNP wants to eliminate them. But how does it suppose that Scotland could move from an economy heavily dependent on fossil fuels to one that doesn’t use them at all without job losses?

Margaret Thatcher was willing to make hard choices for the sake of the economy. We are much more prosperous today than in the 1970s because she eliminated nationalised industry, curbed union power and made clear that loss making industry would not be subsidised. This was painful but led to better employment and profitable jobs today. Our standard of living is entirely due to those tough choices.

But does anyone suppose that transforming Britain now into a Net Zero economy will be without pain? People will have to pay higher prices for energy. It soon won’t be possible to drive a car fuelled by petrol. Certain industries will no longer be economic if they cannot burn fossil fuel. But Sturgeon and Starmer say nothing about job losses. They just present the ideal of Net Zero without even mentioning the negative consequences of moving towards it.

If Scotland today was still stuck with a 1980s model of heavy industry dependent on fossil fuels and Sturgeon had achieved her dream of independence, she would be responsible for doing what Margaret Thatcher already did, otherwise how could she form a coalition with the Scottish Greens. But neither the SNP nor the Greens would actually be willing to do what is necessary to achieve an economy free from fossil fuels. The SNP after all thinks that it can achieve its goal of independence while spending British Treasury money without limit. I can remember no instance where either Labour, the SNP or Greens have honestly told the electorate that its policy goals would involve either cuts in public spending or job losses.

You cannot logically complain about Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines, when you yourself aim for a Net Zero economy. If she had not closed them, someone else would have had to. The failure to recognise this is simply childish. Tough choices will have to be made if we are to eliminate fossil fuels, because it will be far harder than what Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s. But politicians who cannot recognise the necessity of Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s even though they had unpleasant consequences will be unable to be adult enough to treat the electorate honestly.

Sturgeon thinks that she can achieve a Net Zero independent Scotland with ever higher public spending, no job losses and indeed nothing bad happening at all. She has never once told the Scottish electorate that her goals might involve sacrifice. She therefore lacks the ability to make the difficult choices that would be necessary and is merely using flag waving to con the electorate into thinking it would all be easy. At least Boris spoke the truth about Thatcher and was honest about it. No one else in Scotland is.