'Wales is better off now than before the 1984 miners’ strike', says Lord Heseltine

Lord Heseltine speaks to ITV Wales' Political Editor Adrian Masters
Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Heseltine reflecting on the 1984 miners' strike. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Wales is better off now than it was before the 1984 miners’ strike, according to the former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Michael Heseltine.

The Swansea-born politician was at the heart of Margaret Thatcher’s government when she took on the National Union of Mineworkers.

Speaking to ITV Cymru Wales for the 40th anniversary of the strike, Lord Heseltine says during that period he “was absolutely as clear as anybody else that this issue had to be confronted".

He insisted the roots of the dispute lay decades before it actually flared up in 1984, saying: "The story is about the militancy of the unions outside the rule of law in this country after the Second World War, and it affected all governments and in the end led to Margaret [Thatcher]’s government solving the problem by changing the law.”

Lord Heseltine was at the heart of Margaret Thatcher’s government when she took on the National Union of Mineworkers. Credit: Archive footage ITV Cymru Wales

ITV Wales' Political Editor Adrian Masters asked him if he acknowledged that the strike, and the subsequent closure of mines in the 1990s when he was responsible for the industry as president of the Board of Trade in John Major’s government, had caused permanent damage to communities in Wales.

In response, he said: “There's been an adjustment, certainly, but into better jobs in a cleaner and healthier and less dangerous atmosphere. So if you say to me, 'would I recreate the mining industry?' No, I would not.”

Asked if Wales is better off now, he said: "There's no question it's better off. If you look at all the statistics about people's living standards, they have been transformed over the periods we are talking about.”

He was also asked if would he apologise, as many Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians have called for.

Lord Heseltine's response was “No, I wouldn't apologise for anything that I did."

"But if anyone should apologise, it's the militancy in the unions who made coal production uneconomic.”

In the interview, he said that despite coming from a privileged background he understood the strength of feeling in Welsh coal communities.

“I have a great admiration for the community spirit in the mining villages and towns. I myself lived in a relatively prosperous part of Swansea.

"But in order to get there I used to drive down the road through the Valleys and one saw the contrast. So one knew about the sort of feeling and the anxieties and they were all wholly legitimate.

“But there was another thought. Do I really believe it's a good idea for young boys from their earliest age to go down the pit to a dangerous, unhealthy way of life?”

Lord Heseltine said: "If you sing to me, ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside,’ I can feel the tears rise.” Credit: ITV archive

Asked if he felt any hostility when he came back to Wales, he said "on the contrary" he continues to receive a warm welcome.

He said: “I'm deeply flattered that I've been given two honorary degrees by Welsh Universities: Swansea and Cardiff.

"I'm the president of the Morriston Orpheus choir who came to sing at my 90th birthday… having sung at my daughter's wedding. So I don't think I'm being chased out of Wales. Certainly, it doesn't feel like that.”

He also spoke of how strongly he feels about Wales.

“If you say to me…where is home? My home is Swansea. Where does the heart beat stronger? In Wales. And if you sing to me, ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside,’ I can feel the tears rise.”

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