Policing history

From Olympia to Hyde Park: British anti-fascism in the summer of 1934

On 9 September 1934, a BUF rally at Hyde Park was opposed by a massive anti-fascist counter-demonstration, coming a few months after anti-fascists attempted to disrupt a BUF rally at Olympia and after a summer of similar confrontations across a number of metropolitan areas in England. This post is based on an early chapter from my book project on the history of no platform, to be published by Routledge’s Fascism and Far Right series.  

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The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was formed by Oswald Mosley in late 1932 and it grew exponentially in its first years, with nearly 50,000 members allegedly joining.[1] Enjoying support from Lord Rothmere’s Daily Mail and other sections of the Conservative right, Mosley attempted to establish the BUF through a series of public meetings, demonstrating its supposed mass support at rallies, inspired by Mussolini and Hitler. There were frequent mobilisations by anti-fascists against these public meetings and rallies in the early years of the BUF, culminating in two events in 1934 that solidified the militant anti-fascist approach of physical confrontation and also revealed the violent nature of the BUF.

Robert Skidelsky suggested ‘[f]or both fascists and anti-fascists Olympia was the epic battle of the 1930s’, explaining:

Fascists looked back with satisfaction on the ‘beating’ they had given the ‘Reds’ and claimed that it had restored ‘free speech’ in Britain. Anti-fascists regarded it as the moment when they unambiguously exposed the brutal face of fascism and condemned it thereafter in the eyes of all decent Englishmen.[2]

Olympia was to be a demonstration of the strength of the British Union of Fascists. As mentioned above, its membership growth had been strong throughout its first 18 months. After several well-attended meetings at the Albert Hall, Mosley believed that a larger venue, such as that of Olympia Stadium, was necessary. Around 10,000 people filled the stadium, with anti-fascists (primarily members of the Communist Party) securing around 500 tickets. The Communist Party portrayed Olympia as a chance to build the anti-fascist movement and confront the growing BUF. Regarding threats made in the run up to the meeting by Mosley, the Daily Worker declared:

Already the Blackshirts have used provocative threats against the workers…

They have made such threats at many meetings, but [past] events have shown that all their thuggish methods were unable to prevent the workers having their say. To-night will again prove this rule…

[T]he workers’ counter-section will cause them to tremble. All roads lead to Olympia to-night.[3]

A counter-demonstration by anti-fascists was held outside the venue, while anti-fascists heckled the speakers, including Mosley, and sought to disrupt the meeting. These disruptions were staggered over the evening, so to ensure the maximum disruptive effect. As The Times reported the following day, ‘The campaign of interruption had been well planned so that it should affect every part of the meeting in the course of the evening’.[4]

BUF bodyguards violently ejected the anti-fascist protestors, with The Times stating the constant interruptions were ‘countered with similar thoroughness and with a uniformity of treatment which suggested a prescribed technique of violence’.[5]The newspaper continued:

Stewards at once made for the offenders. If they resisted ejection the incident at once became an affair of fisticuffs and, if the victim remained standing at the end of his resistance he was seized ju-jitsu fashion and dragged out. Quite a number were borne out limp bodies after the frays.[6]

Once ejected, there were a number of arrests of anti-fascists outside the venue, where further violence was meted out by the police. The Daily Workerreported that outside Olympia, ‘seething crowds of thousands of workers kept up a continual anti-Fascist uproar, despite the enormous special concentration of police forces which had been gathered… for the Blackshirts’ protection’.[7] The following day, the newspaper stated that 24 anti-fascists had been arrested, compared to one BUF supporter, claiming that this was ‘a striking fact, which [spoke] volumes’ about the differing treatment by the police towards the BUF and the CPGB.[8]

Mosley and the BUF complained about the tactics used by the anti-fascists, described as ‘highly organized groups of Reds’, to break up the public meeting. Quoted in The Times, Mosley claimed:

For over three weeks certain Communist and Socialist papers have published incitements to their readers to attack this meeting. The result was that a large Red mob gathered outside the hall for the purpose of intimidating those who entered, and very many of the audience were in fact jostled before they managed to enter the meeting at all.[9]

In the BUF press, the violence was blamed on the Communists, but the fascist response was also celebrated, with A.K. Chesterton declaring it a ‘fascist victory’ and the ‘Red Terror Smashed’.[10] On the other hand, the Communist Party also claimed a victory as Olympia, with the Daily Workerdeclaring the following day:

Terrific scenes were witnessed at Olympia last night, when the workers of London staged a mighty counter-demonstration to the Mosley Fascists. Mosley’s carefully-planned arrangements were turned into a complete fiasco.[11]

There was an outcry by some in the press and some politicians at the violence witnessed at Olympia, which has been documented by a number of scholars. For example, The Times quoted Conservative MP Geoffrey Lloyd as declaring, ‘I am not very sympathetic to Communists who try to break up meetings, but I am bound to say that I was appalled by the brutal conduct of the Fascists last night’.[12] Although a number argued that the tactics of the anti-fascist protestors was just as deplorable as the actions of the BUF stewards. The Timesreported on debates in the House of Commons in the aftermath of Olympia, summarising that ‘members were about equally divided between unqualified condemnation of alleged Fascist brutality towards interrupters, and the feeling that allowances must be made for those who had been sorely provoked by Communists’.[13] Rajani Palme Dutt, a leading CPGB figure, wrote in his editorial for Labour Monthly that it was only because of the anti-fascist demonstrators that ‘the eyes of millions’ had been opened ‘to the real character of Fascism’.[14] Dutt proclaimed, ‘It is solely thanks to their stand that the present universal outcry against Fascism has developed, where before there was silence or indifference or amused toleration’.[15]

Scholars have debated whether the violence had a negative effect on the popularity of the BUF in 1934. David Renton has written that after Olympia, Lord Rothmere withdrew his support and that ‘BUF membership fell from 40,000 to 5,000 by the summer of 1935’.[16] Both Martin Pugh and Stephen Dorril have shown that some were put off by the violence on display at Olympia, but to some BUF supporters, the violent confrontations with the Communists solidified theirdedication to Mosley.[17] The columns of the mainstream newspapers were filled with both expressions of horror at the violence and letters of praise for Mosley’s tactics. As Pugh has explained:

The truth is that while the violence alienated some people, it also added to the appeal of the BUF among the young and militant anti-Communists, with the result that the organisation experienced a major turnover of membership during 1934-35.[18]

Whether the violence turned people away from the BUF or attracted them to it, it was clear that violence was an inherent part of the BUF’s programme.

The violence meted out to anti-fascists who broke up the meeting at Olympia roused the anti-fascist movement. Dave Hann wrote, ‘[a]nti-fascists had certainly taken a beating at Olympia but their growing movement responded in force, with an increase in the number of BUF public appearances interrupted by anti-fascists and the number of people involved in anti-fascist activity.[19] By the latter months of 1934, the anti-fascist movement was confident of disrupting the BUF’s staged rallies and while expecting fascist violence and police intimidation, were also confident that popular sentiment (particularly amongst workers) was turning against Mosley.

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After Olympia, there had been in-roads made by the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party and some trade unions to form a broad anti-fascist front. The Communist Party, transitioning from the ideas of ‘social fascism’ and ‘Class Against Class’ of the previous half decade to the Popular Front against fascism and imperialism of the mid-to-late 1930s,[20] sought to lead the anti-fascist movement and work with the ILP, while criticising the timidness of the Labour Party and the TUC.[21] As the General Council of the TUC debated its approach towards fascism in September 1934, the Daily Worker rhetorically asked, ‘who was it that had led the struggle in Olympia? Who was going to lead the struggle at Hyde Park on September 9?’[22]

On September 9, 1934, the BUF planned to hold a massive outdoor rally in Hyde Park, London. Taking the initiative seized at Olympia and continued through the summer of 1934, the CPGB and ILP attempted to mobilise a large contingent of workers and anti-fascists to Hyde Park. In the lead up to the event at Hyde Park, the CPGB warned:

Incitement to violence and the carrying out of the most bestial brutality is the stock-in-trade of the Blackshirt thugs of Mosley.

Olympia showed this plain for all to see.[23]

‘Should any violence take place on Sunday with regard to the great anti-Fascist demonstration’, the Daily Worker editorial declared, ‘then the responsibility dfor this rests on Mosley’s gang’. With the experience of Olympia in recent memory, the CPGB readied itself for potential violence, while at the same time, it warned against unnecessary violence. Jon Lawrence has suggested that this was part of the CPGB’s attempts to build the United Front with the ILP and a general shift away from violent confrontation by the Party leadership.[24] However it could also be argued that the CPGB (and the ILP) had learnt the lessons of Olympia and did not want individual anti-fascist protestors from suffering the same level of violence at the hand of BUF stewards or from the police. In the end, there was a massive turnout against the BUF at Hyde Park (between 60-150,000), with ‘much booing, heckling and ridicule from anti-fascists’, but ‘no serious disorder’.[25] Two days later, the Daily Worker reported that 18 people had been charged with a variety of offences after being arrested at the Hyde Park demonstration,[26] down from around 24 after Olympia, but with much larger number of anti-fascist demonstrators.

The Daily Worker called the demonstration at Hyde Park a ‘great blow against fascism’ and that Mosley’s rally had been ‘an utter fiasco’.[27] Despite the Labour Party and the TUC not supporting the demonstration and the police presence to maintain order (or to protect Mosley’s Blackshirts), the large crowd swamped the BUF rally ‘in a sea of organised working-class activity’.[28] On the other hand, the BUF claimed this was ‘the most remarkable display of the strength of Fascism ever seen in Britain’, but complained about the ‘intimidation of the opposition and the most definite attempts to create an impression that there would be considerable disorder in the Park’.[29] Even if the large crowds were not dedicated anti-fascists as the CPGB proclaimed, the BUF were vastly outnumbered and failed to win over those who had assembled in Hyde Park.

The momentum shifted away from the BUF after 1934, towards the anti-fascist movement, but also towards the National Government. As a number of a scholars have shown, the events of 1934 had led the National Government to debate laws regarding the policing of political meetings and public order, but shelved at the time. This was partly due to a reluctance by some politicians to curtail the freedom of political expression and partly because the BUF began to co-operate with the police.[30] Martin Pugh also suggests that the BUF avoided large urban cities where there was more likely to be an anti-fascist mobilisation, preferring to hold meetings across provincial England.[31] It was not until 1936, when Mosley and the BUF shifted tactics towards explicit anti-Semitism and trying to attract more working class supporters in the East End of London, that confrontations between anti-fascists, the police and the National Government reached a new crescendo with the ‘Battle of Cable Street’.

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The mainstream media’s take on events at Hyde Park

[1]Michael A. Spurr, ‘“Living the Blackshirt Life”: Culture, Community and the British Union of Fascists, 1932-1940’, Contemporary European History, 12/3 (2003) p. 309.

[2]Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley (London: Papermac, 1990) p. 365.

[3]Daily Worker, 7 June, 1934, p. 1.

[4]The Times, 8 June, 1934, p. 14.

[5]The Times, 8 June, 1934, p. 14.

[6]The Times, 8 June, 1934, p. 14.

[7]Daily Worker, 8 June, 1934, p. 1.

[8]Daily Worker, 9 June, 1934, p. 1.

[9] The Times, 9 June, 1934, p. 11.

[10]The Blackshirt, 15 June, 1934, p. 3.

[11]Daily Worker, 8 June, 1934, p. 1.

[12]The Times, 9 June, 1934, p. 11.

[13]The Times, 12 June, 1934, p. 14.

[14]R. Palme Dutt, ‘Notes of the Month’, Labour Monthly, July 1934, p. 390.

[15]Dutt, ‘Notes of the Month’, p. 390.

[16]David Renton, This Rough Game: Fascism and Anti-Fascism (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2001) p. 139.

[17] Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism (London: Penguin 2007), pp. 298-301; Martin Pugh, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars (London: Pimlico, 2005), pp. 156-163.

[18]Pugh, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’, p. 162.

[19] Dave Hann, Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism (Winchester: Zero Books, 2013) p. 46.

[20]See: Matthew Worley, Class Against Class: The Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars (London: IB Tauris, 2017).

[21] Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain (London: Routledge, 2017) pp. 21-24.

[22]Daily Worker, 5 September, 1934, p. 1.

[23]Daily Worker, 8 September, 1934, p. 2.

[24]Jon Lawrence, ‘Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Inter-War Britain: The Olympia Debate Revisited’, Historical Research, 76/192 (May 2003) pp. 259-261.

[25]Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain, p. 26.

[26]Daily Worker, 11 September, 1934, p. 1.

[27]Daily Worker, 10 September, 1934, p. 1.

[28]Daily Worker, 11 September, 1934, p. 1.

[29]The Blackshirt, 14 September, 1934, p. 1.

[30]Richard C. Thurlow, ‘The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back: Public Order, Civil Liberties and the Battle of Cable Street’, in Tony Kushner & Nadia Valman, Remembering Cable Street: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in British Society (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2000) pp. 83-84; Lawrence, ‘Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Inter-War Britain’, p. 263,

[31]Pugh, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’, pp. 169-170.

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The Poll Tax ‘Riot’: Thatcher, the Met and its aftermath

This is an extract from some work that I have doing with Jac St John, with assistance from the Special Branch Files project and via this project, journalist Solomon Hughes.

The community charge, better known as the ‘Poll Tax’, was introduced by the Thatcher Government as an ideological reform of local council rates, which led to a severe backlash in the final years of her Prime Ministership. First introduced in Scotland in 1989, the flat rate tax was then introduced in England and Wales in 1990, which led to massive backlash, from the Labour Party, but more significantly, from the grassroots.

Although the Labour Party had decided against a campaign of non-payment at its 1988 conference, a number of groups were created by activists on the left to support the non-payment of the tax and assist those who experienced legal troubles as a result of non-payment. The most important of these groups was the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation (ABAPTF), organised by Militant, which used the local trade unions to help build a campaign of non-payment. The Socialist Workers Party, the other major far left organisation in Britain at the time, had a much more ambivalent attitude towards non-payment and the ABAPTF, which allowed Militant to become the dominant group campaigning against the Poll Tax. Outside of the Trotskyist far left, several anarchist groups also supported non-payment, especially the Anarchist Communist Federation who produced a pamphlet called Beating the Poll Tax (ACF 1990). The role that these groups played in the anti-Poll Tax campaign led the authorities to identify these groups as particular threats and pre-empt ‘trouble’ when dealing with them, feeding into the ‘outside agitators’ thesis that has been explored above. This has come to light through Metropolitan Police files released via FOI to the journalist Solomon Hughes in 2005 (Hughes has written about these files here).

Prior to the national Anti-Poll Tax march in London at the end of March 1990, the Home Office’s F8 Division noted that there was ‘evidence of Militant and Socialist Workers Party involvement’ at several regional demonstrations, such as Bristol and Haringey, but this involvement was ‘not uniform’ (HO 1990a). The memo suggested that demonstrations were at their ‘most vociferous and active’ when these groups were involved, but also acknowledged that there was ‘no indication of national co-ordination of the demonstrations’ (HO 1990a). Another memo written the following day further implied that it was far left agitators that stirred up trouble with the police, writing:

It is hard to imagine defaulters and/or dissatisfied payers coming together spontaneously in sufficient numbers with intent to cause serious public disorder (HO 1990b).

With this anticipation of violence, the Metropolitan Police prepared for confrontation at the national Anti-Poll Tax demonstration that happened in central London on 31 March 1990. Over 200,000 attended the march from Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square, but as some marchers deviated towards protests at Downing Street and Whitehall, the massive police presence clashed with some protestors. Danny Burns (1992: 89) described the police attack upon those demonstrating at Downing Street:

300 people sat down, and then the police brought in the horses. Mounted riot police baton-charged the crowd. The crowd, angered by this violent provocation retaliated throwing sticks, banner poles, bottles – anything they could find. Young people, armed only with placards fought hand to hand with police. Some demonstrators were batoned down with truncheons, others has riot shields thrust into their faces.

Further clashes broke out at Trafalgar Square, including out the front of the South African Embassy, and some protestors then ran amok through the West End as the evening wore on.

Addressing Parliament two days later, the Home Secretary stated that by the end of the day, 339 people were arrested (mainly for public order offences) and 86 people were injured. Out of 2,198 police officers on duty, Waddington announced that 374 of them had been injured, with 58 requiring hospital treatment. Materially, there were around 250 reports of property damage as well (Hansard, 2 April, 1990, col. 893). Despite the opposition, including Roy Hattersley, Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, calling for a public inquiry into the riot, the Conservative government were unwilling to allow this, with David Waddington stating that there would only be a criminal investigation into those protestors who broke the law and an internal inquiry ‘carried out by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to see what lessons can be learnt’ (Hansard, 2 April, 1990, col. 895). In reply to people contacting the Home Office to assist with any potential inquiry, the Home Office explained:

The review which [the Metropolitan Police] undertake will be a thorough examination of the police handling of the event right through from the planning stages to the actions taken on the day. It will be very much concerned with operational matters. The Met will not call on the assistance of outside advisers during the course of the review. In the circumstances they suggest that correspondents should not be encouraged (HO 1990c).

Sir Peter Imbert, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told Thatcher that two inquiries were underway, the first being into ‘those who had conspired to organise the violence and those who perpetrated it’ and the second ‘to learn any lessons for future policing of such occasions’ (Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Colin Walters, 3 April 1990, PREM 19/3021, NA). Briefing the Prime Minister on this meeting with Imbert, her Private Secretary Andrew Turnbull stated that ‘[a]lthough the police were under great pressure and showed great courage, it cannot be said that their handling of the event was faultless’ (‘Meeting with Sir Peter Imbert’, 3 April, 1990, PREM 19/3021, NA).

Stott and Drury (2000: 257) have argued that because the police ‘treated the crowd as a single unit, regardless of any individuals’ prior activities or intentions’, when disorder did break out and a ‘small number of demonstrators actively engaged in conflict’, the police treated these individuals with the same ‘aggressive policing activity’ as those who did not engage in this conflict. For Stott and Drury, ‘the police had the ability to impose their perceptions of a uniformly dangerous crowd upon crowd members through their use of indiscriminate coercive force’. Reading the archival record, the police attempted to portray themselves as unprepared for this disorder. Imbert told Thatcher that they ‘expected around 1,500 trouble-makers’, but ‘[w]hat had been completely unexpected was the degree of violence used’, further claiming that ‘[s]ome of his officers came close to being murdered’ (Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Colin Walters, 3 April 1990, PREM 19/3021, NA). For Imbert, the ‘restraint shown was highly commendable’. In contrast to the police perceptions of the day’s events in its aftermath as revealed in these recently disclosed papers, Stott and Drury’s interviews with police officers involved in policing the march show that the police perceived the crowd ‘as a uniform danger’ and ‘chose to act against the crowd’ in combative manner (Stott and Drury 2000: 261).

In 1988, nearly three years after the riots in Handsworth and Broadwater Farm, the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd stated, ‘Public order training has been refined and improved throughout the 80s, and we have provided the police with better protective and other equipment’, meaning, in his eyes, that the police were ‘more skilled and better prepared, both individually and collectively, for tackling disorder and preventing its escalation’ (‘Public Order in the Inner Cities’, 21 June, 1988, PREM 19/3021, NA). However the policing of the Poll Tax riot just under two years later seem to demonstrate that while public order policing had become more efficient, it was still unable to prevent events from escalating to a episode of disorder.

References

ACF (1990) Beating the Poll Tax (London: ACF pamphlet).

Burns, D. (1992) Poll Tax Rebellion (Stirling: AK Press).

Home Office (1990a) Memo dated 7 March.

Home Office (1990b) Memo dated 8 March.

Home Office (1990c) Letter dated 10 April.

Stott, C. & Drury, J. (2000) ‘Crowds, Context and Identity: Dynamic Categorization Processes in the “Poll Tax Riot”’, Human Relations, 53/2, pp. 247-273.

 

New job, new project

I am happy to announce that last week I joined the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University as a Research Fellow in History, working on the ARC Discovery Project, ‘Managing migrants and border control in Britain and Australia, 1901-1981’. Here is a short description of the project:

This project aims to historicise the creation and control of ‘suspect’ migrant communities and the restrictions on the further immigration of members of these groups by the British and Australian authorities from 1900-81. The project aims to scrutinise the creation of ‘suspect communities’ and the policies of surveillance, community control and restricted entry. The expected outcome is to show that such policies and practices did not prevent Britain and Australia from becoming multicultural societies by the 1970s. This will provide a greater understanding of how Britain and Australia’s border control systems have evolved since 1900 and how past historical policies relate to contemporary practices.

I am working alongside Associate Professor Andrekos Varnava, Associate Professor Marinella Marmo, Emeritus Professor Eric Richards and Dr Ananstasia Dukova. A blog/website for the project will be established in the near future.

If you are working in a similar area, please get in contact!

A forgotten ‘suspect community’? Remembering the experiences of the Irish in Britain in the 1970s-80s

Two events this week have brought back the conflict in Northern Ireland to the attention of many, nearly twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement – the death of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and the terrorist attack at Westminster.

Firstly McGuinness’ death demonstrated that while many had accepted the outcomes of the peace process and shift by McGuinness and Sinn Fein away from the armalite to the ballot box, just as many still saw McGuinness as one of the public faces of Sinn Fein at a time when the Provisional IRA still conducted a campaign of armed struggle. The UK tabloids typified this approach, with the Daily Mail putting pictures of the bombings at Guildford and Enniskillen on its front page, while The Sun blazoned the headline, ‘UNFORGIVEN’. From the varied response to McGuinness’ death, it seems that the memory of ‘The Troubles’, especially the actions of the IRA, has not faded from British consciousness.

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A contrast between the UK and Irish tabloids

Secondly in the wake of the attack at Westminster on Wednesday, a meme has been circulated online that suggests that even though the IRA planted bombs in London, the Irish population at large in Britain were not persecuted and that the British public ‘knew’ that any IRA bombings were the result of a few individuals. The intent of this meme is to argue that the British should not blame the Muslim community for the attack at Westminster and realise that it was the actions of a small minority. However this ignores the fact that the Irish community in Britain faced heavy discrimination in the 1970s and 1980s and were heavily policed in the wake of Republican attacks, such as the Guildford and Birmingham bombings in 1974.

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The offending tweet.

As I have written elsewhere, after these two attacks in late 1974, the Labour government quickly introduced the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974. The Prevention of Terrorism Act gave the police and the security services wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention to counter terrorism extending from Northern Ireland, including arrest without warrant, detention without charge for up to five days and exclusion of people travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. These powers were further extended in 1976, 1984 and 1989. The authorities used these Acts to intimidate the Irish community in Britain and their over-zealousness resulted in a number of wrongful convictions, such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Alongside these wrongful convictions, many would have suffered wrongful arrest or detention, or police harassment that have gone unrecorded. It could be argued that the Irish population in Britain was considered a ‘suspect community’.

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The Birmingham Six at the time of their arrest.

The notion of the ‘suspect community’ was first developed by Paddy Hillyard in the early 1990s to describe the suspicion placed upon the entire Irish community in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s by the Prevention of Terrorism Acts. Hillyard argued that the Prevention of Terrorism legislation had, in practice, placed the Irish communists under suspicion ‘because they are Irish’, rather than a specific offence – because ‘they belong[ed] to a suspect community’. This form of ‘institutionalised racism’ was based on pressuring the Irish community into providing information on others within the same community and placing everyone within the minority community under suspicion. Hillyard explained:

To begin with, it appears to be commonplace for the police to try and pick up anyone who is related to, is friends with or has been connected with – however tenuously – someone who is suspected of a serious crime or has been charged with one. After this group has been arrested and interrogated, the police then focus on people related to, or connected with them, and the process continues. This pyramid method of police investigation draws into the net a wide range of people and the main thread which links them all is the fact that most are Irish or are married to someone who is Irish.

The concept of the ‘suspect community’ is not limited to describing the methods of policing enforced upon a certain community grouping, but also encompasses how formal public suspicion by the authorities could be transferred to a public suspicion. Hillyard claimed that the public ‘played an important role in the construction of suspicion’ and in the case of the Irish community, this had resulted in ‘some [non-Irish] members of the public… report[ing] an Irish person’s presence to the police.’ This suspicion was reinforced by the press which promoted ‘the view that all Irish people are suspect.’

In the twenty-first century, scholars have used the concept of the ‘suspect community’ to describe how Britain’s Muslim communities have been perceived in the era of the ‘war on terror’. It has been employed to show the continuities in British national security policy and how this affects perceptions of minority communities by broader civil society. Christina Pantazis and Simon Pemberton define the ‘suspect community’ as:

a sub-group of the population that is singled out for state attention as being ‘problematic’. Specifically in terms of policing, individuals may be targeted, not necessarily as a result of suspected wrong doing, but simply because of their presumed membership to that sub-group.

Even though there are differences in how the Irish were treated in the past and how Muslims are treated in the present with regards to counter-terrorism and national security, but there are also continuities. Making anti-racist statements against the racist backlash faced by Britain’s Muslim communities does not need to erase the discriminatory treatment faced by Britain’s Irish communities a few decades ago. The reaction to the death of leading Republican Martin McGuinness, who renounced the armed struggle and embraced parliamentary politics, shows that the memory of Irish Republican violence has not gone away, but at the same time, we need to remember how the majority of Irish people in Britain were treated (and how they felt) in the wake of this violence.

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Policing football crowds and the aftermath of Hillsborough: What the new Thatcher papers reveal, pt 2

In my previous post looking at the policing of acid house parties in the late Thatcher period, I noted that the Home Office complained:

No amount of statutory power will make it feasible for police forces to take on crowds of thousands on a regular basis. We cannot have another drain on police resources equivalent to policing football matches.[1]

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In the same tranche of documents released by the National Archives at the end of last year was a Prime Minister’s Office file dedicated to the policing of football hooligans and the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989. The file is primarily concerned with the Football Spectators Bill that was first debated in Hansard in January 1989. This Bill was wide-ranging and had been in development for three years, responding to the recommendations of the Popplewell Inquiry, which investigated the Bradford City fire and the riot at Birmingham’s St Andrews ground in May 1985. As well as proposing new criminal offences related to hooliganism, the extension of exclusion orders for convicted ‘hooligan’s from football grounds under the Public Order Act 1986 and electronic tagging for particular offenders, the Bill included a membership scheme, which meant that only registered members could attend matches and tickets for away fans to be highly restricted.

While this Bill was still in development, the Hillsborough disaster occurred and the Bill was temporarily shelved, although as the Hillsborough Independent Panel has shown, the Prime Minister and some of her colleagues wanted to press ahead with pushing the Bill through parliament, despite the need for an investigation into the disaster.[2]

Justice Taylor was assigned to investigate what happened that day, but only a month after the disaster, sections of the Thatcher government were commenting that ‘there was considerable disagreement over the cause of the disaster’.[3] For the government, the reason for the disaster was hooliganism and unruly crowd behaviour. The riots at St Andrews and Luton Town and the Heysel disaster in 1985, as well as clashes between Scottish and English fans in May 1989, had convinced the government that the number one problem at football grounds concerning public order was hooliganism. The Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley complained:

On May 13, less than a month after Hillsborough, there was a serious pitch invasion at Crystal Palace which resulted in 26 arrests. 16 people were injured, two of them with stab wounds. Serious incidents took place all over the country that weekend with more than 300 people being arrested, inside and outside grounds… The existing powers under the Public Order Act have clearly not stamped out the problem.[4]

Speaking at the Football Writers’ Association Dinner in May 1989, the Sports Minister Colin Moynihan spoke dismissively of ‘supporters having to be herded into grounds and protected every match day for their own safety by 5,000 or more police.’[5] The Minister lamented that the police could only ‘contain the problem’ and ‘could be far better deployed in the local communities and towns upholding law and order.’[6]

Another document reiterated this point, stating:

In spite of the efforts of the Government and the football authorities, over 5,000 police officers are still needed every Saturday to contain the problem, to protect the true supporters and those living near football grounds.[7]

The file shows that the government felt that it had to take action, and that the football authorities could not be relied upon to ensure public order at football grounds. At his after dinner speech to the Football Writers’ Association, Moynihan announced:

The Government is not going to allow hooligans to run the show if the football authorities cannot do it themselves.[8]

Although they believed that the final report of the Taylor Inquiry was ‘flawed’,[9] Home Secretary David Waddington wrote to Margaret Thatcher in January 1990 that they should take advantage of the report’s condemnation of the Football League. Waddington noted that the report:

places the responsibility for complacency about safety, for decline in the conditions of grounds, and for poor facilities for spectators firmly at the door of the football industry. It suggests in effect that if you treat people like animals, they will behave that way.[10]

Even though one could say that the Thatcher government held similar perceptions about football crowds in the 1980s, the government tried to portray itself as ‘cleaning up’ English football and taking responsibility after the ineffective management of the football authorities. Moynihan wrote to the editor of The Times, in response to an editorial in the newspaper, outlining the actions of the government to combat hooliganism, especially as the press highlighted fears about English fans at the World Cup being held in Italy during the summer. Defending the government’s record, Moynihan wrote:

This is a record of action not apathy but the Government cannot cure all of football’s problems for it. The essential message of Lord Justice Taylor’s Report is that football must at last face up to its own responsibilities.[11]

The final report of the Taylor Report warned against the implementation of the membership scheme set out in the Football Supporters Bill (and pushed for by the Association of Chief Police Officers), concluding:

I therefore have grave doubts whether the scheme will achieve its object of eliminating hooligans from inside the ground. I have even stronger doubts as to whether it will achieve its further object of ending football hooliganism outside grounds. Indeed, I do not think it will. I feat that, in the short term at least, it may actually increase trouble outside grounds.[12]

With the release of this report, the government decided to drop the push for implementation of the membership scheme, but the Football Supporters Bill was finally passed in November 1989. The Act, in practice, focused much more criminal sanctions against suspected, as well as convicted, ‘hooligans’, and ensuring that football grounds were considered ‘safe’ for top flight matches. For the Thatcher government in the wake of Hillsborough, the focus was on crowd control and dealing with unruly elements of football crowds. The actions of the police, at this point in time, were never questioned by the government.

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An archival photograph of the Disaster from the records of the SYP.

[1] ‘Acid House Parties’, 12 October, 1989, p. 5, PREM 19/2724, National Archives (London).

[2] Hillsborough Independent Panel, Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (London: HMSO 2012) pp. 201-203.

[3] Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Roger Bright, 9 May, 1989, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[4] Letter from Nicholas Ridley, 22 June, 1989, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[5] ‘Draft Speech for Football Writers’ Association Dinner’, 18 May, 1989, p. 5, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Football Spectators Bill: Bull Points’, n.d., PREM 19/3027, NA.

[8] ‘Draft Speech for Football Writers’ Association Dinner’, p. 8.

[9] Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Colin Walters, 23 January, 1990, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[10] Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Margaret Thatcher, 22 January, 1990, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[11] Letter from Colin Moynihan to Charles Wilson, 1 March, 1990, PREM 19/3027, NA.

[12] Lord Justice Taylor, The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster – 15 April, 1989 (London: HMSO, 1990) pp. 168-169.

Orgreave is not merely history, but an important historical incident that needs to be fully investigated

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To Guardian journalist Simon Jenkins, just over thirty years ago is too far into the past for an inquiry into the events at Orgreave in June 1984, when the police reacted violently to striking workers in South Yorkshire and led to the arrest of 95 miners, as well as a number of people injured. Jenkins argues that “we know” what happened at Orgreave on that day, and that it should be left in the past – even though no one in a position of authority has been held accountable for excessive force used by the police against the striking miners. Anyway ‘[t]here were no deaths at Orgreave’, he says, so an inquiry, like those held into Bloody Sunday or Hillsborough, is unnecessary. But this assumes that the only reason to have an inquiry into police actions is when there is a death involved – isn’t the likelihood of excessive force being used by the police en masse enough of an issue to warrant further investigation?

Jenkins is right in that government inquiries often don’t led to any significant reform or ‘lessons learned’. Even the stand out inquiries of Lord Scarman into the Brixton Riots of 1981 and the 1999 Macpherson Inquiry into the Investigation into the Death of Stephen Lawrence have been criticised for their limited impact upon the policing of ethnic minority communities in the UK (especially in the wake of the 2011 riots). But most inquiries held are short term affairs, announced by the government of the day to placate public opinion and often to appear to be ‘doing something’. A swathe of criminological and public policy scholarship has proposed that public inquiries are foremost exercises in the management of public opinion, rather than missions to find the ‘truth’ behind an incident or to determine accountability. Between the Scarman Inquiry into the Events at Red Lion Square in 1974 and the Macpherson Inquiry in 1998-99, there have been numerous inquiries into the actions of the police (and other government agencies) that have resulted in disorder, injuries and even death. Besides the Scarman Report in 1981 and the Macpherson Report almost 20 years later, most inquiries have left little mark on police practice. There are a number of incidents involving the death of people involved in interactions with the police, such as that of Blair Peach in 1979 and Ian Tomlinson in 2009, where there has been a coronial inquest, but no wider inquiry, even though people have demanded it.

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But an inquiry into Orgreave is likely to be much more far-reaching than those held immediately after the fact, similar to the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday or the Hillsborough Independent Panel. These inquiries were held after the initial inquiries, the Widgery Report into Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Taylor Report into Hillsborough in 1989-90, were seen to be deficient by subsequent governments. Both of these inquiries were held over years, rather than weeks or months, and had legislation specifically introduced to open many documents that had previously been classified. In the end, these inquiries identified those who should be (or should have been) held accountable for these tragic events and delivered some form of justice to the relatives of the victims. Jenkins suggests that these were merely costly exercises in legal navel-gazing and that the cost of both inquiries could have been better spent on been given to the relatives of the victims and/or to their communities. However what had driven those pushing for the events at both Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough to be re-examined was not compensation, but for those responsible to identified and where possible, held accountable in some way.

This is the purpose of a proposed inquiry into the events at Orgreave on 18 June 1984. Opposite to Jenkins’ argument, we don’t know the full story of what happened on that day. We have footage, we have witness testimony and the paperwork of those who were dragged through the courts, but we don’t have the police side of the story (or at least the full story). Despite thirty years since the event passing, no documents relating to Orgreave have been made open by the National Archives at Kew and the police have refused several previous FOI requests. Like the documents examined by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, all police and government papers relating to the events at Orgreave should be released to an inquiry and at the completion of said inquiry, these documents (with the necessary redactions) should be digitised and made available for public viewing.

Jenkins says there should be a statute of limitations on inquiries into the past, writing ‘History is for historians’. He seems to be proposing that there is a clear line between contemporary politics and ‘the past’, but it is not so clear-cut. Thirty years ago is not that long ago and there are still people who were involved in police actions on that day in 1984 who could be held accountable in some manner. There are still people affected the actions of the police who are looking for some kind of ‘justice’ and official acknowledgment of what occurred, particularly how much was planned and how far the authorities went in the aftermath to absolve themselves of any blame.

Jenkins equates a possible inquiry with Tony Blair’s apologies for the slave trade and the Irish Famine, but this is false. The ‘Battle of Orgreave’ happened within the lifetimes for many of us, not 150-200 years ago. Orgreave is not merely history, but an important historical incident that needs to be fully investigated. Let’s hope that enough pressure is put upon Amber Rudd (or her successor) to reverse the decision for an inquiry not to be held.

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Photos by John Sturrock, originally from Socialist Worker.

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The Communist Party of Australia reports on ‘the Battle of Cable Street’

The importance of the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ for the Communist Party of Great Britain has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, but I thought readers might be interested in how it was reported on in the Workers’ Weekly, the bi-weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia. On Friday October 9, 1936, the newspaper reported:

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Of interest to the Communist Party of Australia, and to historians of Australian politics, was that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who refused to ban the march by Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, had previously been the Governor of New South Wales. As Andrew Moore has written, Game gained similar notoriety in Australia for the dismissal of the Premier Jack Lang in 1932.

As the creation of the Public Order Act 1936 followed quickly in the wake of ‘Cable Street’, the Workers’ Weekly printed a follow up article denouncing measures by the state to curb Mosley. .On 13 October, 1936, the newspaper published this report:

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The article mentions that the CPGB could not rely on the state to deal decisively with the BUF, as the POA was more likely to be used against communists than fascists, as discussed by David Renton here.

The fascist threat in Australia, presented by Eric Campbell’s New Guard, had resided largely by 1936 and there is little in the CPA’s literature that discusses combating the New Guard in a similar fashion to the street fighting seen in Europe. By 1936, the fascist threat was largely external, with a number of Australian communists traveling to Spain the fight in the Civil War.