The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

The first term of Thatcher – 1979 to 1983 – was many things politically but never dull. For the Labour Party, there was a move to the left among the rank and file after what was felt to have been lost years under Wilson and Callaghan from 1974 to defeat in 1979.

I remember being at meetings where you could divide the party members present into those that wanted to nationalise the top 25 monopolies and those that wanted to nationalise the top 250 monopolies (Tribune for the lower figure and Militant for the higher).

New Socialist was a monthly magazine in the 1980s and in this June 1982 issue you get a snapshot of what vexed the left. Norman Tebbit – the Chingford Skinhead (or Conservative MP for Chingford and government minister if you prefer) – dominated the front page with his bovver boot about to stamp on the trades unions.

From 1979 to 1981, Jim Prior had been employment secretary. A more consensual Tory grandee, he fitted in with a view that the Conservatives should have some kind of modus vivendi with the trades unions. This view was chucked out of the window by the more suburban petit-bourgeois Tebbit who had no qualms about taking on organised labour.

Other articles in this issue of New Socialist included a debate between Frank Field on the right and Pat Wall on the Marxist left about who should own the soul of the Labour Party.  Both were MPs in the 80s with Wall being a Militant supporting MP in Bradford.

The militarisation of the police, the terrorising of women by the Yorkshire Ripper, Ronald Reagan and the “problem” of Europe were the subjects of other articles. The latter is interesting because the left hadn’t yet bought into the idea that Europe was a friend of the left. Europe – whether it was the Common Market, European Economic Community or European Union – was seen as a ‘capitalist club’ by many socialists in the early 1980s.

2 thoughts on “1982 – what issues gripped the left?

  1. Vic says:

    Thanks for that. Can you tell me where you found the New Socialist cover, as I valued this mag in the 1980s and would like to find an archive, but can’t.

    1. I never threw anything away. So that New Socialist is part of my archives – or mountains of rubbish as my partner refers to my 80s treasure. When I wrote the biography of Neville Staple of The Specials, Original Rude Boy, I asked the NME for back copies and found they had none from around 1979 to 1981. The reason? Punks hated the past – including yesterday morning – so they didn’t archive anything. Last week was tripe. Only the future mattered. Etc.

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