Jon Griffin looks at one of the issues Margaret Thatcher will be most remembered for – mining.
The silence spoke eloquent volumes in the bitter Birmingham chill.
Arthur Scargill, Mrs Thatcher’s biggest domestic foe, was asked his view of the Prime Minister who had crushed the mineworkers.
Scargill’s response was as icy cold as the weather that day in February 2012 at Saltley Gate.
The NUM firebrand, possibly the most famous British trade unionist of them all, refused to utter a single word, simply blanking the Central Tonight’s man’s question.
The old wounds sustained over a quarter of a century ago when Mrs T took on the might of the National Union of Mineworkers had never healed. Mrs Thatcher went to her deathbed still a figure of hatred and bile to veteran hard-left crusaders like Scargill.
The former NUM class warrior’s refusal to even acknowledge the question that day, on the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Saltley Gate in Birmingham, told you all you needed to know about the impact of Thatcherism on the old-style socialists who had once dominated the trade union landscape.
Ex-miners and former union men had gathered in Saltley to mark the 40th anniversary of the events of February 10, 1972, when 30,000 Birmingham engineers walked out in support of the nationwide strike by the miners, the coal industry’s first national action since the General Strike of 1926.
The Battle of Saltley Gate proved the key turning point in the 1972 miners’ strike, and the catalyst for an eventual 21 per cent pay award which smashed the Government’s pay restraint policy into smithereens.
The blockade forced police, who had battled for days to keep the depot open, to surrender and close the gates and eventually cost Mrs Thatcher’s predecessor as Tory PM, Edward Heath, his job.
The man dubbed the Grocer was vanquished by a second miners’ strike in early 1974, which saw him lose office to a minority Labour Government under Harold Wilson.
The Tories had been routed hands-down by the miners, not once but twice.
But, five years later at the end of a decade which had seen three-day weeks, power cuts, mass picketing and closed shops, a new political force, in the shape of Margaret Thatcher, was swept into power.
That May election night in 1979 was the beginning of the end for union militants like Arthur Scargill. Mrs T was determined to show she was in charge of the country, not the NUM, or the printworkers, or Red Robbo at Longbridge.
The Falklands War in 1982 cemented Mrs Thatcher’s reputation for all time as a fearless conviction politician without a shred of compromise, and the entire nation celebrated an historic victory over the Argentinians.
But the ‘enemy within’ – as Thatcher viewed the NUM and men like Arthur Scargill – remained, and it took a year-long industrial civil war just two years after the successful Falklands campaign for Mrs T to wrest control from the unions.
The 1984-85 miners strike was a turning point in British industrial relations, a metaphorical hail of bullets against one of the last bastions of heavy industry and all that it stood for.
I covered the miners strike in the Midlands for virtually the whole campaign.
I remember driving up to a picket line at the now defunct Baddesley Colliery, near Tamworth, and being given short shrift by menacing-looking striking miners.
I remember a colleague being head-butted by pickets at Littleton Colliery, near Cannock, when the mood turned ugly.
I remember driving to Handsacre, near Lichfield, to interview a striking miner father whose two sons were working at Lea Hall, near Rugeley. Would those family wounds ever heal?
I remember donning a leather jacket, furtively plastering it with NUM stickers, and tracking Arthur Scargill incognito at a mass NUM rally at Bedworth.
I remember colleagues going up to the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham in June 1984 to cover a bloody riot, with truncheon-wielding police on horseback repelling waves of striking miners.
Without the pits strike – and Thatcher’s inevitable victory – there may have been no Wapping a year later.
The Spanish customs of the National Graphical Association could have continued to hold Fleet Street to ransom for years.
Defeat against the miners would have left Thatcher in a political cul-de-sac, her credibility in tatters at the altar of King Arthur and King Coal. Closed shops and British Leyland-style wildcat strikes would have remained the order of the day.
But there was only going to be one winner once the hugely-influential Nottinghamshire miners broke away to form the core of the rival Union of Democratic Mineworkers.
Thousands of NUM miners, unable to feed their families, drifted back to work.
The strike was formally over by March 3 1985, a year all but nine days after the very start of the dispute.
It was Thatcher’s greatest domestic triumph.
But the wounds still fester, if Arthur Scargill’s TV appearance at Saltley Gate just over a year ago is anything to go by.