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“GB84” (2004) By by David Peace. The Greatest Novel of the 21st Century

George Orwell said that when he read Charles Dickens, he could see in the author “a generous anger.” Until I read this book I hadn’t a clue what he meant. I do now.

This novel contains fury, rage and an all-consuming hatred of injustice. But it’s directed at those who stand in the way of making life better for all of Society, and of creating a Nation at ease with itself, and which is there to serve the many, not just lining the pockets of the corrupt and indolent few.

I must confess I lose all sense of reason or objectivity when the subject of the Miners Strike comes up. My contact directly with this event was minimal. Collecting and boxing up food and blankets for the families, toys for the kids at Christmas. And the meetings. Miners telling us at the Trades and Labour Club about what was going on. Really going on which I had confirmed by a mate who went through it all in the South Yorkshire Coalfield.

Police random brutality, soldiers at Orgreave in plain clothes, coppers posing as scabs to give the impression of a cascade back to work, phone tapping, using the Security Services to intimidate striking miners, paying miners to grass on their comrades with threats against their families, stopping benefits to the wives and children of the men, and it goes on and on and on….

1984 must have been the worst year in British Post War History as the Thatcher Government declared war on it’s own people.

She must have hated the Northern Working Class so much to spend £½ Billion on Police costs alone, let alone all the planning that went into the Dispute, coal stockpiling and the like in order to coldly engineer a confrontation which Thatcher knew would cause deep division within the industry and within Society as a whole ripping communities and families apart.

And then there is the infamous description of the men as “The Enemy Within

Veterans of D Day.

Men who had been on the Burma Railway.

Lads who fought in the bloody Italian campaign.

The Korean War.

The Falklands.

Northern Ireland.

People who were St.John’s volunteers.

A guy who was a fill in Vicar when people went on holiday.

Lay ministers.

Scout Leaders

And men suffering illnesses brought on by the conditions underground.

The Enemy Within…….

As I look across my kitchen there is a bottle of Moet Champagne in the wine rack. It will be used to toast Thatcher’s death. I am not joking.

In 1981 the Tories had dabbled by proposing the closure of twenty collieries across the geography of the industry as a means to test the mettle of the NUM and it’s inspirational President Arthur Scargill.

The response of the NUM was overwhelming and united. Thatcher backed off and commissioned one of the most hateful characters ever to grace the political scene, the Far Right fanatic Nick Ridley to plan, coordinate and execute the destruction of Scargill, the NUM and by proxy the power of the Unions and the Working Class as a whole.

Part of the Plan was the sale of Council houses to secure a Parliamentary majority in the 1983 Election, as the One Nation wing of the Tory Party were proving wobbly.

Thatcher felt the so called “Wets” such as Jim Prior and Norman St. John Stevas simply did not have the stomach for such a fight and the flogging of Social Housing (with no replacement building) did the trick, along with our disastrous Manifesto rightly given the sobriquet “The Longest Suicide Note in History”.

Forget the “Falklands Factor”, that’s a cop out invented by the Labour Party. We allowed all what followed to happen as we turned in on ourselves, making Policy for each other and not the country as a whole.

As a result 40% of Trade Unionists, including many miners returned the Tory Government with a whopping 144 seat majority. Game on. The first piece of the jigsaw was in place.

Next Ridley met in secret with security chiefs to compile a list of targets in the Union and beyond as a means of keeping one step ahead. This involved phone tapping, bugging of Union premises, logging of bank accounts and the recruitment of paid “narks” within the NUM and mining communities. All of which were completely illegal but this was War after all. Anything goes as long as you win.

Ian McGregor, an American who had successfully butchered the steel workers Unions into cowed compliance in a dry run for the Big One, was appointed as NCB Chief and in 1984 produced the blue print for the loss of 20,000 jobs targeted in the militant areas of Yorkshire, Kent and Scotland. All to go within FIVE WEEKS.

The targets were deliberate. The aim was to divide the Union as the new mortgage payers of Notts, Derby and other historically moderate areas would never risk their newly owned houses for the sake of miners in other areas.

There had never been a National Ballot in the past, and this dispute made the idea even more of a non starter as why should men in areas not affected have the right to ballot others out of work to save themselves?

Peace documents in fictional style, coldly and rationally what then unfolded. The bitterest and most divisive Dispute in British Industrial History.

We see the action through day to day diary style accounts from two miners, the story of NUM Chief Executive Terry Winters (based on Roger Windsor), Steven Sweet (David Hart) a millionaire strike breaking fixer, and spooks Neil Fontaine and David Johnson and it is a punishing read through which the putrid atmosphere of ‘Eighties Yorkshire literally assails the senses.

The prose is ack ack style, incredibly fast and intense and I can see why some people would find it annoying, but as someone with a stake in the narrative it didn’t put me off. It just made me very, very angry.

Iziguro it ain’t, but then again, as with the Damned United, the written style is appropriate for the subject matter and it is a truly stunning achievement, well researched and objective where it needs to be.

I admit that the spooks story confused me, as despite a deep knowledge of this period it took me some hours of research on the murder of CND activist Hilda Morrell to understand this part of the plot. If a nerdy geek like me has trouble with the history then it will be a challenge to those outside a certain constituency of readership.

Sweet is referred throughout as “The Jew”. This made me feel uncomfortable as though Peace was attacking his skulduggery in stereotypical terms. Peace said that the publisher was very wary of this decision, but it was employed to emphasise the divisions amongst the right. I just don’t like it, and feel it is unnecessary.

This is a must read book for anyone who wants to understand British History in the modern era.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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