What we see are a wide range of papers, including the more high profile transcripts of the telephone conversations between Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, where they discuss police requests for equipment, including the use of baton rounds, water cannons, the potential for arming police, and whether army camps should be used to detain the large number of offenders they expected to be arrested.
The documents paint an interesting if not revealing picture of unrest simmering beneath the surface of Rule Britannia at the start of the eighties. Beyond racial tensions and distrust of the police, we find unemployment, pay and industrial disputes. Militant Nationalism is Wales and to a lesser extent Scotland. Irish nationalist tensions in Liverpool and Glasgow. The rise of the far Right and neo-nazi groups. And the role expected to be played by political extremist groups, in fermenting dissent. It's evident that had the extremists, especially the Trotskyist 'reds under the bed', been better organised and capitalised on the situation, they may well have tipped the country over the brink.
But it takes two to Tango, and whilst the government discussed all potential avenues, it refused to be drawn into knee-jerk measures that themselves would undermine British rule of law and society.
"Quiet desperation is the English way"
These papers are available now for free download in pdf format from the National Archives and I strongly recommend you do so rather than revel in the sensationalist headlines about their contents. Unless that is, you want to use the selective headlines "Liverpool to be abandoned" as reasoning or potential scenario fodder for your own revolution in miniature.
But when I saw those sensationalist headlines my first though was "What are Mark and Maff going to make of that?"ReplyDelete
The idea of an entire British city abandoned by law and government punches right through the Winter of '79 concept and lands firmly beyond in the realm of dystopian science fiction, IMO.
But the fact that the idea was conceived, even if rejected, speaks volumes about the mindset of those involved and the different times.
I think it demonstrates that there's a fine line of truth between those who say "It would never happen here" and those who think Britain was one petrol bomb short of revolution.
The ingredients were there but not enough eggs were cracked to bake the revolution cake.
"Liverpool, open city" is right up our street and forms part of our revolutionary triumvirate of Liverpool, Glasgow and Sheffield.
More about that in the New Year as pressure at work brought a halt to the main campaign in the run up to Christmas.
As one who lived through it I agree completely with your summing up. The real heroes were the Labour Movement who finally decided to sideline the Trots and the Anarchists and show them up for the anti-democratic lunatics they really were.ReplyDelete
i'm with the Wing Commander on this; my politics lecturer in 82-84 was adamant that it wasnt a question of opposing the Tories, but what kind of Labour Party was going to do it. Note - the SDP was disregarded in the equation. So, this put Neil Kinnock's battle with Militant in perspective; his achievement was clearing the ground which enabled Smith and Blair to make Labour electable.ReplyDelete
You could also argue that the Miners Strike was another point at which it could all have melted down - though with the Falklands Factor (which Bicheno more or less discounts), Thatcher was unassailable. I'm not as convinced as Bicheno - "Razors Edge" is an excellent book, but I detected a big shift towards the Tories in some of my my family and friends in 82-83 which only eroded very slowly.
I think Mark and I knew when we cooked up W79 that it could only work if we assumed that the incoming Thatcher Govt was more radical, the left more organised and the army more willing to interfere. By army, I think we really meant a shadowy cabal of old school and regimental tie wearing reactionaries.
I agreee. I lived through this period working in London and remember it well. Kinnock was the man who saved the Labour party when he destroyed Militant and the Trot entryists. No Kinnock, no Blair.ReplyDelete
Liverpool was a disaster zone in the early eighties
Democracy needs a viable opposition so we all owe Kinnock thanks whatever our voting choice.
The Miners Strike could well have been a tipping point, but I think the Tory press machine was too well oiled by then.ReplyDelete
1979-81 remains to my mind the last chance for the people to overturn the status quo. Monty Python's timely satire, Life of Brian ("Peoples Front of Judea") accurately summarises the situation in 1979; ordinary people looking for deliverance and leadership whilst those who proclaimed to be the natural voice of the people politik were fractured and too self obsessed to undertake the job at hand.