Month: January 2015

CFP for new volume on British far left

BRS1977

Evan Smith (Flinders University) and Matthew Worley (University of Reading) are considering chapter proposals for a second edited volume on the British far left in the post-war era (1945 to the present).

We are currently seeking chapter proposals on the following topics:

  • The new (and non-aligned) left
  • Feminism, the women’s movement and the left
  • The left and the politics of sex/sexuality
  • The role of the left in the trade union movement
  • The changing attitudes towards class by the far left
  • Militant/Socialist Party (and the politics of entryism)
  • The left and devolution
  • The Healyite groups – The Club, Socialist Labour League, Workers Revolutionary Party
  • Anti-revisionism/Maoism in Britain
  • The left and electoral politics (Socialist Alliance, RESPECT, TUSC, etc)
  • Anti-War/Peace movements and the left
  • The role of intellectuals on the left (such as Stuart Hall, E.P. Thompson, Perry Anderson, etc)
  • The left’s internationalism in the Cold War era
  • The role of migrants and ethnic minorities on the left
  • Or any other aspect of the British far left if suitably interesting.

We welcome proposals from both scholars and activists, but emphasise that chapters must be presented in an academic format, written ‘objectively’ and with references to primary source materials.

300 word abstracts and a short bio should be sent to: evan.smith@flinders.edu.au or m.worley@reading.ac.uk

Please email either editor with any further questions.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS – MARCH 30, 2015

Details of the first volume, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press, 2014), can be seen here.

How the Aboriginal Tent Embassy challenged the government’s protest laws

Tomorrow is the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside (Old) Parliament House in Canberra. This post is about how the Tent Embassy challenged the protest laws enacted by the McMahon government the previous year, which sought to quash dissent outside the house of Federal Parliament. The McMahon government believed it had the necessary powers to deal with the protest movement that had developed since the late 1960s, but the Tent Embassy demonstrated that political protest was a much more fluid concept and one that puzzled the Liberal-Country government.

Part of this post will be in a forthcoming article on the Public Order Act 1971 and the policing of protest in Canberra in the 1970s (which should be available later this year).

Tent Embassy

In May 1971, the McMahon government introduced the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) to police the growing protest movement in the nation’s capital and to prevent ‘violent’ demonstrations outside (Old) Parliament House, as well as outside the US, South Vietnamese and South African embassies. A week after the Act was introduced, it was used against an Anti-Apartheid and an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, and then in July 1971, when people protested against the Springbok rugby tour coming to Manuka Oval. At these three demonstrations, hundreds of people were arrested for violating the new Act. Despite this seemingly successful application of the Public Order Act in 1971, the McMahon Government soon found that itself debating whether it had the necessary legislation to combat other forms of protest.

On Australia Day 1972, a group of Aboriginal activists, having travelled from Redfern in Sydney to Canberra, erected a camping site on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The purpose of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was to advocate for land rights against the limited measures introduced by the Liberals since the 1967 referendum[i] and to protest against remarks made by the Prime Minister concerning the ‘assimilation’ of Australia’s Aboriginal people on Australia Day.[ii] As Scott Robinson wrote, the Embassy protestors ‘demanded retraction of the Australia Day statement [by McMahon] and compensation for stolen lands, and warned the government that the embassy would stay until these demands were met.’[iii] As the Embassy gained attention from the media, other protest groups and even the diplomatic staff on some Soviet Bloc and non-aligned countries, the Government debated over what action to take to remove the protestors from their site.

On 23 February, 1972, former Prime Minister John Gorton asked the Minister for the Interior, Ralph Hunt, what the Government intended to do with the Embassy protest, to which Hunt replied,

I am, of course, well aware that a number of tents have been pitched outside the national Parliament in Parliament Place. The people concerned are Aborigines who are demonstrating in a peaceful way for a case in which they believe. I must say that they have been quiet and they have behaved and cooperated with the police extremely well… But I think that in the future we will have to look at an ordinance to ensure that Parliament Place is reserved for its purpose – a place for orderly and peaceful demonstration, but not a place upon which people can camp indefinitely thereby perhaps preventing other people from using it from day to day… The Australian Capital Territory police have been in constant contact with them. They have observed every request that the police have made of them, and up to date they have not disobeyed any request. But the question of reserving Parliament Place for its proper intention and proper requirement is under consideration.[iv]

It was believed by the Government and the police that there were no laws to prevent the Aboriginal activists from erecting a camping site on the lawns of Parliament House as the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 (Cth) excluded Aboriginals from being prosecuted under this Act. Roberta Sykes, one of the activists at the Embassy, wrote in her biography (and cited by Andrew Schaap and Paul Muldoon):

At the time, the Northern Territory was just that, a territory, administered by the politicians and public servants in Canberra, and containing quite large sections of Crown land. The government had framed a law that there was to be no camping on Crown land. However, because Crown land in the Northern Territory was home to dispossessed Aboriginal people who had nowhere else to live, this law specifically excluded Aborigines. The expanse of Crown land in front of Parliament House was also Crown land, but it had obviously never entered the minds of the politicians that Aboriginals would set up camp there.[v]

Scott Robinson, in his 1994 article, wrote that ‘the only applicable legislation… was the Gaming and Betting Ordinance, s.19(a), which imposed a forty dollar fine for loitering in a public place’, but this was not used.[vi] Roger Brown has demonstrated that this Ordinance was used in January 1972 to ‘move on’ a demonstrator conducting a ‘solitary picked outside the Israeli Embassy’, but an internal government document suggested that this provision ‘should not be used in view of public criticism of its use in the [Police v] Merhav case’.[vii] The ‘often-repeated story of the legal loophole’, as described by Schaap and Muldoon, does not mention whether the Public Order Act was considered by the Government, and discussion of this new legislation is conspicuously absent from Government documents and Parliamentary debates as well. However if Ralph Hunt’s description of the Embassy, taken from the above quote as ‘preventing other people from using it from day to day’, was used, it might have been possible – at a stretch – to view the Embassy as creating an ‘unreasonable obstruction’ to access to the Parliament House lawns and thus a violation of Section 9 of the Public Order Act.[viii] Simon Bronitt and George Williams have suggested that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was a protest that formed a political discussion with the institution of Parliament and that the Government’s powers to restrict this discussion, due to its proximity to Parliament House, were symbolically weakened by the 1912 High Court decision in R v Smithers; Ex parte Benson, which ‘recognised an implied right of access to government and to the seat of government.’[ix]

In March 1972, the McMahon Government started drafting amendments to the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 that would remove the exception of Aboriginal camps from the legislation and by the end of June, the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 was created that made it illegal for a person to camp or erect a structure on unleased land, owned by the Commonwealth.[x] Believing that this Ordinance was now in effect, on 20 July, 1972, the police removed the structures of the Embassy and eight protestors were arrested. Scott Robinson claims that Police Inspector Osborne ‘made several announcements over the megaphone, warning the protestors to move away from the tents, and advising them that “if you fail to move you may be arrested for obstructing police”’,[xi] but does not say whether this was an invocation of the Public Order Act.

An application was made by some of the Embassy protestors and fellow-travellers to the ACT Supreme Court that the Ordinance had not been in effect (it had not been given notice in the Commonwealth Gazette) when the police dismantled the Embassy’s structures. In September 1972, Justices Fox, Blackburn and Connor delivered the verdict in the case of Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another that the Ordinance has not been given the sufficient Gazette notice before the removal of the Embassy and its protestors and the use of the Ordinance was not lawful at that moment.[xii] In the ensuing debacle, Parliament debated whether the Ordinance should be re-instated and in the final weeks before the dissolution of Parliament before the 1972 election, ‘former government minister Jim Killen crossed the floor to vote with the opposition over the re-gazettal of the ordinance’[xiii] and when Whitlam won the election in December 1972, Labor decided not to re-introduce the Ordinance. As Schaap and Muldoon have argued, ‘having first acknowledged that the Aboriginal demonstrators were technically permitted to camp in front if Parliament House, it proved difficult for the government to recharacterize the Embassy as an act of trespass.’[xiv]

On 17 October, 1973, the Embassy was re-erected on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and lasted at this spot until 13 February, 1975, then established at several different sites around Canberra until 26 January, 1992, when the Embassy was re-built on its original site and remains there until the present day.[xv] Since the mid-1990s, the Embassy has been recognised as ‘a site representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ and a place of ‘significance for the local Aboriginal community’ as a traditional ‘meeting and gathering ground’.[xvi]

aboriginal_tent_embassy_1972_2

[i] Much has been written about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, but some of the best articles are: Scott Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy: An Account of the Protests of 1972’, Aboriginal History, 18/1, 1994, pp. 49-63; Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1996, pp. 335-351; Kathy Lothian, ‘Moving Blackwards: Black Power and the Aboriginal Embassy’, in Ingereth Macfarlane & Mark Hannah (eds), Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2007, pp. 19-34; Paul Muldoon & Andrew Schaap, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation: The Constituent Power of the Aboriginal Embassy in Australia’, Environment and Planning D; Society and Space, 30, 2012, pp. 534-550

[ii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 49

[iii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 51

[iv] Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates, 23 February, 1972, p. 108

[v] Roberta Sykes, cited in Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 546

[vi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 52

[vii] Brown, ‘“And Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock?”’, p. 116; Department of the Interior, ‘Campers on Parliament House Lawns’, Aide Memoire, 27 June, 1972, reproduced at: http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/pdf/d0635.pdf (accessed on 16 August, 2012). See also: ‘New Israeli Protest Called Off’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January, 1972

[viii] Under the Public Order Act, ‘unreasonable obstruction’ means ‘an act or thing done by a person that constitutes, or contributes to, an obstruction of, or interference with, the exercise or enjoyment by other persons of their lawful rights or privileges (including rights of passage along the public streets) where, having regard to all the circumstances of the obstruction or interference, including its place, time, duration and nature’. Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) s.4.(1)

[ix] Simon Bronitt & George Williams, ‘Political Freedom as an Outlaw: Republican Theory and Political Protest’, Adelaide Law Review, 18, 1996, p. 302

[x] Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 s. 3

[xi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 55

[xii] Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another, 12 September, 1972, Federal Law Reports, 19, 1972, pp. 438-451

[xiii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 62

[xiv] Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 547

[xv] Coral Dow, ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Icon or Eyesore?’, Parliamentary Library Paper, 4 April, 2000, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/Pubs/chron/1999-2000chr03.htm (accessed 13 January, 2010)

[xvi] Australian Heritage Council, ‘Aboriginal Embassy Site’, Australian Heritage Places Inventory, http://www.heritage.gov.au/cgi-bin/aphi/record.pl?RNE18843 (accessed 13 January, 2010)

Exploiting the Pearce Commission: The British Communist Party and the national liberation struggle in Rhodesia, pt 2

This is the second part in a three-part series of blog posts about the Communist Party of Great Britain’s relationship with the national liberation struggle in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe between 1965 and 1979. This post focuses on the Pearce Commission in 1972 and how the Communists used it to publicise its opposition to the Smith regime.

Cover of CPGB's International Affairs Bulletin from May/June 1972.

Cover of CPGB’s International Affairs Bulletin from May/June 1972.

After the Smith regime in Rhodesia announced its UDI in 1965, the Wilson government had pursued a line of not recognising the country’s independence before the breakaway nation implemented majority African rule (NIBMAR or ‘no independence before majority African rule’), although there were several attempts at negotiations to try to achieve this compromise. However the Smith regime was unwilling to negotiate with the British under these conditions.

In 1970, the Conservatives were surprisingly elected to power and Edward Heath became Prime Minister. Under the watch of Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home, Britain tried to re-engage with the Rhodesian government and made overtures to the Smith regime on a much more conciliatory basis. This warming of ties between Rhodesia and its former colonial superior led to the establishment of an inquiry into the state of affairs in Rhodesia and the treatment of its African population led by Lord Pearce, which became known as the Pearce Commission.

Because the leadership of both national liberation forces ZAPU and ZANU were both either in exile or in jail, supporters of both organisations came together to help establish the African National Council, which was to act as the representative of the country’s African population to the Pearce Commission. While both organisations helped form the Council, it seems that it was supported more forthrightly by ZAPU (and thus the Soviet leaning communist movement worldwide).

In a 1972 issue of the CPGB’s International Affairs Bulletin, the Party described the Council in the following way:

The ANC was formed in December 1971 as a spontaneous grass-roots reaction to the announcement of the terms of the Anglo-Rhodesian proposals. Although having a formal structure it represents the demands of African people in the country to express their view as to the terms of the Settlement.

But while the Commission conducted its investigation in the first half of 1972 and took note of the evidence presented by the African National Council, it was evident that the Rhodesian authorities were attempting to undermine the work of the Commission and that the Smith regime was unlikely to agree to its findings. As the Communist Party noted in mid-1972:

It is clear in spite of the diplomatic language used, that there was obstruction by the Rhodesian authorities of the work of the Commission which even cancelled visits to certain areas at the request of the authorities. On the arrival of the Commission there were demonstrations, especially in the urban, working class areas which were fired on by the police.

The obstruction by the Rhodesian authorities also extended to denying visas to people coming to the country to take part in the investigation, including Sir Dingle Foot who was to take part on behalf of the National Executive of the Labour Party. This gave the International Department of the CPGB an idea to take advantage of the Rhodesian government’s obstructiveness and possibly make some publicity for the Zimbabwean cause. Documents to this episode can be found in the National Archives at Kew in the file FCO 36/1331.

Letter from FCO to John Gollan (Jan 1972)

Letter from FCO to John Gollan (Jan 1972)

In January 1972, General Secretary of the CPGB, John Gollan, wrote to the Foreign Secretary announcing that the Communist Party was looking to send a delegation to ‘observe the Pearce Commission’s work’ and ‘discuss with the people of Rhodesia their opinion concerning the proposed settlement and their views as to the future of Rhodesia’. In the wake of Dingle Foot’s refusal of entry, Gollan wrote that he hoped that the FCO would assist the CPGB delegation in gaining entry to country. He wrote:

we are informing you of our proposed visit, since we would like to have an assurance from the British Government that it will take the necessary steps to ensure that no obstacles are placed in the way of our delegation.

A.K. Mason in the FCO’s Rhodesia Political Department wrote to the Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Stanley Fingland, and stated:

There is no question that the Rhodesian authorities would be prepared to admit a Communist Party delegation. There is no Communist Party in Rhodesia and any attempt to form one would almost certainly be banned under existing legislation.* Nor could the Communists in any way be involved with the proposed all-party mission which would, of course, comprise those parties now represented in the House of Commons.

But Mason wrote that the CPGB’s request could not be dismissed out of hand, advising:

If, however, we were to refuse even to notify the Rhodesians of the Communist Party’s proposal it would enable them and, no doubt, the Russians and others, to make some cheap propaganda at our expense.

Mason recommended that the FCO tell the Rhodesian regime that the CPGB intended to send a delegation to the country, but would tell Gollan that ‘control of access to Rhodesia is in the hands of the Rhodesian authorities’.

Fingland disagreed with this position and proposed that the FCO should bluntly tell Gollan that ‘the Secretary of State is not in a position to give the assurance which he has sought’. Thus a letter to Gollan from the FCO’s John Graham simply stated:

As has been made clear in the course of debates in Parliament, control of access to Rhodesia has in practice long been in the hands of the authorities there. The British Government is therefore not in a position to give the assurance you request.

At the same time, the Douglas-Home sent a telegram to the Rhodesian authorities informing them of the CPGB’s request and the FCO’s response to Gollan. Gollan replied to Douglas-Home that he was ‘shocked’ at the Foreign Secretary’s reply. Gollan complained that the procedure followed by the government concerning delegations of Labour and Liberal Party members was not followed when it was Communist Party members. Gollan complained ‘you appear to be discriminating against us’.

An internal FCO memo outlined the difference between the circumstances surrounding the Labour/Liberal delegations and the delegation proposed by the Communist Party. These were:

  1. the Labour and Liberal Parties asked the Secretary of State to approach the Rhodesian authorities on their behalf, whereas Mr Gollan did not;
  2. the Communist Party is not represented in Parliament;
  • the Communist Party proposes in effect to conduct its own test of acceptability, whereas the Labour and Liberal Parties agreed merely to observe the Pearce Commission in operation.

Phillip Mansfield, from the FCO’s Rhodesian Political Department, added:

The Communist Party know, of course, that they have no hope of being admitted into Rhodesia and are clearly seeking to exploit the situation for propaganda purposes.

The FCO sent another letter to Gollan outlining these reasons, but offered the conciliation that if the CPGB were intending to send a delegation to Rhodesia, a list of names of those intending to travel was needed so that the FCO could forward them into Salisbury. Gollan quickly replied that both himself and Jack Woddis, head of the Party’s International Department, would form the two-man delegation. Another internal FCO memo said of this request, ‘Clearly there is no chance of the Rhodesian authorities admitting them to Rhodesia’, but conceded that they would communicate the Communist Party’s wish to the Rhodesian government.

I have been unable to locate any information on what happened after this exchange and haven’t been able to access the Morning Star or Comment from 1972 to see if any publicity was made from the Party’s attempt to send a delegation to Rhodesia. But it shows how affairs in Southern Africa (including national liberation struggles) were important for those fighting the Cold War and that any possible involvement of communists (from Britain or the Soviet Bloc) had to be taken seriously by the FCO. It also shows that the CPGB’s attitude towards the national liberation struggle in Rhodesia was changing. While the British party followed a line of no negotiation with the Smith regime (as pronounced by ZAPU) during the 1960s, when ZAPU co-operated with the Pearce Commission, the CPGB followed (although the armed struggle was intensified at the same time). At this moment, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe seemed like the weakest link in the capitalist-imperialist chain in Southern Africa and the ‘facts on the ground’ in 1972 meant that the CPGB, following ZAPU and the Soviets, attempted to exploit the Pearce Commission to put public pressure on the Smith regime.

The next post will look at how the Communist Party reacted to the victory of the national liberation forces in Zimbabwe in the mid-to-late 1970s and how the Party reacted to the negotiated settlement achieved by the British Commonwealth between 1977 and 1979, but also to the fact that Robert Mugabe’s ZANU was the leading force in post-imperial Zimbabwe, rather than the Soviet-backed ZAPU.

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*This is an interesting point. As I had previously blogged, in 1950, both South Africa and Australia were intending on introducing legislation to ban the Communist Party in both countries. The CPSA’s newspaper The Guardian said that Southern Rhodesia was watching these developments and could introduce similar legislation in the future. In the FCO file, the Rhodesian Political Department found out that this legislation had not been introduced and the fact was that ‘there has never been a Communist Party in Rhodesia’. The memo from the RPD explained:

In July 1966 Mr Lardner-Burke announced that preparations were being made for a Suppression of Communism bill to be placed before the Rhodesian parliament. As far as the two Research Departments can tell, no such bill was introduced and it is thought the reason for this might be that the Rhodesians decided that they had sufficient powers under the Unlawful Organisations Act and the Law & Order Maintenance Act to make a Suppression of Communism Act unnecessary.

 

Forthcoming workshop on ‘Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956’ @ QMUL

This is just a quick post to let people in the travelling vicinity of London know that the PSA Labour Movements Group is holding a workshop discussing our book Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 on 28th January, 2015. It will be held at Queen Mary College (University of London) in the Geography Building (rm 2.20) on the Mile End campus. Details about how to find the campus and the building can be found here. The session will run from 2pm-5pm. Here is a breakdown of the workshop:

 

2.00 – 3.30 Against the Grain: an assessment

Madeleine Davis, Queen Mary College

John Kelly, Birkbeck

3.30 – 3.45 Coffee

3.45 – 5.00 Against the Grain: a response

Matthew Worley, University of Reading (co-editor)

John Callaghan, University of Salford (contributor)

All are welcome. I won’t be attending as I am in Australia at the moment. But Matt will be tackling the hard questions for both of us! It’d be awesome if you could all attend.

Review of ‘Against the Grain’ in Antipode journal

This is just a quick post to let people know Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography has published an online review of our book Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956. The review concludes:

With hindsight, the idea of winning the Labour Party as a whole to socialism may seem naïve but it is not clear that Trotskyist groups have been more successful. Even now, if I had to predict what was more likely, a socialist turn in the Labour Party or a revolution guided by a vanguardist party modelled on the Bolsheviks, I would hesitate. Overall, this book suggests that the British far Left is strongest when it engages with broader movements, and that a keen sense of its own limitations would not hurt.

Read the full review here.

Did the Thatcher Government downplay fascist infiltration of football ‘hooligan’ scene?

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After the collapse of the National Front at the 1979 general election and its split into three competing factions, amongst the football ‘hooligans’ was one of the few in-roads that far right activists made during the 1980s. Both the Official National Front (the ‘Political Soldier’ group under the leadership of Nick Griffin) and the more overtly Nazi British Movement targeted young football supporters and those linked to certain ‘firms’. Many of those who were targeted by the NF/BM were already in the midst of a subculture that involved occasional violence and this made recruitment into organised fascist activism more easy. Shortly before it dissolved in 1981-82, the Anti-Nazi League warned about the presence of the BM on the football terraces:

At many football grounds, particularly in the London area, youngsters giving Nazi salutes have adapted BM slogans to their football chants – ‘Adolf Hitler, we’ll support you evermore’ and ‘There’s only one Adolf Hitler’.

The ANL quoted a former BM member who stated:

The BM and the NF approach groups of skinheads and the smoothies and the guys who just look mean, and say to them ‘Do you want a good ruck? If so come to a march on Sunday.’ I’ve seen them do this on the terraces at Spurs, West Ham, Millwall, Orient, Watford and Chelsea.’

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In the recently released documents from the Prime Minister’s Office for 1985-86 by the National Archives, there were several files relating the policing of football crowds and of ‘hooliganism’ in the wake of the Heysel disaster in Belgium, the Bradford City fire and the riot at St Andrews (Birmingham City’s stadium). These files offer a great insight into how the British government, particularly the Home Office, and the various police forces around the country viewed football crowds as a ‘problem’ and the various ways it sought to deal with them (of course, this offers background to how the authorities mishandled the Hillsborough disaster four years later).

Most of the files deal with the issues of crowd control and public order, but in the discussion of ‘hooliganism’, there seems to be little discussion of how the far right had infiltrated the various supporters’ groups and how this might’ve added to the violence witnessed around the country in the mid-1980s. The Interim Report of the Poppleweill Inquiry (set up to investigate the Bradford City fire and the Birmingham City riot) acknowledged that research into fascist recruitment of football ‘hooligans’ had reported this as a significant phenomenon:

Sociological research on the activities of the politically far right at football matches suggests that many young fans who espouse racist views, or who join in racist chants, have little real idea of the politics of groups like the National Front and the British Movement.

Although Justice Popplewell admitted, ‘I shall need to inquire more deeply in due course into this aspect’.

But despite Popplewell stating that ‘[t]here were found on the Birmingham ground a number of leaflets belonging to the National Front’, the report quoted a local Chief Superintendent who was investigating the riot, who denied the presence of the far right:

During the season just concluded, I have not detected any political lobbying adjacent to the ground on match days. I have not detected political activists recruiting or provoking problems.

In speaking notes drafted by the Home Office for the impeding release of the Popplewell Inquiry report, the government seemed to be hedging their bets on whether the far right were a problem at football grounds. In answering the question ‘what is being done to deal with extreme right wing organisations such as the National Front which instigate football violence’, the speaking notes said:

It is difficult to measure the effect which the presence of political extremists has on the level of crowd violence, but we do not rule out the possibility that this is a contributing factor. Anyone with evidence that political extremists are inciting or organising violence at football matches should draw it to the attention of the police.

Included in the file are examples of the fascist literature from the Young National Front’s paper Bulldog, which featured a regular column ‘On the Football Front’. Although prone to exaggeration, one issue claimed that Bulldog was being sold ‘by the hundred outside football grounds’ (including St Andrews). Another issue of Bulldog claimed that a YNF organiser had been involved in a ‘football race riot’ in Birmingham.

These copies of Bulldog had been supplied by Ted Croker, who was the head of the Football Association at the time. In a reply letter to Croker, a government representative seems to downplay these papers as evidence of the far right’s infiltration of the football ‘hooligan’ scene. Neil Macfarlane from the Department of the Environment wrote:

You will realise, of course, that if anything is to be done to deal with specific instances of violence being initiated or encouraged by National Front members, the police will require firm evidence; the Home Secretary has asked that anybody who has such evidence should make it available to the police. Without such evidence, it is very difficult to take any action, however horrible we feel this overt racism to be.

While the authorities were concerned about football ‘hooliganism’ and violence during the 1980s, the emphasis was on crowd control, rather than tackling political extremism (particularly far right/fascist). This is very similar to how the authorities policed clashes between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1970s and 1980s. The police were often willing to downplay fascist violence until it became impossible to ignore. The policing of football crowds and demonstrations were revamped shortly after this with the Public Order Act 1986, but as the events at Hillsborough in April 1989 showed, public order policing strategies were still framed around suspicion of crowds and little concern for those caught up in them.