PM's climate-change 'joke' about closing pits is condemned in Mansfield and Ashfield

Derogatory comments by Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the closing of coal mines have been widely condemned by politicians and ex-pitmen in Mansfield and Ashfield.

Friday, 6th August 2021, 5:02 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried make a joke about how closing coal mines helped the environment.

The comments, branded “offensive” and “insensitive”, suggested that Margaret Thatcher helped the environment when launching a programme to shut pits in the 1980s, which led to a long and painful miners’ strike.

The closures devastated communities and families across Nottinghamshire. But Mr Johnson, in an attempted joke, claimed they gave the UK “a big, early start” in the fight against climate change.

A chorus of criticism was led by the Mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abrahams, whose own father worked for more than 20 years at the former Mansfield Colliery until it closed in 1988. And even Mr Johnson’s Conservative colleague, Ashfield MP Lee Anderson, blasted the PM for his remarks.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Thoresby Colliery, which was the last of the Nottinghamshire pits to close.

Mayor Abrahams, who leads the Labour group on Mansfield District Council, said: “I find it abhorrent that he can relate the Thatcher reign and the closing of mines in our area to his green credentials and the climate emergency.

"Linking those two things is disgraceful, and I cannot understand his thought process.

"The comments will hurt many people in the Mansfield community, and he should apologise.

"It’s embarrassing for the local MPs too. He has stitched them up. It is incredulous.”

Coun Andy Abrahams, the Mayor of Mansfield, whose father worked at a local colliery.

Mr Anderson said he “refused to take any lectures from the Labour Party”, adding: “I remember the horrible, bitter miners’ dispute of 1984, which divided whole communities”.

"We don’t want to go down that road again, but I agree that the comments were crass and silly.

"The PM tends to make jokes and, sometimes, they are funny. But on this occasion, they were not funny at all.

"I get the point he was trying to make, but to make a joke about this has not gone down well in an area like Ashfield.

Ben Bradley, who became Mansfield's first Conservative MP thanks, in part, to the votes of former miners and people from ex-mining families.

"I have spoken to Number 10 and the PM’s advisers, and told them I am not happy about it.

"He was wrong too. It was a combination of successive governments that was to blame for the demise of the coal industry, not just Mrs Thatcher.”

Back in 1984, there were 170 working collieries in Britain, employing more than 190,000 men, including tens of thousands at 27 pits in Notts. By the turn of the century, most had gone. By 2015, when Thoresby Colliery closed, they had all gone.

Mr Johnson was speaking on a visit to an offshore wind farm in Scotland, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, who described the PM's comments as "crass" and "silly".

When asked by reporters whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil-fuel extraction, he said: “Look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime.

"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.”

Reportedly, he laughed and then told the reporters: “I thought that would get you going!”

It certainly got Councillor Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council, going. The Ashfield Independents chief labelled the PM’s comments as “an insult to every resident in Ashfield, Mansfield and Nottinghamshire”.

He added: “They were crass, insensitive and downright abhorrent. The Prime Minister has shown contempt for mining communities like ours, and snatched away any semblance of dignity for those shafted at the coalface.

"He is so out of touch with communities like ours. The Tories’ mask has slipped, and they don’t look like anyone in Nottinghamshire.”

Coun Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council, who branded Mr Johnson's remarks as "an insult to every resident".

Coun Zadrozny, who has urged the PM to resign unless he retracts the comments and says sorry, added: “The closure of our pits had a devastating impact on tens of thousands of lives in Nottinghamshire.

"It has been estimated that since the miners’ strike, some 25,000 miners have died, the vast majority of them prematurely.

"There are an estimated 29,500 still alive, but a significant portion of them are suffering from respiratory diseases and other injuries because of the impact of a life at the coalface.

"I am utterly appalled that the current Prime Minister can laugh off the decisions of previous Conservative governments.

"Thousands of ex-miners lent him their vote in the 2019 General Election, in the belief that the Conservatives have changed.”

Thousands of voters who helped Ben Bradley become Mansfield’s first-ever Conservative MP in 2017, dislodging Labour veteran Sir Alan Meale, were former pitmen or people who hailed from ex-mining families.

The Chad asked Mr Bradley for his reaction to the Prime Minister’s comments, but he failed to respond.

Criticism of the comments comes at a time when feelings are already running high in Mansfield and Ashfield over the government’s refusal to change the terms of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme.

The government rakes in 50 per cent of any surplus from the scheme, even though it doesn’t contribute a penny, and that has earned it £4.4 billion over the last 27 years.

Many, including Mr Bradley and Mr Anderson, feel more money from the fund should be going into the pockets of the miners themselves, and their widows, especially as many are struggling on low incomes.

Former Thoresby Colliery miner and ex-county councillor Mick Newton is a trustee of the scheme. He lambasted Mr Johnson for “displaying a lack of care, sensitivity and awareness”.

He added: “His arrogance offends me and will offend all former mineworkers, widows and their friends and families across the former UK coalfields.

"The ‘Nasty Party’ is back, as if it ever went away. Not only did the Tories destroy our industry, our jobs, our communities and now our pensions, they also have the confidence to joke about it.

"This is one of the most callous and cold-hearted governments of a generation.”

Support your Chad by becoming a digital subscriber. You will see 70 per cent fewer ads on stories, meaning faster load times and an overall enhanced user experience. Click here to subscribe.