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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 20:13 GMT
Howells' miners' strike regret
By Rhun ap Iorweth
BBC Wales' chief political correspondent

Kim Howells (courtesy of Janice Edwards, Cardiff University)
Howells: The thought of miners' jobs losses 'burned like acid'
UK Government Minister Kim Howells has spoken of his regret at the role he played during the miners strike which started 20 years ago.

Speaking at the BBC Wales Regeneration Lecture at the Regeneration Institute at Cardiff University, the former NUM research officer admitted he was wrong to help lead the south Wales miners into the year-long dispute.

The year long miners' strike was a defining moment in the history of Wales. Its consequences hit hard in the coalfield communities both at the time and in the years since.

One of those immersed in the dispute - not as a miner but as an NUM research official was Kim Howells - now MP for Pontypridd and UK Government transport minister. And during the BBC Wales lecture, he said, he addressed a public audience about the strike and his role in it for the first time.

Twenty years on, he appears full of regret - regret mainly for his role in persuading Welsh miners, against their better judgement, to join the strike.

He was driven - ultimately in error he admits - by the fact he could see no other option at the time. The perception of 2,600 job losses in one year in 1983 "burned like acid in our brains" he said.

Doomed to failure

Though he was as involved as anyone in triggering the strike in the south Wales coalfields - organising pickets AFTER union lodges had voted against action - he now launches a stinging attack on the union's leadership and tactics.

Arthur Scargill, he says, called the strike at the wrong time - with stockpiles high and demand low.

He also wrongly turned down an early compromise, and more than anything broke what he calls the golden rule of not holding a national ballot on strike action. Kim Howells finds himself guilty of having tried to dodge that key issue.

He suggests that the combination of the actions taken by himself and others, and the weaknesses of Arthur Scargill meant the strike was doomed to failure.

"He did not possess that combination of insight and courage that might have rescued the NUM from the shambles that people like me had helped it to fall into," he argues.

Kim Howells says his memory of the strike and what drove him during it is becoming increasingly unreliable. But he questions if it's still TOO early to judge the importance of the strike in the full scale of history.




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