‘Governing in hard times’: the Heath government and civil emergencies – the 1972 and the 1974 miners’ strikes.
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This thesis examines how the government of Edward Heath (Prime Minister 1970-74) managed the two most significant domestic political and economic crises which determined both its fate and its long term reputation; first, the 1972 miners’ strike and secondly, the 1973-4 miners’ dispute and the three-day week. Its defeat by the miners in 1972 was an enormous humiliation from which the Heath government never fully recovered. The violent mass picketing which accompanied the strike shook both the government’s and the public’s confidence in the ability of the state to maintain law and order. Their victory boosted the miners’ confidence to take industrial action again in the autumn of 1973 when their position was strengthened by the oil price rise in the wake of the Yom Kippur war. This led to the imposition of a three-day week on industry which ended in the general election of February 1974 and the fall of the Heath Government. This thesis uses the new material in the National Archives to examine the interplay between these events and the government machinery for handling civil emergencies. It reveals the manner in which Heath’s first attempt to reform the system was defeated by Whitehall resistance. The incompetent handling of the 1972 miners strike then strengthened the case for reform and led to the thorough overhaul of contingency planning which laid the foundations for the system which exists to the present day. It examines the factors which influenced the handling of the crises, including the relationship between the Prime Minister and his colleagues, between ministers and officials, the problems posed by external events and the cumulative exhaustion which placed ministers and officials as well as the machinery of government under increasing strain.
AuthorsHughes, Rosaleen Anne
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