In my first year at university, I ran for the welfare officer position in the student union at Liverpool Uni.
The Labour Club was heavily influenced by the Marxist policies of the Militant Tendency and so the programme I ran on included calls to nationalise the top 200 monopolies, a £90 minimum wage and a 35 hour week. I think the latter demand probably terrified some of the arts students!
Note the heavy fringe of the time. Think my hair would have been dyed jet black – think Phil Oakey of the Human League.
The poster was drawn with a felt-tip pen. Seems so weirdly amateur now but we had no digital magic back in those far off days.
Two parties brought the Labour government of Jim Callaghan to its knees – the Liberals and the Scottish Nationalists. Both might have ended up wondering if they’d done the right thing. The SNP was furious at Callaghan for not pushing through Scottish devolution.
Callaghan had let Scotland have a referendum on the condition that 40% of the electorate had to vote for devolution in order for it to progress. There was a majority at the ballot box for looser ties between Scotland and London – but the threshold wasn’t met. So Callaghan refused to take the matter further. The SNP tabled a no confidence vote and expected Liberal support – as they had now scrapped the Lib-Lab pact that had kept Callaghan’s minority government in power.
Callaghan joked rather drily that the SNP were the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas. As it turned out, Margaret Thatcher wasted no time tabling her own no confidence vote, which was passed and the Labour government was forced into a general election.
The result of this for the SNP was disastrous. Hard to believe now but Tories took Scottish constituencies like Galloway, Perth, Aberdeen East, Argyll, etc. The SNP was crushed down to two MPs from a high point of eleven MPs in the 1974 election. I remember that for much of the 1980s, the SNP were taunted as ‘Tartan Tories’ for their part in bringing Callaghan down.
A rather forgotten incident here when Pat Arrowsmith – veteran CND campaigner – heckled a beleaguered Jim Callaghan who had held on to his Cardiff seat in the 1979 general election but just lost the country to Thatcher and the Tories.
She was shouting at him about Ireland and British intervention in the province. For those of you fascinated by the ins and outs of ultra-left politics, Arrowsmith was running against Callaghan as a candidate for the Socialist Unity party. This was a front for the International Marxist Group (IMG), which felt it had to put up candidates because a rival sect – the Socialist Workers Party – had been running in elections.
Callaghan probably had other things on his mind – like getting back to Downing Street, packing his belongings and going into opposition. But he invited Arrowsmith to speak on the platform after he had finished. Though when she appeared at the microphone to make a speech about removing British troops from Northern Ireland, Callaghan had already left the stage.
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.
This was the moment in 1979 when Prime Minister Jim Callaghan returned home from a political summit abroad to be pounced on by a gaggle of journalists asking him how he could have left the country during a time of crisis. Callaghan was clearly irritated by the line of questioning and said that from outside the UK, the so-called ‘winter of discontent’ didn’t look so bad.
He also made a point that no spin doctor today would have ever allowed to happen – that he’d gone swimming while at the summit. An image of the PM in his Speedo trunks paddling in a tropical clime was not what the nation wanted. Callaghan never actually said the words ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ This was a cruel twist of the dagger from the hacks who scented blood.
Below that video of Callaghan – I’ve put another video. It’s an interview with Tony Benn at the time Jim Calaghan died giving his interpretation of events. Benn served under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan and he questions the conventional wisdom that the trade unions brought Callaghan’s Labour government to its knees. He says the blame lay with the International Monetary Fund.
It was my first year at university and the Labour Club decided I should run for the post of Welfare Officer of the Guild of Undergraduates at the University of Liverpool. The Labour Club was then very much under the sway of Militant – a Marxist group within the Labour Party that has now evolved into the Socialist Party.
Consequently, I ran on such policies as the nationalisation of the top 200 monopolies, a £90 minimum wage (generous in those days!) and the introduction of a 35 hour week. I even joked at the time that a 35 hour week would lose the support of arts students who barely managed ten hours a week.
Think I got about 120 votes. Though I remember a Militant saying to me afterwards: “120 Marxists at the university!!” Think that was a case of revolutionary optimism.