Scargill was right - but out of step

I WAS in a press conference at Newcastle United one day in 1985 when another local journalist cracked a sick joke about Arthur Scargill - and promptly wished he hadn't.

Aidan Semmens

I WAS in a press conference at Newcastle United one day in 1985 when another local journalist cracked a sick joke about Arthur Scargill - and promptly wished he hadn't.

Jack Charlton, who was Newcastle's manager at the time, virtually strode over his desk to confront the joker.

The passionate Geordie wasn't known as Big Jack for nothing, and the reporter suddenly knew what it had been like to be a centre-forward facing Leeds a decade or two earlier.

“Enough of that,” growled Jack. “Arthur Scargill is a good friend of mine. Now get out of my office.”

If you remember 1985, you may recall Scargill as something of a figure of fun - of hate, even.

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The leader of the striking miners union was depicted by the Tory government and in much of the national press as the enemy within.

I half wondered at the time if he might be Margaret Thatcher's most effective underground agent. He seemed so intent on destroying from within, not the country, but the cause of trade unionism.

I believe now that he was honest, committed, passionate - and wrong only about tactics, not principles.

There was a certain irony in him fighting to preserve mining jobs. Barely a generation before, the fight had been to improve life so workers no longer had to hack out a meagre, dangerous living under the ground.

But he was proved right in his warnings that the government was intent on destroying both the industry and the unions.

And it was Charlton, not the wisecracking journalist, who was closest to the spirit of the North East at the time.

In the Home Counties, and perhaps here in Suffolk, Scargill may have appeared to wear horns and a tail. In Geordieland he seemed to nearly everyone what he was literally to Big Jack - a friend.

He is now so much a figure of history that it comes almost as a shock to realise he is still, at 70, the leader of a national political party.

But then, the very name of his party sounds like a historical concept - the Socialist Labour Party. What a quaint idea.

And it turns out Arthur is still banging the drum for coal.

At a time when a new coal-fired power-station can draw the kind of protest that nuclear sites once attracted, his enthusiasm seems out of step with the times.

And I don't know whether he is right when he declares: “We live on an island with more than 1,000 years of coal reserves from which we can provide all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that people need, without causing harm to the environment.”

That sounds glossily optimistic to me.

But he is right to oppose the current importing of coal that is dirty both morally and literally.

And he is bang on the button about the insanity of Britain's new love affair with nuclear power. He rightly calls it “the most dangerous and uneconomic method of producing electricity”.

And he is right too when he adds: “We need an end to deforestation… and an end to biofuel development - which not only produces substantial CO2 emissions but is causing mass starvation and higher food prices throughout the world.”

As in the 1980s, Scargill is again a Cassandra figure, right but out-of-step. Again he offers dire warnings, grim predictions and a suggested solution.

And again, I fear, his only ultimate satisfaction will be to be able to say: “I told you so”.

Mewsick to iliterat eres

SO it's now possible to get a top-grade GCSE in music without being able to read a note.

Barmy. Unless students are to specialise in non-Western musical forms, such as Chinese yayue, Indonesian gamelan or African drumming. Which they probably aren't.

But no barmier than the apparent suggestion that examiners, teachers and lecturers should stop marking students down for bad spelling.

English spelling may be difficult, sometimes weird (“wierd” anyone?), but it's an integral part of the world's commonest, most useful language.

If we all rote just the way we speke, it ud be much harda fer Jordies to understand Eest Angliuns, let alown fer Indiuns to understand West Indiuns.

But I say “apparent suggestion” because I've done what most of the shocked press and Horrified of Hastings seem not to have done. I've found the original article by Ken Smith in the Times Higher Education that began the furore.

For one thing, Smith is a lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, not a spokesman for the whole education system.

And for another, he doesn't actually call for the scrapping of standardised spelling.

He merely asks for about 20 of the commonest errors to be accepted as alternatives, in the way aging/ageing, judgment/judgement, flier/flyer and many others - including spelled/spelt - already are.

I may not like “Febuary”, “Wensday”, “thier” or “truely”, but I have to admit he's got a point.

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