The government’s inaction on Orgreave should trouble us all

Published

Credit: Wikimedia - Riot Police, 1985

Credit: Wikimedia – Riot Police, 1980s

Tom McDonald
Writer

In that decade so loomed over by the figure of Margaret Thatcher, there were several flashpoints when the country seemed to snap back as it buckled under weight of her unfeeling economic policies.

There were none more memorable, however, than the Miner’s Strike of 1984/85, and within that, none more memorable than The Battle of Orgreave, when striking miners and South Yorkshire Police (later to shame themselves at Hillsborough) violently clashed on the picket lines. Anyone with so much as passing interest in the course of events since 1984 knows that the issue has never been put to bed, with more than credible accounts of excessive violence, unlawful arrest, administering of trumped up charges and the forgery of police documents going long uninvestigated. In late 2016, the issue resurfaced once again.

The Tories, responsible then, are responsible now as well. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in a decision which manages to be both shocking and exactly what you’d expect, has announced that there will be no inquiry into the misconduct of South Yorkshire Police on 18th June, 1984. Rudd’s reasoning was platitudinous and empty, and the tireless campaigners of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign were left “with our tail between our legs” as ex-miner Kevin Horne lamented upon College Green. Just like that, and with grim banality, mountains of evidence (even the emergent testimonies of some honest police officers) were disregarded, Labour scored a powerful moral victory (promising an inquiry should they take office) and the Tories veered conspicuously away from another uncomfortable encounter with their 80s legacy.

My mentioning of Hillsborough should not be taken as needlessly emotive: as well as the terrible likelihood that an earlier crack down on the aggressive South Yorkshire Police could have prevented the disaster, it also spawned an inquiry which was, to put it coldly, less than comfortable for our then Prime Minister David Cameron. Theresa May seems unwilling to repeat the process.

But what does this resurgence of historic injustice mean for Britain’s emergent generation? Students at this university? The answer lies in the very fact that it has resurged at all. When our modern government shuns the obligation and opportunity to correct (or even look into) historic police brutality, they risk encouraging it today. Thus, a historic concern becomes a modern one and a modern government’s credibility to uphold the fair rule of law is sullied. I shouldn’t feel the need toreinforce this – but it happens today, not in 1984.

Think of the implications coming to maturity (be it intellectual, political or academic) in tandem with such an alarming development which sees the police cast not as a guarantor of our freedoms, but in fact a check on them.Think now of the absurdity of treating such a matter with anything less than the utmost consternation. With this benefit of perspective, which really shouldn’t require an article to provide, it suddenly becomes quite a troubling realisation indeed, that such little noise is being made about this. To speak again of reference points, the United States, a country near synonymous with the idea of a mistrusted police force, can perhaps take some of the blame for this. Living in what J.G. Ballard prophetically termed “The Overlit Realm”, hyper connectedness and wasted concentration spans have conspired to have us compare our seemingly localised troubles with the ever-visual national scandals of soon to be Trump’s America.

The average student on campus will not associate the new Orgreave scandal with anything typical of our country, if they associate it with anything at all; their mind will instead jump to the Ferguson riots and Black Lives Matter in an immediate Americanised conduit to an idea of activism against police brutality and government inaction. But it happened here too, and the powers that be are glad we’ve met it with little more than a shrug.