Julie Moody: How the miners' strike politicised a 15-year-old schoolgirl in County Durham
Julie Moody is on the approved list of Conservative parliamentary candidates and recounts here how the miners' strike of 1984-85 politicised her as a 15-year-old growing up in the mining heartland of County Durham.
When I realised that the 25th anniversary of the Miners' Strike was upon us, my first reaction was that it reminded me how old I was. But more importantly, it took me back to the point when politics became real for me.
At 15, I was in the 4th Year at my local comprehensive school. Our classroom became a melting pot: as a policeman’s daughter and miner's granddaughter, I sat alongside miners' sons and daughters, a Coal Board manager’s son and a teacher whose husband crossed the picket lines.
Early on, our History teacher encouraged us to discuss our various views, which I think, looking back, was a healthy way to deal with the tension that without doubt existed. We got into some very heated and heartfelt arguments on a regular basis, sometimes prompted by events as they occurred. One particular morning I remember the NCB worker's son coming in after the family car had been vandalised on the drive.
Whilst I never felt unsafe at school, we all did a lot of growing up that year and I felt desperately sorry for the miners' families who had no money coming in for food, let alone bills. Durham is a small county: most people have a mining background and the police were known as ”Pit Bobbies”. Visits to my Nana and Grandad living in the heart of a pit village were very tense, and the hatred of Margaret Thatcher there is still strong. The war Arthur Scargill decided to declare without a national ballot set into motion hostility that still exists today.
Today, most people think that they know all about the Miners' Strike because they have seen Billy Elliot. I have seen the film once, but it left me bristling in its portrayal of the police. Whilst there was without doubt wrongdoing on both sides, no Durham policeman I have spoken to found their job easy then and they were as upset as us all at the destruction of communities that happened that year.
A lot of the worst violence, of course, was created by the flying pickets - the rent-a-mob who always appear from nowhere in times of civil unrest. I remember one morning seeing a car full of men parked outside our house watching a house across the road where a miner had gone back to work. He realised that they were there to intimidate him and his family and, needless to say, one phone call later and they soon vanished when a police patrol car arrived. But the overstretched force couldn’t be there all the time.
Returning home from London the other week, I was alerted by the Evening Standard to a new book by Francis Beckett and David Hencke, Marching To The Fault Line, which I devoured last weekend. It is a well-balanced and gripping account of what went on, particularly behind the scenes, and strengthens my long-held view that the striking miners were just pawns to the ego of Mr Scargill. The saddest thing it brings to light is the fact that an error by the Area Director of the NCB to include Cortonwood colliery in the list for closure was the tipping point for the start of the strike. The hostility continues today and the horrendous label "scab" has stuck to those who braved the picket lines to provide for their families.
What I experienced at first hand provided me with the sad but character-building experience of being disliked purely because of my Dad’s job.
But it also made me become a Young Conservative - not an expected natural step, I know, especially when you consider that I even had to start my own branch as one didn’t then exist in Durham. However, my admiration both for Margaret Thatcher as a conviction politician who stood firm and also for the Nottinghamshire miners who refused to give in to the bullying of the NUM and set up their own union made me want to get involved rather than be a member of the silent majority.