Youth culture

Briefing Margaret Thatcher on punk and pop music (1987)

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(picture from Buzzfeed)

In early 1987, as Red Wedge was underway calling for young people to support the Labour Party, Margaret Thatcher conducted an interview with Smash Hits magazine. The interview was published in March 1987 and featured such exchanges about The Smiths and The Housemartins (who had both been vocal in their criticisms of Thatcher):

Tony Hibbert Smash HitsI do not know if you are aware of groups like the Smiths and the Housemartins …

PM: Yes, I know the Housemartins, yes.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: …who are very left-wing groups, not so much in their songs which are about men and women like all pop songs, but in their interviews they are very left-wing and say “We must get Mrs Thatcher out of No 10.”

PM: Do they? I remember when I went down to Limehouse Studios once, there was a pop group who I was told I would not get on with at all well. Well, I was absolutely fascinated because they were rehearsing for television; it is a highly professional business. The cameras have to come in on certain shots, there is a fantastic amount of energy and of course their voices, and I have watched Elton John too who was highly – I am so sad that he is having this difficulty with his throat – highly professional. I think it has become much, much more professional in the technique you use now. You just had echo chambers in our time but now it is much, much more professional. I do not mind. Most young people rebel and then [end p262] gradually they become more realistic and it is very much a part of life rebelling.

When they want to get Mrs Thatcher out of No 10, I have usually not met most of them and it really is lovely to have the chance to talk to them.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: It is nice to be mentioned.

PM: Yes, it is nice they know your name isn’t it?

The rest of the interview is fascinating about Thatcher’s attempts to relate to the young people of the day. The Margaret Thatcher Foundation has just released some of her private papers from 1987, including the briefing notes prepared for this interview. The briefing notes have several gems in them, such as stating that the average Smash Hits reader ‘feels closer to Socialist policies than to your Government’s policies’ and that ‘You may not enjoy the interview’.

However the best part of the document is the brief note that Thatcher got on the history of punk. Here it is:

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In the interview she refers to punks in the following way (obviously having taken in something from her briefing notes):

PM: …So good luck to your pop groups. They do very well for us for export – they do a fantastic job and if some of them want to have yellow hair, pink hair, long hair, short hair, blue jeans, yellow jeans, or these days, my goodness me, there are some smart ones. Marvellous. When I go and look at some of the clothes for young people, gosh, they are pricey but really I think that the sort of informal period has gone, you know, people much more want to live by rules.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: Well, we have got rid of the hippies and the punks.

PM: I know we have got the punks. The punks spend a lot of time and money on their appearance.

Tony Hibbert Smash HitsOh yes, what I am saying is that we have got the hippies and the punks more or less out of the way and they are looking much smarter these days.

PM: Yes, that is right because it is better, because they like it better that way. One young person said to me the other day. “Oh” she said, aged eighteen, “there are not any rules these days, I wish we had more rules” and you know, some of the rules are coming back. Life is much better when you have rules to live by. I mean it is really like playing football isn’t it? If you did not have any rules by which to play you would not be able to play the game; you have got [end p274] to have rules to live by. Everyone knows where they are. Of course you will have the whistle blown sometimes because not everyone lives by them but life is better when you have some rules to live by and you know what the accepted rules are and that is coming back and that is good. The 1970s I think was not a very good time. Everyone tried to flout the rules and now they are saying “Look, you cannot live unless you have some rules to live by”. Freedom requires some set of rules as well to live by, so all right we have freed it up and you have got to have rules to live by to respect other people’s freedom so if we are remembered that way I think we will have done a reasonable job for young people the world over.

The document can be found here.

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“YOU DON’T WANNA MISS THIS WEEK’S FEATURE CREATURE”: BUFFY’S TOP TEN STAND ALONE EPISODES

It is 20 years since the debut of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a show that has generated much academic and fan-generated writing, I thought I would post this piece that I wrote for All Slay zine back in 2003. So Scooby Gang fans, enjoy!

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There has been much analysis and debate over the story arcs of Buffy. As the show developed, the series arcs became longer and longer, so much so that pretty much all of season 6 and 7 progressed the story arcs. On the other hand, some of my favourite episodes are the stand alone episodes. These episodes don’t further the story arc much, or even at all, but still provide come of the best Buffy moments. So I digress into the world of the Top Ten Stand Alone Episodes…

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED (Season 2, Episode 16)

Synopsis: After being dumped by Cordelia on Valentine’s Day, Xander blackmails Amy into performing a love spell. The spell backfires when Xander becomes every woman in Sunnydale’s ‘cuddle monkey’, except for Cordelia. This results in an obsessive mob chasing Xander and Cordelia into Buffy’s basement. The episode resolves with Cordelia rejecting the sheep mentality of the ‘Cordettes’ and choosing to date Xander, ‘no matter how lame he is’.

Why It Works: Like many of the humorous stand alone episodes, Xander stands as the main character of the episode and it is the second time he’s been rejected by a girl in two seasons. The episode starts off slowly and there is suspicion that it might revolve around Angel’s dangerous new obsession with Buffy, but when Buffy and Amy both start flirting with Xander, the fun begins. The soundtrack of ‘Dr. Love’ works a treat and the interaction of the infuriated Giles, the love-stricken Jenny and poor, hopeless Xander is hilarious. Around the ‘Cordettes’, Cordelia’s acid tongue is at its sharpest, but the episode’s conclusion keeps the show’s continuity and provides the basis for almost a season’s worth of laughs.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: “Do you know what’s a good day to break up with somebody? Any day besides Valentine’s Day! I mean, what, were you running low on dramatic irony?”

GO FISH (Season 2, Episode 20)

Synopsis: The Sunnydale High swim team is winning competitions, but also seem to be losing their skin. The Scooby Gang investigate and find the swim team are taking steroids that have the unfortunate side effect of turning them into sea monsters. Xander’s undercover work lands him in danger, resulting in blood transfusion and the excitement of Willow and Cordelia.

Why It Works: An episode full of red herrings, but also full of one-liners. This was David Fury’s first episode for Buffy and is an indication of the humour present in his later episodes. Xander and Cordelia comes through with the funnies again, both taking a side on the issue of the swim team and its various privileges. Of course, Cordelia’s pro and Xander’s con – until he joins the team. A very light episode in between ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and the season end ‘Becoming’, but very enjoyable.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: And what about that nutty ‘all men are created equal’ thing?
Cordelia: Propaganda spouted out by the ugly and less deserving.
Xander: I think that was Lincoln.
Cordelia: Disgusting mole and stupid hat.
Willow: Actually, it was Jefferson.
Cordelia: Kept slaves. Remember?

BAND CANDY (Season 3, Episode 6)

Synopsis: The Mayor and Mr Trick hire bad guy Ethan Rayne to distract the population of Sunnydale while they prepare a sacrifice for a demon named Lagos. Rayne uses cursed candy bars, sold by the Sunnydale High students to raise money for the band, which turn the adults into teenagers. Giles and Joyce are both affected and although this pleases Buffy at first, it ultimately results in her disapproval.

Why It Works: This episode works principally because the characters’ nuances, well known by this time, change drastically. Although Joyce comes off partially as annoying and whiny, Giles’ reversion to a rebellious cockney and Principal Snyder’s nerdish tendencies make this episode very entertaining. The Scooby Gang play most of this episode straight, even Xander, but the comical performances by the adults are fantastic, especially where Giles and Joyce argue with the ‘mature’ Buffy.

Quotablest Quote:
Willow: ‘Kiss rocks’? Why would anyone want to kiss… Oh, wait. I get it.

THE ZEPPO (Season 3, Episode 13)

Synopsis: It’s the end of the world again and the Scooby Gang must assemble for the fight – except Xander. Sidelined for the showdown, Xander borrows his uncle’s car and after a riling from Cordelia, befriends a group of zombie teenagers. While they plan to ‘bake a cake’, Xander is seduced by Faith, before saving the school from exploding.

Why It Works: Like ‘Band Candy’, the humour from this episode lies in its self-referential parodies. Instead of the overly dramatic apocalypse scenario, Xander’s adventure for acceptance and identity is the main storyline. He goes from scene to scene, trying to fit in, but ultimately finds that instead of trying to be someone else, such as ‘Car Guy’, he’s better off being himself. His seduction by Faith is classic comedy and satire of the usual Buffy structure is a great reprieve from the show’s moments of heavy drama, while allowing Xander to find his own place within the Scooby Gang.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: Yeah, great knife. Although I think it may technically be a sword.
Jack O’Toole: She’s called Katie.
Xander: You gave it a girl’s name. How very serial killer of you.

FEAR ITSELF (Season 4, Episode 4)

Synopsis: Halloween once again provides the Scooby Gang with a predicament. The Frat Party’s haunted house has turned into a real house of horrors, due to Oz’s blood being spilt on an ancient rune. A fear demon is trying to emerge, leading to Buffy being dragged into a basement of zombies, Xander turning invisible, Willow’s magic going awry and Oz changing into his werewolf state. Eventually Anya and Giles rescue the gang, before Buffy stomps the miniscule fear demon.

Why It Works: Although the episode is surprisingly similar to Season One’s ‘Nightmares’ with hints of Season Two’s ‘Halloween’, ‘Fear Itself’ is very good episode. Much of the laughs come from the incidents outside of the haunted house, such as Giles’ ridiculous sombrero and dancing skeleton or Xander and Anya’s interaction. Finally, the appearance of the miniature fear demon and Xander’s taunting conclude an enjoyable Halloween romp. Also notable for the first mention of Anya’s fear of bunnies.

Quotablest Quote:
Anya: What?
Xander: That’s your scary costume?
Anya: Bunnies frighten me.

SUPERSTAR (Season 4, Episode 17)

Synopsis: Jonathan is a world-class superhero, worshipped by all, with Buffy as his sidekick. When a demon arrives that Jonathan is reluctant to fight, Buffy realises something is amiss. With the help of Anya, Buffy discovers that Jonathan has created an alternate reality, which spawned the monster. By Buffy eventually killing the monster, the alternate world Jonathan created disappears, but the advice he gives Buffy and Riley about the Faith incident remains.

Why It Works: ‘Superstar’ removes Buffy as the central character of the show and gives her a secondary role alongside the diminutive Jonathan. As well as Buffy’s venture from the ‘normal’ to resuming her role as the Gang’s leader, the episode’s humour comes from the over-the-top hero worship of Jonathan. Giles’ Jonathan swimsuit calendar and his apprehension in admitting to owning it is perhaps one of the best Giles’ moments ever. Also very enjoyable is the altered opening sequence with Jonathan being very James Bond.

Quotablest Quote:
Buffy: Anya, tell them about the alternate universes.
Anya: Oh, okay. Um… say you really like shrimp a lot. Or we could say you don’t like shrimp at all. “Blah, I wish there weren’t any shrimp,” you’d say to yourself…
Buffy: Stop! You’re saying it wrong.

THE REPLACEMENT (Season 5, Episode 3)

Synopsis: A sophisticated demon named Toth aims to separate Buffy into two different bodies, but happens to separate Xander instead. One Xander is smooth and confident, the other is clumsy and self-loathing, but both believe the other is a demon, or an evil robot. Giles ascertains that both are the ‘real’ Xander and they need each other to survive. Before the two Xanders kill each other, the Gang intervenes and Willow reunites them, despite Anya’s interest in kinky sex games.

Why It Works: By the end of Season Five, all three members of the Scooby Gang have had a doppelganger, but the fact that there’s two Xanders makes this episode exceptionally funny. Xander at his most downtrodden and self-loathing is always going to be hilarious and he is. Smooth Xander is also quite funny, especially when he confronts the Lame Xander. Riley has a rare comedic line, as well ass some classic lines from Buffy and Giles. The scene where Lame Xander tries to convince Willow that he’s the ‘real’ Xander is damn well amusing, and you have to love the Snoopy dance. Additionally, some think that Anya’s nightgown is overtly comical.

Quotablest Quote:
Lame Xander: It’s a robot. It’s an evil robot constructed from evil parts that look like me designed to do evil.

TRIANGLE (Season 5, Episode 11)

Synopsis: While Giles flies to England to gather more information on Glory, Anya (and Willow) is left in charge of the Magic Box. When Anya disapproves of Willow and Tara’s experimentation with spells, they both turn to Xander, who decides to escape their bickering. Left alone to sort things out, Willow and Anya release Olaf the Troll from a bottle that had imprisoned him. Olaf then goes on a destruction spree, ending up at the Bronze where the gang find out that Olaf is indeed Anya’s ex-boyfriend and she had turned him into the troll. Xander fights Olaf and is rewarded with the ‘insane troll logic’ of having to decide between Anya or Willow’s life being spared. However, a distraught Buffy beats Olaf before Willow sends him to another dimension.

Why It Works: Olaf as a mediaeval troll is one of the best characters that the show has created and his altercation with Xander and Spike over ‘plump succulent babies’ and ‘much hearty grog’ is such cheesy dialogue that is also hilarious. However, ‘Triangle’ is all about Anya and her humorous speech. In the previous episode ‘Into The Woods’, Willow took Anya to task about her speech and now the two are at each other throats, but the results are damn funny. Despite the hilarity of Willow and Anya, it is also pleasing to see the two resolve their differences by the episode’s conclusion. Also, this is the first episode for over a season without Riley. Much rejoicing was had.

Quotablest Quote:
Willow (imitating Anya): I like money better than people. People can so rarely be exchanged for goods and/or services!
Anya: Xander, she’s pretending to be me!

TABULA RASA (Season 6, Episode 8)

Synopsis: Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara have learnt that Buffy was in heaven and Willow proposes magic to make Buffy forget. Tara gives Willow an ultimatum to stop using magic. Meanwhile Giles tells Buffy that he is leaving for London. All of the Gang, plus Spike gather at the Magic Box, but succumb to a mind control spell by Willow that goes horribly wrong. The Gang lose their memories and try to figure out who they are and what they are doing. However they are interrupted by a literal ‘loan shark’ and his vampire hoods. The Gang eventually regain their memories and Tara breaks up with Willow.

Why It Works: Again, the humour of this episode arises from the characters’ performing in a totally different way than their usual self. The piecing together of the puzzle and their incorrect assumptions make for amusing viewing. Spike’s realisation that he is a vampire and his parody of the ‘Angel’ spiel is particularly good, but once again the prize goes to Anya and Giles for their routine as a married couple – although one does wonder why Anya remembers her fear of bunnies.

Quotablest Quote:
Buffy: I’ll name me, Joan.
Dawn: Ugh!
Buffy: Did you just ‘ugh’ my name?

HIM (Season 7, Episode 8)

Synopsis: Dawn is head over heels for RJ, the handsome quarterback of Sunnydale High. She starts to obsess about him, even trying out for the cheerleading squad. Only she isn’t the only one after RJ. Soon, every girl who comes into contact with RJ falls under his charm. Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Anya all attempt to show their love for RJ. Xander and Spike realise that the girls are under a love spell, triggered by RJ’s jacket. Before destroying the jacket, they save Buffy from firing a rocket launcher the Principal Wood, Willow from performing a spell and Dawn from being run over by a train. However, Anya’s crime spree goes unprevented, yet unnoticed.

Why It Works: As we saw in ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, love spells make for humorous watching. Dawn’s cheerleader try out is very amusing, yet totally cringe worthy. There are loads of nerd-ish references to past episodes, which make fan boys (and girls) smile with glee. Just before the very serious story arc on Season Seven, ‘Him’ is totally light hearted and fun. The scene from Principal wood’s window where Spike and Xander take out Buffy before she fires the rocket launcher is priceless.

Quoteablest Quote:
Buffy: “Willow, you’re a gay woman! And he… isn’t.”
Willow: “This isn’t about his physical presence! It’s about his heart.”
Anya: “His physical presence has a penis!”

Policing Acid House Parties in 1989: What the new Thatcher Government papers reveal

The latest round of papers from the Prime Minister’s Office have been released, relating to the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1989-90. While files on several topics have been opened, this post will look at the file dedicated the policing of ‘acid house parties’ (also known as raves) in 1989.

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the phenomenon of acid house swept across the UK in the mid-to-late 1980s and while a number of clubs, such as the Hacienda in Manchester and Shoom in London, attracted large crowds for their club nights, raves exploded into open areas that were typical venues – warehouses, fields and other places left vacant by Thatcherism. For a number of reasons, including the noise generated by these parties and the use of drugs, these raves started to draw the ire of the police and of the authorities. One briefing note stated that the ‘main problem with acid house parties is the nuisance caused by the noise’ and curiously, stressed ‘[d]rugs are not the main issue’.[1] In a letter to the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Geoffrey Howe, the new Home Secretary David Waddington wrote that there was also a concern that ‘criminal elements [were] becoming involved’.[2] This concern, ‘coupled with the need to reassure the public that the existing law can be made effective’, Waddington argued, required a new approach.[3] He also noted that 223 parties had been held in London and the South East in 1989, with 96 stopped by the police and another 95 prevented from going ahead.[4]

And so, after a localised and haphazard response by local councils and the police, in late 1989, the Thatcher government proposed a co-ordinated and nationwide effort to clamp down on these ‘illegal’ parties. The aforementioned briefing note outlined that there were four ways to combat these parties:

  1. Under the licensing law that governs public entertainment;
  2. Under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986;
  3. Under the common law powers available to the police to prevent public disturbances;
  4. Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974.[5]

The note stated that all indoor events were subject to licensing laws (particularly the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982), irrespective of venue, and that in some cases, outdoor events were also subject to licensing laws, depending on the local authorities. However the largest problem for regulating raves through this mechanism, operated by the local councils, was that ‘most organisers of acid house parties are flouting the law by not applying for a licence’.[6] A report produced by the Association of District Councils explained the authorities had tried to prosecute party organisers under the 1982 Act in the past, but there were many ‘practical difficulties’ with the legislation.[7] This report suggested that a ‘national code of standard conditions’ be drawn up, similar to the code of practice for music events that had previously been established by the Greater London Council.[8] Interestingly the same document also mentioned that it might be pertinent to take into account the recent report by Lord Justice Taylor into the Hillsborough Disaster.[9]

All involved in this discussion felt that one of the key reasons that the organisers did not seek to obtain licenses for their events was that the penalty was far too low – a £2000 fine and/or up to 3 months in prison. In his letter to Howe, Waddington wrote that the penalties were ‘so relatively light that the organisers of these very profitable acid house parties can afford to ignore the law’.[10] Waddington proposed fines be raised to £20,000 and a possibility of up to 6 months imprisonment, commenting that the Association of Chief Police Officers supported these stricter penalties.[11]

One of the problems facing the authorities was that because these raves could be held in any kind of space, trying to police them was difficult. As mentioned above, indoor events were subject to licensing laws, but outdoor events weren’t always covered. For the police, indoor gatherings were not specifically within their remit, but outside assemblies were, under the Public Order Act 1986. An extension of the Public Order Act to include indoor assemblies was considered ‘contentious’[12] and at this stage, looked like legislative overkill (although similar legislation was eventually passed in 1994 to combat outdoor raves with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act).

In a letter from Home Office official Peter Storr to Margaret Thatcher’s Personal Secretary Andrew Turnbull, he noted that the police were ‘generally relying on their common law powers to prevent a breach of peace’ and that in the past, the police had ‘been able to persuade organisers to pack up voluntarily’.[13] Furthermore, they had ‘on occasion seized sound equipment on the grounds of preventing a breach of the peace’.[14] The aforementioned briefing note acknowledged:

Strictly speaking the police have no power to intervene to stop a party purely on grounds of noise. But if they receive complaints about the noise, they can intervene using common law powers.[15]

However it was argued that the police were often reluctant to intervene in this way, due to the following two reasons:

  1. mainly to the sheer numbers involved in some of the parties – the risk would be too great;
  2. slight nervousness about relying on common law powers alone – this leaves them open to challenge.[16]

It was believed that what was required were greater police powers ‘to act in flagrant cases’ immediately and at the time of night when these parties were occurring. Turnbull wrote to Carolyn Sinclair in the Home Office saying, ‘It will not be sufficient to give local authorities extra powers if they are not around at 3am to enforce [licensing laws]’.[17] The Association of District Councils also called for the police to be given greater powers ‘to seize and remove and apparatus or equipment’ being used by party organisers.[18]

While the primary problem with acid house parties was identified as the public nuisance caused by the excessive noise generated by these parties, the legislation dealing with noise pollution, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 was deemed ‘inadequate to deal with these parties’.[19] It was noted that noise nuisance was a civil offence and the legislation was aimed at factories and other industrial sites, rather than outdoor events. Thus ‘remedy through the courts [was] slow’.[20] The Department of Environment pushed to make noise nuisance a criminal offence,[21] but Turnbull advised the Home Office that Thatcher was ‘doubtful whether greater use of the Control of Pollution Act would be effective as the need was for action at short notice outside working hours.’[22]

Alongside greater penalties under the licensing laws and more explicit powers to allow the police to break ‘illegal’ raves, one of the key proposals made by the Home Office and other agencies was to establish powers to seize profits from party organisers. Powers to seize the proceeds of crime already existed under schedule 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (with a minimum of £10,000 to be confiscated after conviction), and Waddington suggested to Howe that this legislation could be easily amended to incorporate the organisation of these parties into the legislation.[23] On this point, the Home Office’s briefing note stated:

What is needed is a way of hitting at the profit made by the organisers. This should discourage the craze.[24]

It was hoped that these increased penalties and powers of confiscation, as well as more pre-emptive action between the police and local councils, would prevent acid house parties from occurring. The Home Office noted:

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.[25]

Incidentally, this was the argument made by Tony Wilson in the final days of the Hacienda – that the police were willing to police Manchester United and Manchester City games, but unwilling to do the same at the famous nightclub to ensure people’s safety.

The following year the Thatcher government passed the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act, which increased the penalties for organising an ‘illegal’ party to £20,000 and/or 6 months in prison. As the debate in Hansard shows, these measures were supported by both major parties in the House of Commons. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 was also amended to allow the seizure of profits made by party organisers.

However this did not end the phenomenon of the illegal rave and the Major government introduced the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal specifically with raves, which included the seizure of equipment used to put on events deemed illegal. This Act was opposed by many and led to a grassroots resistance by partygoers and activists. But this was a far way off in 1989. We will have to wait a few more years for the internal government records relating to this.

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

[2] Letter from David Waddington to Geoffrey Howe, 2 November, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 1.

[6] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 2.

[7] Association of District Councils, ‘Response to a Request for Information Concerning Acid House Parties’, 9 November, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Letter from Waddington to Howe.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 2.

[13] Letter from Peter Storr to Andrew Turnbull, 4 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[14] Ibid.

[15] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Note from Andrew Turnbull to Carolyn Sinclair, 4 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[18] Association of District Councils, ‘Response to a Request for Information Concerning Acid House Parties’, p. 5.

[19] Ibid., p. 1.

[20] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Peter Storr, 16 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[23] Letter from Waddington to Howe.

[24] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 4.

[25] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 5.

Policing club culture in the UK and the neoliberal city

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This week, famous London club Fabric was permanently closed down after its liquor license was taken revoked, allegedly after police raised concerns for the safety of clubgoers following the deaths of two people this year inside the club. Others have suggested that the Islington Council sought the closure of the club because it was too costly for the police to continue their harm minimisation operations within the club.

Fabric is not the only club to go close down in recent years, as costs for running clubs in the inner city become more and more expensive. Despite the GFC of 2007-08 and almost a decade of austerity in Britain, the rents for venues in London and other cities across the UK have continued to rise. No reports that I have seen so far have suggested that Fabric faced this particular problem and while many have alleged that the real reason for the closure was a desire by the Council for the venue to be turned into luxury flats or office space, the Council did not own the property and would not have made a direct financial gain from this conversion. The counter-argument to this is that in the neoliberal city, the nighttime economy that Fabric was part of was not as desired as that brought by increasing gentrification of London’s inner city boroughs.

A number have likened this to the closure of the Hacienda in 1997 and its eventual transformation into luxury flats in the early 2000s. The Hacienda had its license revoked in June 1997 after the death of a clubgoer earlier in the year, alleged organised criminals working inside the club and the refusal of the Greater Manchester Police to co-operate with the club’s management to conduct operations that would have kept the club open, citing that it was too costly. Before his death, Tony Wilson argued that the Greater Manchester Police conducted large scale operations every weekend to police football crowds, but were unwilling to do so to protect the club’s patrons. But while the Hacienda was eventually sold to developers, the neoliberalisation and gentrification of Manchester’s landscape did not arrive with the closure of the club – it lay dormant for 18 months and work to convert the building only began a few years later. This coincided with the ‘reimagining’ of Manchester’s city centre after a large section of it was destroyed by an IRA bomb in June 1996.

hacienda

Adorned on the luxury flats that now occupy the space of the former club on Whitworth Street.

Club culture in the UK had emerged at the periphery of the neoliberal revolution and as I have argued elsewhere, sought to flourish in the spaces that Thatcherism had made vacant, but had not yet occupied. With this brought the attention of the police and the government and under the pretence of a ‘war on drugs’, club culture in the UK became heavily policed and moved into ‘manageable’ spaces, such as clubs like Fabric. But in the ongoing battle between the desires of the neoliberal and nighttime economies, those pushing for further gentrification of the inner city have won out and even these highly policed and contained venues are no longer desirable.

Since the closure of the Hacienda nearly twenty years ago, clubs like Fabric have attempted to work more closely with the police and there has been a shift towards harm minimisation inside these clubs. But while police practices may have changed, the pressures of austerity have discouraged this. So in the end, we may argue that club culture has ended up in the same wasteland after 20 years of trying to ‘regulate’ it and attempts to make it work within the boundaries of ‘the system’.

 

Full run of IMG’s ‘The Red Mole’ is now online

The first issue of The Red Mole (March 1970)

The first issue of The Red Mole (March 1970)

This is just a quick post to note that the blog Red Mole Rising has been resurrected and is now uploading many new interesting documents relating to the International Marxist Group, the USFI and Socialist Action. As part of this, the blog has uploaded the entire run of the IMG newspaper The Red Mole, alongside most of the run of its predecessor The Black Dwarf. As we wrote in the introduction to our book on the British far left, the IMG had emerged out of an entrist group within the Labour Party in 1965, splitting with the Revolutionary Socialist League that would eventually become Militant. Moving from orthodox Trotskyism towards a left libertarianism (similar in area of the pre-1970s International Socialists), the IMG dived into the radical student movement and the counterculture of the late 1960s, with a particular eye on the ‘Third World’ and anti-imperialism (including heavy involvement in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign). Aligned with those organised around New Left Review, the IMG helped produce an intra-party publication titled The Black Dwarf, which was a mixture of Trotskyism, Third Worldism and ‘soft Maoism’. But by 1970, tensions within the paper over its direction led to the IMG establishing The Red Mole as a dedicated party publication. The Red Mole probably coincided with the height of the IMG’s influence on the British left, with a much more youthful focus than many of its rival publications. It lasted until mid-1973 when the IMG replaced it with Red Weekly, which signalled a change in line for the party.

Flicking through the collection, the thing that struck me was the forthright internationalism present in The Red Mole and the support for national liberation and ‘terrorist’ groups across the globe. The IMG, an influential force in the Troops Out Movement, was particular notorious for its critical support of the IRA during the early 1970s, which is reflected in this paper.

This is now a valuable resource for historians of the British left and I hope that more material follows in the near future. As I have written in the past, we still haven’t seen a recent history of the International Marxist Group!

Thinking historically about acid house & early rave culture: The soundtrack to late Thatcherism

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Most discussions of the soundtrack to the Thatcher years concentrates on the early-to-mid-1980s and the rise of Thatcherism. For example, many have referred to The Specials and The Beat at the time of 1981 riots, Duran Duran and Wham! as the Thatcherite hegemony won the 1983 election and Billy Bragg and the Style Council during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. But I want to think about the soundtrack to late Thatcherism (and the early Major years), particularly acid house and early rave culture.

Exported from the United States, house music made its way into the UK club scene in the mid-1980s and acid house became a phenomenon from around 1987 to 1991, before morphing into various strains of rave music in the early 1990s. The rise of acid house coincided with the opening of new wave of clubs across the UK and beginnings of the warehouse and open air ‘raves’, situated against a backdrop of high Thatcherism, which included heightened deindustrialisation and the growth of the high finance capitalism in the City of London

Thatcher was returned to office in 1987 after her third electoral victory and this could be considered the high point of Thatcherism as a hegemonic project. After defeating the trade unions during the Miners’ Strike in 1985, Thatcher unleashed a wave of privatisation and deindustrialisation across the country. Already under pressure, many heavy industries in the north of England, as well as Scotland and Wales, collapsed, leaving to massive unemployment in these regions. Where jobs were available to replace the traditional heavy industries, they were usually unskilled, low paid and short-term, leaving many without the stability of employment enjoyed by the previous generations.

Meanwhile in the south-east of England, especially in London, the economy boomed, fuelled by the deregulation of the finance industry in 1986. Heavy industry, especially around the East End of London and the docks, also dried up and the inner city began its path towards gentrification. The story since the mis-1980s was that London became too expensive for many workers and those who benefited from the boom in the finance industry moved in.

As the north and south of England diverged upon two parallel roads – one towards a post-industrial decline and one towards a post-industrial regeneration – the emerging youth subculture that rose to prominence at this time was acid house and rave/club culture. I believe that the subculture surrounding acid house and the early rave scene reflected this north/south divide and reflected the two Britains that were developing under Thatcher.

Coinciding with the emergence of MDMA (or ecstasy), the acid house and early rave scene became the focus of a moral panic about out of control youth on drugs and gathering en masse to celebrate this fusion of drugs and music. Unlike punk or reggae (or even rap), this subculture was seen to have no redeeming socio-political features and was viewed as just an excuse to indulge in social drug experimentation.

Many viewed acid house and early rave culture as hedonistic and the pretext to (publicly) waste a lot of money of partying. This was probably true to some degree in the south, where the more affluent young people could indulge in this hedonism and spend a considerable amount of money on weekend activities.

But in the north, acid house also exploded – in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and other cities. In the northern acid house scene, it was not just hedonism, fuelled by a large disposable income, but a chance to escape from dreary post-industrial world that had been delivered by nearly a decade of Thatcherism. Not sites of resistance to Thatcherism, but a withdrawal from engagement with it.

Furthermore, with the decline of heavy industry in the north, factories and fields, once the sites of a booming industrial sector, were transformed from empty spaces into potential venues for clubs and raves – the economics of putting on a show was merely finding a suitable sound system. An enterprising person, the kind of whom was praised under Thatcherism, could hire (or buy) a large PA system, bring in some local DJs and with a little promotion, make a lot of money from those entering (and possibly the selling of illicit drugs).

Unlike punk, reggae or folk music, acid house and early rave culture did not really get political and for most, was more an apolitical rejection of the Thatcherite status quo, using music (and the drugs) to collectively cast off the burden that Thatcherism brought down on young people in the late 1980s. Although I would say that acid house was given a political edge by its crossover with the gay scene in Britain in the 1980s. Under Thatcher, gay men and women were persecuted for their sexuality and the AIDS epidemic and Clause 28 were used by those in power to publicly harass gay men and women, arguing that their lifestyles were deviant. Acid house became the dominant sound in many of Britain’s gay clubs and this deviancy and portrayal as the ‘folk devils’ of the 1980s was transformed into a particular subcultural identity, combining the hedonism of acid house culture with the ‘deviancy’ of being gay in Thatcherite Britain.

However the apolitical nature of acid house and rave culture changed in the early 1990s. Concerned about the amount of illicit drugs being allegedly sold and used in the scene, the government and the police cracked down on raves and dance clubs, using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and a revised version of the Public Order Act 1986 to shut down underground raves and strictly monitor licensed clubs. In 1992, the Major Government started to draft the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill (which eventually became law in 1994), which included an entire section dedicated to the policing of raves. This led to significant political resistance and raves became part of a political battle over the use of public space. Taking some inspiration from the anarchist ‘Stop the City’ protests of the 1980s, a serious protest movement developed, using the method of occupying public spaces and putting on ‘free parties’. This crossed over at stages with the rise of the Reclaim the Streets movement and other green/anarchist protests.

This post has attempted to give an overview of how acid house and early rave culture fits within the wider history of Thatcherism and that of contemporary Britain. What I need to do is delve into primary sources of the period, primarily the documents produced by the subculture itself – the zines, the magazine interviews, the flyers, media reports and government files, as well as any oral history and reminisces of the period. Any suggestions for where to find relevant materials would be greatly appreciated – however, as usual, there are a million other projects that I need to finish beforehand!