What did people around Thatcher think about race relations?

So what did Thatcher and the people around her think about race related issues in the 70s and 80s?

One of her key advisers, Alfred Sherman, had views on ethnic minority issues that would be regarded as slightly beyond the pale in our more inclusive times.   One such was that immigration had been from cultures that were alien to English values including “sex, honesty, public display and respect for the law”.

A recurring theme from Sherman was that waves of immigrants from ‘alien cultures’ had resulted in a loss of control of what it meant to be British.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because Margaret Thatcher similarly remarked in 1978 on TV that many Britons “fear rather being swamped by an alien culture”.

Winston Churchill

Behind Thatcher, on the Tory backbenches, views on immigration and race relations were a touch reactionary.  In one debate on immigration in the House of Commons on 5th July, 1976 –  some rum comments were made.

Winston Churchill’s grandson, who shared the same name but not the same glittering career as the war leader, thought the tolerance and generosity of the British people was being tested to the limit.

We can not fail to recognise the deep bitterness that exists among ordinary people who one day were living in Lancashire and woke up the next day in New Delhi Calcutta or Kingston, Jamaica.

During the 1976 debate, Churchill pointed out that a West Indian had told him at his MP’s surgery that he would remove his daughter from a school, which was 75% immigrant, because she had no chance of a ‘proper English education’.  Churchill added, “that man was as black as your coat, Mr Deputy Speaker”.

John Stokes, MP for Halesowen and Stourbridge claimed that a petition to the Home Office might be replied to in six weeks but an “immigrant leader” who wanted to see the Prime Minister would get an audience in two days.

He went on to claim that a vast gap existed between what he called the pro-immigrant camp – made up of race relations people, intellectuals, the media and do-gooders – and “the ordinary people who look to us in the House of Commons for protection”.

They do not want a multi-racial society.  They do not believe that integration will work.

And in case anybody thought that by immigration, the Commons debate might be referring to all those who entered the UK, George Rodgers – MP for Chorley – put them on the right track.

The difficulties revolve around the colour of people’s skins.  We should bear that in mind and recognise the problem, not avoid it.

And so it went on with Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield, even demanding that the then Labour government apologise to Enoch Powell for the comments they had made after his notorious 1968 anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech.

Three years later, the 1979 Conservative Manifesto would include proposals for toughening up of immigration policy directly under its promises on fighting crime.  It acknowledged that the ethnic minorities had made a valuable contribution to the life of the nation.

But firm immigration control for the future is essential if we are to achieve good community relations.

When Red Ron met Maggie Thatcher

Quite a few left wing firebrands from the 1970s and 1980s have now been forgotten. Who can remember Red Robbo, Red Ted and, pictured below, Red Ron? Yes, such a person existed.

Red Ron was Ron Brown, MP for Leith. He got quite a reputation for being suspended repeatedly from the House of Commons, particularly on one occasion where he chucked the mace to the ground during a debate on the Poll Tax in 1988.

In 1982, Thatcher decided to pay a trip to Scotland where, to be honest, she wasn’t hugely popular. Brown appeared before her to deliver a socialist sermon and as you can see in his pose, he looks rather like a modern John Knox. Despite being an MP, he was still bundled to the ground by police officers.

Ron Brown bundled away
Ron Brown bundled away
Ron Brown delivers a sermon to Thatcher
Ron Brown delivers a sermon to Thatcher

Terry Dicks – an 80s Tory politician

Back in the 70s and 80s, there were Tory MPs whose views on everything from state funding for the arts through to support for LGBT rights were beyond reactionary. They represented a wing of the party that was socially illiberal and at the forefront of attacks on anything that smacked of LGBT, women’s and/or ethnic minority rights.

Not every Tory agreed with them. But they tended to have the loudest (often, Essex) voices and had powerful allies in the tabloid media. They could be relied on to generate endless copy on wicked Labour councils giving flats and houses to immigrants (had to be Asian or black for maximum impact with target audiences).

Enter Terry Dicks. On one occasion, he moved to stop a Kenyan Asian family getting a council house. These were people who had been forced to leave the former British colony of Kenya after independence when anti-Asian policies were pursued. Same thing happened in Uganda. Their business acumen and wealth was resented in those countries so they brought it here to the UK – but not with a warm welcome from certain people.

This Kenyan Asian family hadn’t actually broken any law and the British embassy in Nairobi had told them to come to the UK where they would be housed. Fair enough if Dicks wanted to take issue with the council that offered a house – Wigan in this case – but his ire was directed at the Asian family with language that was provocative.

Not that Dicks gave a damn. This was a man who described HIV/AIDS as a “luvvies disease” when the epidemic was at its height.


Terry Dicks and the Kenyan Asian family
Terry Dicks and the Kenyan Asian family