Digging up this National Front filth from my archives, I was struck how far to the right the mainstream political parties have moved these days.
There was the NF calling on Britain to leave the Common Market (forerunner of the European Union) and we’ve now gone the whole hog and voted for Brexit.
On immigration – the main parties haven’t advocated repatriation but the assumption that immigration is a ‘bad thing’ has become the conventional wisdom.
Back in the 70s, the NF wasn’t shy about talk of “sending THEM back” – even if the people they were referring to were second even third generation black and Asian Britons. Today, UKIP has called for the children of immigrants to be classed as migrants and all parties have promised to ‘get tough’ on immigration and remove benefits.
The NF made great headway spreading lies about immigrants grabbing social housing – yet that assumption goes unchallenged today by many mainstream politicians. Ditto the health service being overrun by so-called “health tourists”.
And we’ve had British jobs for British workers rhetoric from politicians on the left that would have been screamed down as utterly racist 30 years back.
After 1979, there was a calamitous rise in unemployment – especially among the youth. In northern cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle – a kind of dole culture took hold. You could be forgiven for thinking that not having a job was the norm while being in work was some kind of privilege.
Local authorities and trade unions funded unemployment centres. I recall the centre in Liverpool on Hardman Street with a pub attached at the back called The Flying Picket where you might bump into Alexei Sayle at the bar on some nights.
Some of these centres produced cheap newspapers for and by the unemployed. They would normally reflect the opinions of the dominant political group within the centre – often on the ultra-left.
Here are some examples – note the attack on the TUC for not doing enough for the unemployed. A common theme at the time was that the Labour Party and trade union leadership were sadly wanting in the face of the Thatcherite onslaught.
Emptying out my parents’ attic as they downsize, I opened a tatty plastic bag and out fell a load of political badges from the 1980s. These were worn with pride on my lapels at various demos back in the day. They date from about 1979, when I’d have been 16 years old through to around 1984 and the miners’ strike. As a snapshot of what we fought, cared and fretted about – they’re truly fascinating. And the language now seems a bit dated on some of them.
Take a look at the photos below and I’ll just chat through some of them. Nuclear arms – big obsessions. There were surveys at that time where most young people honestly believed there would be a nuclear catastrophe in their lifetime. Remember we had the Soviet Union versus Uncle Sam and in 1981, I went on the massive CND demo to Hyde Park. I remember one old dear screaming at me that I was as bad as those Hitler loving pacifists in the 1930s Peace Pledge Union. Another big demo that year was the People’s March for Jobs and you can see a big badge there for that.
The 1981 Brixton riots put the focus on the SUS laws – stop and search by police, which impacted on black kids a lot more than white. And it’s still an issue today – how depressing! The anti-racist badge saying “will you choose to abuse” seems a bit patronising and corny now – your views? Note the brilliant badge with Home Secretary William Whitelaw and his detergent that would whitewash police tactics over Brixton – still think that’s amusing.
On the global front – you had Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and of course we all know how much Thatcher liked him. There’s also a Polish Solidarnosc badge as the movement against Stalinism in that country took hold – then faltered. Spain had emerged from the Franco dictatorship and the socialist party – the PSOE – was about to take power. Though the promised socialist revolution never materialised.
Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe at the end of the 70s and you can see a badge there. Ireland and the ‘Troubles’ were a constant feature with bombings in the north and on the mainland UK. In 1979, Lord Mountbatten was blown up. Thank goodness that all seems like ancient history now.
Above all else – there was a visceral hatred of Thatcher. When I watch all these 80s progs saying we were all yuppies in that decade, it makes me furious. Nobody who was there would recognise that narrative. We were heavily polarised as a country. You either loved Maggie or hated her – and your style of dress and badges reflected that.
Well, for most of the time it was adulation in the 70s and 80s but Bowie wasn’t immune to criticism – particularly in the late 70s and early 80s when everything from his political views to musical relevance came under post-punk scrutiny.
Below is a flattering front page from the US new wave magazine Trouser Press but underneath is a more unpleasant tone from a UK teen mag. Looking back though, I’m trending against the knockers – Bowie’s pop legacy, in my humble view, is unassailable.
Being half-Irish (as I am) could be difficult in the 1970s as the Provisional IRA launched bloody and audacious attacks on the UK mainland. I even earned the nickname “Paddy” at my first secondary school – even though I didn’t speak with anything like an Irish accent.
One night, the waterworks at the top of my road was bombed by the IRA and as a 12 year old kid lying in bed, I knew immediately what had happened. My heart sank at the thought of what school kids would be saying the next day about the Irish. Bad enough there were “comedians” on mainstream TV at this time cracking “jokes” about how thick “paddies” apparently were.
1979 saw two murders that shook the country. On the 30th March, the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army – not to be confused with the IRA) blew up Conservative MP Airey Neave. You can watch the BBC TV news report by clicking HERE.
Neave was shadow Northern Ireland secretary and a close confidante of Conservative Party leader and soon to be PM, Margaret Thatcher. His car was blown up by a bomb attached underneath with magnets as it left the House of Commons car park. Needless to say that the security around the Palace of Westminster had presented no obstacle to the terrorists.
More shockingly was the slaying on the 27th August, 1979 of Lord Mountbatten: cousin of the Queen, the last viceroy of India and a very well known member of the royal family by the IRA. He was blown up on a boat with his son and a deck hand while on holiday in Ireland. Hours later, 18 British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint in a devastating attack by Irish Republicans.
You can watch the BBC TV account of that by clicking HERE. Mountbatten’s murderer shared my surname, unfortunately, and was caught. He was released from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, put in place after the ceasefire.
These events undoubtedly exercised a huge political and emotional influence on Thatcher. When IRA prisoners went on hunger strike demanding to be treated as prisoners of war, Thatcher folded her arms and let them starve – to death. That was in spite of one of them, Bobby Sands, being elected to parliament from his cell.
Jeremy Thorpe was the leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. He stepped down after an extraordinary scandal that gripped Britain at the time over allegations he had a gay relationship with a man called Norman Scott – and was then involved in a conspiracy to have Scott murdered.
The allegations had seeped out during the trial of Andrew Newton, a man who’d driven Scott out on to Exmoor and shot his dog – Rinka – a Great Dane. He then tried to shoot Scott but the gun was said to have jammed.
Scott used his appearance in court to reveal his relationship with Thorpe – claiming it happened in the early 1960s when homosexuality was still illegal.
That was bad enough in the homophobic 1970s but worse came when Newton emerged from prison in 1977 to claim he had been hired to kill Scott.
There was then the hideous spectacle for the Liberal Party of its leader and deputy Treasurer David Holmes being put on trial with two others – just weeks before the general election of 1979. Thorpe had already stepped down as leader before Newton’s release – replaced by David Steel.
The electors of Devon North didn’t return Thorpe to parliament and as you can see in the video below, he cuts a miserable figure behind the victorious Tory. It’s not inconceivable that he might have lost in the Thatcherite tide but the trial certainly didn’t help.
A week after losing his seat, Thorpe and the others were put on trial for attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. A former Liberal MP testified against Thorpe claiming Scott had been a target. But on the 22nd June, 1979 – the ex-leader and the rest were acquitted.
There could not have been a greater contrast on a personal and political level between the outgoing Conservative leader of the GLC Sir Horace Cutler and incoming Labour leader Ken Livingstone. I’d almost liken Cutler to a royalist and Livingstone to a roundhead.
Cutler had the demeanour of a cheerful Victorian cad and villain. Livingstone was the earnest supporter of oppressed minorities. So when the two faced off on TV, there would be no overlap of views or areas of compromise.