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.

My photos from Thatcher’s funeral today


I was on the Strand and while it might have been five deep in Whitehall or near St Paul’s, there were very few people on this central London street.  The empty gun carriage went past and some troops. Then the coffin in the hearse. For somebody who dominated our lives – especially our political lives – so completely in the 80s, I felt very little as she drifted past. But she will always reside in our memories – and on this blog!

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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 – oh, and a ticket office for the London Eye.  It was once the city hall for London – where 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

Was anybody on the People’s March for Jobs in the early 80s?


It all seems a long time ago now – and yet mass youth joblessness is back with us in Europe. The People’s March for Jobs in 1981 was a very big march streaming into Hyde Park and made up of many young people who had come from all over Britain. Grim economic times but a real gritty determination to fight back in those days. This leaflet may jog some memories.

Jobs for Youth leaflet from 1982


One million young people found themselves on the dole in the grim recession that gripped Britain at the start of the 1980s. Jobs Not Dole was a familiar slogan at the time. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out, Out, Out – a very familiar cry on the countless demonstrations. The monetarist economic experiment had resulted in mass unemployment – but for the Tories, it was the price that had to be paid.