By the summer of 1985 I was into politics in a big way. Strangely non of my mates were and I didn’t know any of the people that were involved in the Labour Party before hand. That’s weird looking back at it because as I said earlier, I always regarded myself as bit unconfident when I look back at this era, but thinking about it, just going along when I didn’t know anyone took a bit of balls for a 16 year old.
On reflection I did know one person vaguely through James W. but I don’t recall seeing much of him. He was more SWP.
We did the Friday night boxing up thing for the miners.Food,blankets etc as many of them had been cut off or had furniture repossessed. Amazing sacrifices were made and it’s no wonder some chose to go back when defeat was an inevitability.
What is odd, looking back, is the acceptance by Kinnock and the leadership that the Party rank and file were 100% with the strikers and it was tolerated for people to say so and organise. Now you can be expelled for writing a critical letter to the press, if you are a member and it’s seen.
I was livid with Kinnock and couldn’t understand why he didn’t throw the weight of the Party behind the strikers. I saw him speak at the Barnsley Miners Gala in 1984 and he was passionate in his condemnation of the Tories but he was to be outflanked by Thatcher in two main ways.
Firstly she used the Police as a weapon of the Political Establishment against the working Class. This had never been done before. And it had the undertone of a North V South battle as the Met and Hampshire Police were the main areas involved in the Policing of the Strike.
The facts are not disputed now, even by the Tories. They set up exclusion zones around pit villages. Detained illegally hundreds of people and "held" them in police wagons so they couldn’t be active on picket lines or whatever, meetings etc.
Cars were stopped whether or not they were involved and not allowed to travel. Then on at least two occasions that I heard first hand, the Police moved into villages and smashed people’s houses up.
And secondly the media were virtually all Pro Tory. Thatcher had the print press in her pocket and the TV and radio people were craven in their non reporting. The BBC had been the victim of a sustained amount of pressure from the Government over perceived bias.
She got the Police to raid the BBC over a critical documentary (“At The Edge of the Union“) which exposed brutality in Northern Ireland by the RUC and Crown Forces, in collusion with Loyalist Paramilitary organisations, and had some extra ordinary interview footage with paramilitary types. You can hum and ha about this but the BBC has to have the right to make it’s own editorial decisions. It would have gone all the way up the line before getting the thumbs up.
This was a "Hutton" moment and saw the Beeb roll over on so many levels.
Tony Blair learnt from this regarding, Iraq and we have seen a concerted campaign to make the BBC do as it’s told.
So the Tories held all the trump cards and Kinnock reasoned the miners were going to lose, and it wasn’t worth destroying the Party as well.
The excuse used was "violence" on behalf of the pickets. Well from what I saw on the two occasions I joined picketing, it was surprising how good humoured the miners were under such provocation.
Being taunted by cockney coppers but they laughed it off. Amazing. "We are better than them. They are victims of her as well. The difference is we know we are".
If you think about it, those Police Officer’s houses were paid for by the strike but could they sustain the repayments when interest rates were 15% thanks to Lawson? And Police pay was amongst the worst in Europe by the end of the Tory era. She used them and them binned them when the job was done.
Bitter defeat for the Miners and a period of disillusionment for me. Many felt the same. I never gave up the Labour Party but I felt a more radical solution was needed, as it seemed the Tory stranglehold over the Southern Working Class and women (the two groups who decide who wins) seemed unbreakable.
Thatcher delivered a perception of affluence via Council house sales that wasn’t really true but people bought into it.
When I went to University in Ireland (September 1986) there was a Labour Club but the Party wasn’t allowed to organise in Ulster, and I didn’t fancy the SDLP as they were overwhelmingly Catholic and I don’t believe in such stupid distinctions. I mean you wouldn’t get one Labour Party for people with brown hair and one for blonds.
I met Mike Fisher and we became good mates. He had a similar upbringing to me. White collar working class and we joined up with Militant Tendency who were Trotskyites.
We were (although we didn’t know it at the time) in good company. Milburn, Blunkett, Darling, Hewitt and other Cabinet Ministers were involved or supportive at the time.
My core values have never changed. Strong and accountable Public Services free from Private control, disarmament, fair taxes, liberation for women and minorities (but not at the expense of the white working class), peace and real democracy.
Militant reflected this and had a radical agenda but the main reason for me was the rejection of Sectarian violence, and an analysis that the root cause of the War was successive British Governments policy of divide and rule, which made it impossible for the Protestant and Catholic Working Classes to empathise with each other, and to see the reasons for their misery, which they ended up taking out on each other.
Some sections of the Left talked about the dilemma of the IRA campaign. That’s a no brainer for me.
It’s always wrong to kill people except in extremis. And there was no need if you unite people in peaceful protest and civil disobedience as NICRA was doing in the late sixties. The authorities will always over react and democracies can’t sustain the bad publicity for long. MLK and Gandhi proved it.
And the real tragedy and clincher for me, is working class people killing each other for a Socialist, or anyone with an ounce humanity, is complete anathema.
The SWP and Derry journalist Eamonn McCann spoke about the IRA as the only party in town when it came to fighting the ruling Orange Class.
That would be why the IRA mainly killed fellow workers then?
I have a lot of time for McCann. I had a few bevvies with him on occasions and he is very committed and good company. I admit I hero worshipped him a bit for his involvement in the 1969 Battle of the Bogside, plus his brilliant book "War and Irish Town".He had lived it and deserved to be listened to. And he wrote for Hot Press which made him Ultra Cool for me. He was one of the only critics of Live Aid (wrongly in my view but good luck to him) and the ill thought out Self Aid (an attempt to raise the issues of Mass Unemployment and Emigration in the Republic).
But his support for the IRA at (meetings in Derry but not in his column) ruled me out of getting involved.
He is a denier of this now and his forward to the new edition of the book is breathtakingly revisionist.
In 1995 at a meeting in London, I quoted his speech from 1988 in Derry. He went mental and accused me of being a plant and a stooge. But I know, and so does he.
Our 1986 Irish Militant Cell were a varied lot. Two students. A Secondary School Head teacher, postal and NHS workers and a lecturer from our University in Coleraine.
We mainly concentrated on paper sales in the Uni (successful as most Lefty Students will support each other) and in Belfast. We did one outside the FE college on the Falls Road. Stupid and naive but no one of any importance saw us. The IRA are not to be messed with and a bloke I had heard mentioned was killed because he upset some local "hard" man in Tyrone. It’s all about "respect".Very primeval.
In addition we supported the local Hospital Campaign to try and bring awareness that the Tories hated all working people. That did well and I was proud to see Trade Union leaders from both communities involved.
Unfortunately the security forces wildly over estimated our influence and tapped our phone and interfered with our mail. We had a guy on the inside at BT, and Special Branch were stupid enough to publish a memo which he showed to us.
Of course we thought it was great but we would have been laughing on the other side of our faces if anything had happened and we got arrested.
I have often been the recipient of routine harassment by the Police when coming and going out of the UK and wonder if this is the reason.
I was openly in Militant when I returned to the UK and in 1988 I worked for the Labour Party in Hillingdon on the Europe elections. No one gave a ding dang dong. I was a Socialist and a hard worker so who cared?
The Election defeat of 1987 and subsequent events such as 10% inflation and the fact we couldn’t afford a house and were paying £500 a month on rent, made me wise up to the fact we had to get the Tories out, and if that meant tempering stuff to get elected then so be it.
This affected me in Ireland but much more so back in the UK and especially when I started teaching. You can be all principled when it doesn’t really matter to you who is in power.
That’s why all these people who wouldn’t vote Labour last time hack me off. They are mainly Middle Class professional types who read the Guardian and live in the suburbs. Hmmm Wonder who THAT could be.
I had an almighty row with a Militant guy selling papers on this very issue a couple of years ago. The real losers are the people whom we were growing up with, plus the real poor and dispossessed. Do you think the Tories would have even thought of SureStart? Nuff said.
I became an activist in Hillingdon and we had a ball. My father in law was a stalwart.
Quite the best bloke I ever had the pleasure to know. And a real Socialist and Union man. Totally top man and I miss him a lot. We argued like mad about politics but he was right. Bugger the minutiae. Get them out!
In our Ward of Hillingdon North we had been beaten into third place in the previous Locals, but work,work,work saw us get the two Johns elected to the council. We canvassed every house face to face twice over four elections and everyone knew us and knew we would deliver.
Some great but slightly mental characters. AB..I got stitched up as the new boy in 88 when it came to canvassing partners. Off his head.
SL…Statistics mad. JL. Fantastic committed guy. Bus driver. Deaf and shouted like mad. Committee Room in the 1990 locals saw the Bunk man call around regarding his kids never going to school due to being on Party business.
JB.. .Former alcoholic. Still a bit mad. Let me use his house whilst on holiday to prepare for my wedding. His son came back on the morning.20 blokes crashed all over. No problem.
This brings me to the 1992 General Election. Nationally very close but we were ahead going into the last week, but Major was personally popular and was in a honeymoon period after she was deposed.
Plus they had the press and The Scum and Express were vicious virtually saying do you want a guy with ginger hair as PM? It was that low. And the Anti Welsh stuff…..
Smith messed up with a Shadow Budget that contained Tax rises. Honest but stupid. The Tories put them up far more in the end!
However I was on Planet Labour and couldn’t see how we could lose. Who could possibly vote for that lot?
14 million, it seems. The biggest Popular Vote in history
We received such support on the doorsteps and although we couldn’t win the seat we wanted our vote to be solid and it was in our ward. Everyone was saying do it for us! I felt ten foot tall walking home after the polls shut. People beeping and shouting support.
But horror was to unfold as we watched the results come in and see that Major had achieved the biggest popular vote in history to win fairly easily with a majority of over 20 seats. Given the state of the economy it was more fear of a Labour administration than a positive Tory vote.
I was devastated. I just couldn’t believe it. I remember haranguing my Year 10 class about how my age group had fucked it up and how they must not do the same. I’m sure they were enthralled.
We had to change or face oblivion and resign people to exploitation for another 10 years.
And we did it. 1997 May 1st. History was made amd my Father in Law was proved right. If only….
*P.S. Re 92 election. Two things…One funny the other certainly not.
1) IS is now Douglas Alexander’s press secretary. In 1992 he was an "Anarchist" and whilst staying at ours I made him come canvassing with me, early on a freezing Sunday morning in March after an extremely boozy, and late night.
We were both hungover but he complained about me "selling out" and the Labour "were no better than the Tories".
Now he defends the Iraq War for a living. Ouch. Sorry mate. Had to say it!
2) The BNP. I had erased this from my mind. They stood against us in a diverse Constituency and were particularly interested in our ward as it was very working class and had a fair amount of British Asian voters.
We weren’t too concerned until they followed us on a dark Monday night at the start of the campaign.
Nowt was said but it was enough to shake me up, let me tell you. I was assured this was standard practice and they would leave us alone thinking they had scared us.
I’m sad to say it wasn’t the end and the following Sunday they followed me and SS (Jewish so he had special reason) and we were getting more and more worried. Then two of them came over and said "We know where you live".I could feel the blood pumping in my ears, but didn’t flinch and just carried on. Four blokes against me and a pensioner. Big fucking men eh? I said call the Cops but the others said it would up the ante.
The next Tuesday I was bringing 15 Year 7 girls back from a church visit.15 BNP types were waiting to leaflet white pupils and intimidate Asian ones. They racially abused the kids and threatened me. I said heads down and run!
I called the Old Bill. They came half and hour later so you can see how seriously they took it all.
Don’t be getting me started on THAT issue!!