Political badges from the 1980s


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.

Badges of the 80sBadges of the 80sBadges of the 80sBadges of the 80sBadges of the 80s 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.

80s bands that toyed with Nazi-era references – but weren’t Nazis


hitler youth
Hitler Youth – not New Romantics

Punk and its aftermath was all about transgression – embracing things that shocked or violated normal codes of behaviour.

And just three to four decades after World War II, you could always rely on employing Nazi references to shock and disgust public opinion.

Whether it was Sid Vicious wandering around off his head with a Nazi emblem or bands adopting names that related to the Third Reich – anything to do with Hitler still touched a very raw nerve.

There was also an embarrassed fascination for Nazi style and art. Far from being seen as vulgar, philistine and oppressive – the fascist aesthetic was viewed as stirring and provocative by people whose political views might actually be quite liberal or left-wing.

So, you had the band Joy Division – naming itself after the sex slavery wing of Hitlerite concentration camps. Heavy metal bands were never shy about using the Iron Cross or stylised eagles. Artists might casually praise the buildings or films of that era. And David Bowie’s wave to fans was characterised by some as a fascist salute – vehemently denied by the man himself.

When one New Romantic band decided to call itself Spandau Ballet, that sent a journalist at the Record Mirror into a spin:

Unfortunately, the element of this project which I find disturbing, threatening and worthy of debate lies not in the music itself, but in the premise upon which our young warriors have erected their grandiose musical/lyrical edifice.

The journo went on to note that the album was white-on-white with a muscular naked form.  And the scribbler was rattled by a quote inside the record sleeve – “…the soaring joy of immaculate rhythms, the sublime glow of music for heroes…stirring vision….journeys to glory…”

The Record Mirror fumed that this linked Spandau Ballet to an ‘Aryan Youth ideal’ reminiscent of the Hitler Youth.  The review then went on to make it clear there was no linkage to far right groups being suggested just a deep sense of unease.

The journalist suggested to readers that they play ‘Muscle Bound’ back to back with ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ from the movie Cabaret and observe how the ‘mood’ is the same.

“Tread very carefully for all our sakes,” the magazine warned the band.

 

Toyah – the tale end of punk


It’s a funny old thing – but looking back over my copies of the NME, Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, etc, etc….up pops Toyah.  All the bleedin’ time.  As late as April 1983, No 1 magazine is telling us that Toyah has released ONLY two singles that year – The Vow and Rebel Run and ONLY one album – Love is the Law.   Can’t say I remember a single note from these songs or that august album.

In 1983, she also acted for six months in a “wrestling play” called Trafford Tanzi – and, her people pointed out, she acted in it for every night for six months unlike that Debbie Harry who only lasted two weeks in the US version.  Hmmm….I’m with Debbie Harry.  Maybe she just had better things to do.

Toyah, for her part, was her usual bubbly self:  “1983 was a very good year for me, a very busy year, with Tanzi and everything.  I found it enjoyable but not my best year to date – I’m hoping 1984 will be.”

She then went on to say that it was very good that Maggie Thatcher had got re-elected (not very punk of her) and it was going to take time for her policies to work.  However, Toyah didn’t think Thatcher would win the next election.  Wrong on both counts then.

Toyah then announced that she’d been having a go at bodypopping (don’t visualise if you’ve just eaten).  But unfortunately “my physique’s a bit wrong”.   Surely not.

The sartorial insanity of sixteen pleat Bowies


bowieThe start of the 80s saw a huge range of youth cults from metal to New Wave to Futurist. And the fashions were worn with almost cultish devotion. They could also mark you out for getting attack by rival tribes.

I was at a ‘Futurist’/New Romantic party out on the London/Essex borders in the spring of 1981 when I first saw somebody walk in with sixteen pleat Bowies. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. Thought the guy was going to take off – they were voluminous.

In the back of the NME, you could buy these crazy trousers for about £17 and there was the option to go 20 pleat or even 24 pleat. Being a short guy, I knew there was no way I could carry them off so I stuck to tight leather pants!

The blame for this sartorial crime lies with a certain David Bowie who in the late 70s decided pleats were the thing. And what David ruled was acceptable became essential for his acolytes. That said, this was a fashion that didn’t last very long.