There could not have been a greater contrast on a personal and political level between the outgoing Conservative leader of the GLC Sir Horace Cutler and incoming Labour leader Ken Livingstone. I’d almost liken Cutler to a royalist and Livingstone to a roundhead.
Cutler had the demeanour of a cheerful Victorian cad and villain. Livingstone was the earnest supporter of oppressed minorities. So when the two faced off on TV, there would be no overlap of views or areas of compromise.
Maggie had been in power for eight months at the end of 1979. The Economist magazine (broadly sympathetic to her aims) was making its predictions for a new decade – the 1980s. So how did The Economist think Thatcher was going to fare in the years ahead?
Well, the next election was due in 1984 and they thought that was way too close for a government rapidly losing the level of popular support it had enjoyed in the May, 1979 General Election.
Like Cameron today, Thatcher was pleading for more than one term in office to achieve her aims but at the end of 1979, the polls were suggesting Labour would come back to power. The Economist thought the Labour faces just rejected by the electorate – Peter Shore, Dennis Healey, John Silkin – would be back in ministerial posts.
And there wouldn’t have been much surprise there. After all, through the 1960s and 1970s, Labour and the Tories took turns in power. Nobody would have thought in 1979 that Thatcher would last to 1990. The Economist believed it was “conceivable” that Thatcher would be dumped as Tory leader before 1984.
Europe was a big problem for Thatcher – senior Tories were horrified by her roughing up of the EEC (as the EU was called then). Foreign minister Lord Carrington was seen as a restraining influence on the Prime Minister (he would resign when the Falklands War broke out).
The Economist wrote that Carrington and Home Secretary William Whitelaw might move to “bell the cat” – put Thatcher under firm control and force her into a U-turn towards more traditional One Nation Toryism. She would be forced to adopt a more Ted Heath approach or resign.
The revival of the Liberal Party made a Lib-Con coalition – similar to what we have now – a real possibility. But The Economist thought that Labour – under Dennis Healey, who by 1984 would have defeated the left wing of the party – was more likely to return to power. The magazine correctly predicted that Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams would form a new political party and for a while, that party would exercise a big influence.
So, how wrong was The Economist? The election was called early in 1983; an unexpected war in the Falklands boosted Thatcher; the Labour left put up a stronger fight and Dennis Healey did not become Labour leader; Thatcher purged her enemies within the Tory party and no bell was put on that cat!
In the two biographies I’ve had published – with Neville Staple (Original Rude Boy) and Errol Christie (No Place To Hide) – the same question came up of night clubs that operated a race bar back in the 1970s and early 1980s. That is, in breach of legislation, they refused or curtailed entry to people on grounds of skin colour. You wouldn’t believe this could have happened in England within living memory – but oh yes it did.
The proof? Well, in 1978 the Birmingham night club Pollyanna’s was ordered by the Commission for Racial Equality to stop restricting black and Chinese people from attending its functions. Unbelievably the club not only admitted what it did but tried to justify it. Their argument was that in the interests of “a happy situation”, racial quotas had to be imposed. This included telling a university lecturer not to bring in a group of Chinese students!
Errol Christie told me that several Coventry clubs as late as 1981 operated an effective colour bar making it almost impossible for black youth to enter the premises. Ironically, the aforementioned Pollyanna’s did become a meeting place for Brummie punks and skinheads including a certain Ranking Roger, later of The Beat….who was black.
Out of my personal archive, I’ve dug up an ancient Sunday Times supplement from April, 1980 that was for the most part “celebrating” a year of Thatcher in power. Somehow appropriately, it also had a story about the new musical and style phenomenon that had sprung up alongside Thatcher and pushed punk and 2Tone to one side. It was the era of New Romantic and the Sunday Times had been down to the Blitz to find out who these fops and dandies were.
A 20 year old Steve Strange was identified easily as the leader of the pack. Running the Blitz club in Covent Garden, he would admit 200 “individualists” while turning away 400 who weren’t presumably individual enough. He also ran ‘soirees’ on a Monday night at St Mauritz on Wardour Street – “for intelligent conversation”. The music was Sinatra, Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. All seems a tadge poncy now but that was very much the ethos of the time.
There has been a return to some of the design flare of the New Romantic era on the Hoxton and indie end of the gay scene. Kids are wearing make up again and extravagent, home made clobber. Back in 1980, one 17 year old wouldn’t have dreamed of being seen dead in jeans – a certain George O’Dowd, who went on to be Boy George. “I’ve looked outrageous since I was 11,” he told the Sunday Times.
Like many seemingly radical movements, New Romantic was actually very retro – constantly referencing the Victorian, Edwardian and the dandies of the Regency. It was sufficiently subversive to wind up the usual suspects in those days as well as being very camp – a way that many gay men could express themselves openly and others could experiment with their sexuality.
On the downside, it seemed to me to be politics-free – a recoiling from the anarchic message of punk or social commentary of ska. We were slowly reconciling ourselves to the devil in Number Ten.