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Sir John Major admits the Tories ‘got it wrong’ with coal mine closures at lecture in South Shields

The 2018 South Shields Lecture with The Rt. Hon. David Miliband and The Rt.Hon. Sir John Major at Harton Academy
The 2018 South Shields Lecture with The Rt. Hon. David Miliband and The Rt.Hon. Sir John Major at Harton Academy

The man who was leading the country at the time the gates closed on the last remaining mine in South Shields devastating workers and their families, has admitted in retrospect “he would have done things differently.”

Sir John Major spoke out on what was a dark time for the Conservatives as the country turned against them during his visit to the town on Friday.

The 2018 South Shields Lecture with  The Rt.Hon. Sir John Major

The 2018 South Shields Lecture with The Rt.Hon. Sir John Major

The former Prime Minister was the guest speaker at the South Shields Lecture held at Harton Academy, organised annually by the town’s ex-MP David Miliband.

The event was dominated by Brexit and his views on the situation but he also spoke about the closing down of mines in the 1990s.

He admitted his party had “misjudged the situation” and had believed by closing the mines, money saved could be re-invested back into the economy.

He also thought it would enable them to provide a level of redundancy never seen before during the stages of the mines being closed.

He said: “I remember that time very vividly as we misjudged the situation.”

He added there had been a proposal from the National Coal Board to close 31 mines, and the text of a paper had suggested that everyone has been “expecting those mines would be closed”.

The price of closing those mines would then be “fresh investment” in order to regenerate the districts in which they would be closed.

He said: “We may have misjudged it, we plainly did.

“But we thought there was an expectancy that was happening and we were planning on closing those mines and do what we could to direct the investment into training and provide a much higher level of redundancy pay to every miner, that we had ever seen at any stage in the past - that was the way we approached it.

“The announcement came at the end of the recession, so people were still raw.

“I can only say we were not a bunch of monsters with vile intentions.

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“We thought we were doing something which would enable us to close down the problem which was getting worse each year.

“We thought we were helping people on a scale that was never done before.

“In retrospect I would go back and would have done things differently. I think it was the biggest single misjudgement.

“That was public opinion, not just the miners. People were angry with us. And in retrospect you can see why.

“You think you are doing something good and it’ll turn out right but you just get it wrong.”

Westoe pit was the last mine on the Tyne. It formed part of St Hilda’s Colliery in 1825, with the first shaft being sunk in 1909.

It became a colliery in its own right in 1911.