In March 1984 over half of the UK’s 187,000 miners came out on strike over planned pit closures and job cuts. Against a backdrop of political outrage, flying pickets rose to action across counties, blocking goods coming in and out of mines and hounding ‘scabs’ (miners not on strike).
Tensions were high; with no ballot the strike was technically illegal. Margaret Thatcher deemed striking miners ‘the enemy within’ and 20,000 police mobilised, patrolling pickets, roads and towns.
Relationships between police and striking miners and their supporters were delicate. At a local level familial and community ties sometimes softened the unease. But having no such ties, the London Metropolitan Police – brought in to bolster local branches – proved a fractious force.
The London Policeman portrays the cynical image of the Met officer; with riot gear, horse and baton in hand, they were in it, so the song suggests, for the money, for violence, to dehumanise the miners. One South Yorkshire officer recalls Met Police saying they were ‘up for it’ and antagonising pickets, waving £20 notes at the hard-up miners.
The Met shored-up police efforts in several violent strike incidents, of which the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’ was the worst. Purportedly provoked by some of the estimated 10,000 miners hurling bricks and stones, around 5,000 riot-gear clad police charged with batons, dogs and on horseback. Famously, the photograph featured in this copy of Labour Weekly captures a policeman raising his baton to a female reporter helping an injured miner.
All 95 miners prosecuted for alleged riot and unlawful assembly were acquitted a year later after police oral and written evidence was discredited in court. And following a BBC Inside Out documentary in 2012 and Hillsborough developments, the South Yorkshire police referred itself to the IPCC over the handling of Orgreave.
Of course the London Met was not alone in policing these incidents. Officers from all over the country were present at Orgreave and miners talk about intimidation from local officers too. But this song shows clearly a perception of the London Metropolitan Police as the divisive heavies, facing down miners with whom they had no affiliation, whilst ironically going some way to preserving relations between local police and the pickets.
“And suddenly a silence reigned
And both sides looked at me
‘You arrant bloody fool’ they cried
And straight away did agree
To strike me down with fist and club
And shake each other’s hands
And march down into London
Led by their famous bands.
While I went into hospital
A martyr to the Cause
Of bringing man together
By the breaking of their jaws.”