British National Party attempts to befriend the mining communities are in sharp contrast to their attitude during the miners’ strike. Then, the racist BNP not only refused to back the strike but called for a return to work and even demanded the Army be brought in to deal with the pickets.
Even worse, a former BNP parliamentary candidate in Yorkshire once led a shadowy group that funded scab miners during the 1984 strike. The Dowager Lady Jane Birdwood (pictured) ran Self-Help, a right-wing pressure group dedicated to smashing trade unions. She went on to stand for the BNP in a general election in Dewsbury in the 1990s.
Birdwood was a life-long racist but she was better known for her rabid antisemitism. Her hatred of Jewish people, who she believed were trying to take over the world, got her prosecuted twice. Her far-right politics led her into alliances with Second World War Nazi collaborators, including people who had fought in the SS. The SS was the organisation that ran the concentration and death camps and carried out the worst Nazi atrocities.
Birdwood saw the miners’ strike as a communist plot to take over the country and she set out to break it. She felt that Thatcher was too soft on the miners.
Documents obtained by Searchlight reveal how she set about to smash the strike. Soon after the strike started her group tried to prosecute Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, for sedition, inciting violence and intimidation of working miners. They were even advised by a leading barrister to hire private detectives to spy on the NUM.
Gathering the evidence was a lengthy and costly business. To speed up the process they decided to buy into a small private mine and seek a confrontation with striking miners. Birdwood found many mine owners willing to help.
“So far we have eleven mine owners ready to negotiate,” she gleefully told her supporters in July 1984. Once in control of a pit the group were going to take the NUM to court and seize its funds.
Birdwood eventually bought a share in a Durham mine but she was quickly overtaken by events as others had begun legal action to sequestrate the union’s funds. That did not stop Birdwood and she went on to back several other legal actions.
“We are promoting and assisting a number of new applications to the courts for further injunctions, including the action by 16 supporters of the National Working Miners’ Committee,” her group boasted to supporters in December 1984.
This was not the first time Self Help had backed the Working Miners’ Committee.
With the strike nearly over she reflected on a job well done. “By backing Silver Birch’s Working Miners Committee we have played some part in the court actions against the NUM.”
Birdwood also boasted of putting “certain proposals to the Working Miners’ Committee which we hope will lead to them taking the necessary legal action with our financial and political support” to remove Scargill from the leadership of the NUM. However, she was always keen for Self-Help’s role to be kept secret.
Birdwood’s hatred of the NUM was shared by John Tyndall, then the BNP leader. He even suggested bringing in the Army to deal with striking Yorkshire miners. Even Nick Griffin, who was then in the National Front, has proved time and again that he is no friend of the trade unions and the miners in particular.
Twenty-five years on, the memory of the strike still burns strong. The miners were fighting for their jobs, their children and their communities. The BNP is now trying to gain support in the former mining communities but back in 1984, when it really mattered, it was doing everything it could to undermine the strike.