Dubbed by the right of the party as a “suicide note”, the manifesto failed to counter the Falklands War glow that enveloped Thatcher and the Tories and the emergence of the Liberal/SDP alliance. The election result was a disaster for Labour taking it to an all time low.
In the early 80s, the Labour Party had two youth organisations that were at each other’s throats. The Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) was under the control of the Marxist group Militant and adopted a hard left programme of nationalisation and the overthrow of capitalism. Since the mid-70s, Militant had been in the LPYS driving seat and even had a representative on the Labour Party national executive.
The party bureaucracy didn’t enjoy this situation so they set up a separate student wing called the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) – under the control of leadership friendly activists. Militant responded with a spirited attempt to take over NOLS. Every NOLS conference became a battleground between Militant supporters and those aligned to Labour’s leadership. The pro-leadership group was initially called Clause 4 but then re-grouped into a faction called the Democratic Left.
NOLS remained under the control of Clause 4 while the LPYS continued with Militant. Eventually, Labour closed down the LPYS at the same time it carried out large scale expulsions of Militants from the party.
The start of the 80s saw some monster CND demonstrations in London. The 1981 demo, which I remember well, attracted at least 250,000 people and took five hours to snake through London to Hyde Park. As we approached the park, I could hear Michael Foot’s voice very clearly – the then Labour leader and veteran unilateralist.
Later, outside McDonalds on Charing Cross Road, some old biddy came up to me and said I was as bad as those Peace Pledge Union types in the 1930s who’d have left us defenceless in the face of Hitler, etc.
The reason for the big turnouts on these CND protests was mainly the election of Ronald Reagan, seen as a dangerous militarist by us lefties at the time. The world was dominated by the superpower struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States and it seemed to be hotting up. There were widespread concerns in the UK over the stationing of American nukes on British soil with Tony Benn calling for the closure of US military bases here.
Even in a lifetime, parts of London can change dramatically and Shoreditch is a huge transformation story. Thirty five years ago, it was a battleground between neo-Nazis and anti-fascists. National Front supporters would strut through Brick Lane intimidating the local Asian population and spray painting swastikas and racist graffiti. And in 1978, the NF set up its headquarters in deepest Hoxton – 73 Great Eastern Street to be precise.
In the spring of 78, the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism organised a huge anti-racist carnival in Victoria Park, Mile End – which I attended with my school mates. In our group was the son of Len Murray, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, a fellow pupil at my school. On what was a magical day, we watched The Clash play in the park as well as the Tom Robinson Band – not a combo remembered much by anybody aged under 40.
Later the same year, south London got its chance to rock against the National Front with a carnival in Brockwell Park. But the word went out that while the capital’s anti-racists were watching some great bands – the Nazis would be taking over the east end. The call went out for some of those who opposed the NF to forego the music and counter-demonstrate against the far right in Shoreditch.
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.