Where do I start with the stories?
It could be with Little Annie, I guess. Her husband used to hit her from pillar to post. In ’84 she joined the Miner’s Wives Support Group. In ’85 she got a divorce.
There was Tom. Tom hadn’t seen his dad for the best part of a decade – a combination of night shifts and “well, I gotta go out with the lads on the weekend. Friday Night. Saturday Night. Pub, isn’t it?”. Over a year’s enforced lay-off, dad and Tom started going fishing together. Up the lake, in the park. Just for something to do, to be honest. To get out of the house, the TV drove Tom’s dad mad. When the year was over, those weekends out drinking were truncated a bit. Dad would spend Saturday with Tom fishing. Just a minor adjustment. A small victory.
Maybe Johnny. Johnny’s mother was a school-teacher. She chucked him out when he was 17, after he came out to her. Steve and Cheryl from down the street took him in. They’d met a couple of gay activists on the marches. They’d never really thought about it before, not really. Maybe make the odd off colour joke, thought how glad they were that their kids weren’t that way, but never thought about what it all meant. They did now.
Sammy was 13. When he was walking through London on a rally he got talking to a couple of blokes selling a newspaper. His mother whispered to come away from them. They were terrorists. They weren’t terrorists. They were from Kirkuk, and they talked to him like a little adult, something which appealed to his 13 year old sense of self. They explained to him about the resettlement and the crackdown from the government, how it had pushed them further and further away until they had fled the country they were born in. Kurds, these boys. Hard left, like a lot of the Kurds. Decent lads. Later Sammy joined the army and was in the Gulf. He didn’t like what happened there much, and he realised he wasn’t really cut out for that kind of thing, but he also remembered those two, they stayed with him, so he never really joined in the barrack room banter about the brown skinned.
Julie was in her 30s. Mother of 2. Husband down the pit. Come ’84, she met the love of her life – another woman, a lecturer in sociology from the local Uni. They’ve lived together for the past 30 years. Her ex-husband – still friends with them both – stood in place of her dead father and gave her away, when her and her partner got married.
Names have been changed above, but things like this happened in that year. All across the coalfields, all across the country, in my experience and that of millions of others, these things happened.
On Thursday, Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph played a variant on his old, poisonous theme. A new film – Pride – about the relationship between the striking miners and the gay community in London was all about prettifying up the struggle and seeing it all through metrosexual, liberal eyes. He had a bit of a problem with his thesis, which he kinda glossed over, which is the story the film is based on is true. It happened. Yeah, of course, it’s been turned into a broad comedy cum heartwarming feel-good movie, and no doubt it drips of cinematic cliche about gayness and the struggle, but the essentials of the film happened. And not just that.
Not just that. Because the hidden, underlying truth that O’Neill completely ignored in his vile little tirade against the poisonous gays “patronising” the mining communities is that year changed those communities in many ways. The experiences and the solidarity, the relationships formed with different people all over the country opened them up. Gender roles changed. Views on the world changed. No doubt, after it, the communities still contained small c conservative views, and they hardly turned into Islington overnight, but just as after a war, the end of the strike left the social norms in those communities altered. And while part of me often has a nostalgic yearning for the way things were before, and still a bitter regret over the result, I wouldn’t for the life of me lose that experience I and my generation had – that growth. That feeling of all around me, people were learning, of bonds of solidarity growing while at the same time that chains of conformity were shed.
O’Neill – still, one assumes – claims to be a Marxist. And in his occasional diatribes (which, uniquely for a Marxist, appear to pander to red meat, right wing, homophobic and racist Telegraph readers, who work themselves up into a righteous Santorum-like froth below the line of his columns. This – I would guess – tells you a lot more about O’Neill’s Marxism, than it does about Marxism) about the metropolitan liberal elite, and their “obsession” with gay politics and rights, he makes a big show of standing up for the working class – abandoned by the left who spend their time pursuing some vague agenda of wafty homosexual rights, the poor working man sits seething in his provincial hell. All he wants is to be treated with the same respect the gays are. But this won’t happen. Not until the latte liberals realise the error of their ways.
But Brendan isn’t really sticking up for the working class. Else, for instance, he might have noticed that the working class contains just as many LBGT people as any other class. He might have noticed how – due in no great part to the ideas of those very metropolitan liberals with their fancy ideas that he hates – in the past 30 years, life has got a deal more bearable for those LBGT members of the working class. He could have picked up that – instead of being preserved in aspic, their social attitudes unchanged from the late 70s – the attitude of the working class on issues is pretty much, well, in line with the metropolitan liberals that he hates. Because we, you know, we have LGBT kids, LGBT friends, some of our class even, you know, are LGBT. Shocking, I know.
While there’s a germ of a point in the idea that the left has abandoned economics for identity politics (I’ve often wondered who thinks we can’t address both things – equality for groups who have had to struggle and economic improvement for those shat on by the system aren’t exactly, well…they aren’t hugely different things, are they?), and I, nervously casting an eye at my overdraft, would certainly like to see a deal more emphasis on the economic, Brendan – you’ll note – never actually makes much of an argument in favour of any left wing economics. You never really hear of him making a case for a policy that helps us, economically. Almost as though his concern for the working class is – at best – merely a stick to beat his enemies with. Almost as though he wants to use our alleged bigotries and betrayal to justify his rather curious attitudes to sexuality. Almost as though his “Marxism” is merely a disdain for liberalism, an excuse to pickle his prejudices. I’d just prefer it, next time, if he didn’t choose to use my history as a vehicle for it.