Lesbians versus Gay Skinheads – only in the 80s!


Gay skinheads – what’s not to like? Plenty as it turned out in some people’s eyes. By the end of the 70s, the skin look had been adopted by extreme right thugs normally associated with the National Front, British National Party, Column 88 and the British Movement. They were a menace and a danger to black, Asian and LGBT people.

This was sad because the look actually originated in Jamaican culture and music. And in the late 60s and early 70s the racist tag had not been automatically associated with skinheads. So what to do as the extreme right made the skinhead look their own?

Well, some gay men came up with a fine solution. Take the look back. Subvert it. Engage in a progressive act of cultural appropriation! Draw the sting out of the skinhead appearance by fully integrating it into the LGBT scene. And lo it came to pass!

So successful was the growing gay skin scene that a party was organised by the Gay Skinhead Movement at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre on Cowcross Street near Farringdon tube station. Don’t bother looking for it now – it’s a soulless wine bar for the local white collar droids.

The centre had been set up and funded by the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone in 1985 as part  of its much mocked and reviled (in the tabloid press) pro-LGBT policy. From the outset though, the centre witnessed the sort of infighting that only the 80s could produce.

Lesbian mothers took issue with strident S&M lesbians. All of them weren’t sure if they wanted bisexual men in the building in case they hit on them. And, needless to say, gay skinheads were not welcome at all by those lesbians who thought the aforementioned appropriation was in poor taste.

So…when the gay skinhead Moonstomp Disco kicked off – all hell let loose. What is so silly about what happened next is that the event was a roaring success. And god knows, the centre needed the cash. It limped from one financial crisis to the next and so some gay skin wonga should have been welcomed with sequin-gloved hands.

But no. There were howls of protest that the centre was being “invaded” by Nazis. The report from Out magazine is below – read and weep. Unsurprisingly, the centre did not survive long into the 90s. Well done then to the identity politics crowd!

I once went to a curious function called Sadie Masie at the centre – which as you can guess was pretty much full on S&M. Not being a sado-masochist myself, I found the evening curious but made my excuses at some point and slipped in to the night.

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Ken Livingstone and detention camps for political dissenters


Back in 1983, Thatcher went to the country for a fresh electoral mandate after a rocky first term as prime-minister. From 1979 to 1981, unemployment had skyrocketed and large parts of the manufacturing sector had collapsed. The summer of ’81 saw riots and interest rates were fearsomely high. But electoral salvation came in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands giving Thatcher a huge boost in the polls.

So what was going to happen if the Tories got back in? The leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) Ken Livingstone was interviewed by the New Musical Express a few weeks before the general election and he believed political activists could be rounded up and detained. This was by no means an isolated opinion. Many on the left took the view that democracy was being eroded, power was being centralised, the unions emasculated, local councils abolished and the police and courts being used in a more politically explicit manner.

Ken said he thought camps could be established to hold anti-government activists. The memory of internment in Northern Ireland during the 1970s ‘Troubles’ and use of jury free Diplock courts undoubtedly contributed to this fear among many socialists. There had also been the threat of tougher anti-crime measures after the 1981 riots, which Ken references in the article. However, Thatcher was not about to establish a fascist dictatorship.

Ken sees detention camps ahead
Ken sees detention camps ahead
Ken Livingstone interviewed
Ken Livingstone interviewed

County Hall – when Ken Livingstone headed up the GLC


County Hall on the South Bank in London is now a hotel, aquarium, some kind of horror show, a Japanese restaurant and a McDonalds Рoh, and a ticket office for the London Eye.  It was once the city hall for London Рwhere the Greater London Council (GLC) was based.

Back in the early 1980s, the GLC was led by a much younger Ken Livingstone. He used to plaster the current unemployment figure across the top of the building. As it pretty much faced on to the Houses of Parliament, on the river bank opposite, Margaret Thatcher couldn’t exactly miss it.

But Thatcher got her revenge – by abolishing the GLC.

County Hall - as seat of the GLC
County Hall – when it was the seat of the GLC

Ken Livingstone – always at the centre of controversy


You’d have to be a certain age now to remember Ken Livingstone’s first political incarnation as leader of the GLC – the Greater London Council – in the early 1980s.

I was at college in Liverpool in the early 80s coming back to London for the holiday breaks. The Left in Liverpool and most of the north had what some might term a “workerist” perspective – it was all about class unity and trade unions. Ken and much of the London Left were more into a kind of identity politics or rainbow coalition approach. It was less about “the class” and more about building alliances of “oppressed” “minorities”.

He took up some causes that now are completely mainstreamed – women and LGBT rights in particular. It’s hard to believe but standing up in public and saying gay people should be treated equally in the early 80s was a one way ticket to being demonised in the tabloids. Attitudes on race were, needless to say, shocking by today’s standards.

Where Ken went a bit off piste from the point of view of this ex-workerist scribe was his associating with Irish Republicans and other groups whose political positions weren’t even necessarily on the left. And as a Trotskyist, I rolled my eyes as he invited Soviet representatives to County Hall (now a Marriott hotel near the London Eye but then the GLC HQ).

Where we all supported Ken was his decision to drape a huge banner across the front of County Hall with the current number of unemployed emblazoned across it. It was normally somewhere between three and four million. Official figures and our figures were always at a massive variance.

Thatcher eventually got her revenge by closing down London’s elected body, the GLC. There wouldn’t be another democratic body running London until the Blair government set up the GLA. And then guess who got elected mayor taking up where he had left off……Ken Livingstone!

Here’s the Daily Mail, then, fulminating against Ken for inviting a delegation from the Soviet Union.