The musical backdrop to the backlash against Thatcherism

From the late 1970s Thatcherism ushered in an unexpectedly rich dimension of music-based protest and activism that pulled together youth movements from the very communities she sought to destroy.

From the late 1970s Thatcherism ushered in an unexpectedly rich dimension of music-based protest and activism that pulled together youth movements from the very communities she sought to destroy.

She dreaded a multicultural Britain, and instead of working to foster a harmonious future she worked against it, with devastating consequences in the 1980s. Here are three songs from young people in Britain at the time which showed communities suffering, but which also showed them pulling together.

 

  • The biggest Thatcher protest anthem in the pop charts was undoubtedly Stand down Margaret, from the Beat in 1982 (stay watching past the subtitles). The Band epitomised everything that Thatcher hated: multicultural working class youths, evidence of black immigration, and the struggling industrial communities of the Midlands. Their music fused their urban identifies with their struggle against Thatcher’s Britain, producing a positive, uplifting sound.
  • Secondly Coventry band the Specials produced Ghost Town, which spelled out the consequences of Thatcherism on communities, jobs and society in 1981. A 2 Tone Records band – the label founded by Jerry Dammers – the groups was also a merger of black and white youth, performing side by side to symbolise the Britain Thatcher’s government found unpalatable.
  • Finally, in 1981 Birmingham’s UB40 recorded One in Ten, a song about being ‘a statistic, a reminder of a world that doesn’t care’, in their mournful track about youth unemployment. A working class band of black and white youths, they showed that solidarity was possible between the members of the marginalised communities created by Thatcher’s government.

Although these bands were too commercial for some tastes and went on to have huge popular and financial successes that took them away in some cases from the causes they had originally championed, they provided a vision of what could be.

The activities of the National Front were writ large in graffiti around the UK. It was bands like the Specials, UB40, the Beat, and the Selector which showed that a vision of respect, partnership and collaboration could grow between white British people and the Diaspora of the Commonwealth and Pakistan.

8 Responses to “The musical backdrop to the backlash against Thatcherism”

  1. crumbleaddict

    Surely ‘The Selecter’ (pedantic I know…)

  2. Paul Hilton

    I don’t think the word ‘multicultural’ existed back then. I certainly never heard it used at the time, and I was in my mid teens when the ska revival happened in 1979-1980.
    Multicultural Britain? No, only England has ever been multiracial or multicultural. Non-white people are almost as rare as hens’ teeth in the UK’s other nations.
    “Stand Down, Margaret”, an LP track and B-side, was released in 1980 (I still have the 45, with “Best Friend” as the A-side) in my loft. Weren’t The Specials a miserable lot? Yes, times were tough (nobody’s denying that, although it was just as bad under Callaghan’s government), but at least The Beat had a sense of humour, and more variety in their music.

  3. Chris Wheal

    This is not “evidence-based analysis” as your about page claims.

    The whole punk thing at the time was anti-Thatcher – the Angelic Upstarts released an album
    called two million voices in 1981 when unemployment reached two million
    for the first time.

    Anti-Pasti’s No Government was actually No Maggie Thatcher and No Government.

    A lot by Crass was anti-Thatcher – take Sheep Farming in the Falklands or How Dos it Feel to be the Mother of 1,000 dead?

    And what about Billy Bragg?

    etc etc.

  4. JC

    Interesting that these examples come from the first 2-3 years when most of the problems would still have been caused by the economic policies of the previous government. It’s like suggesting that punk was somehow a response to Thatcher (I have heard people say this). How about some songs from the late 80s (not Duran Duran, please).

  5. seotrk4

    my spouse and i don’t think your own word ‘multicultural’ existed back then. my partner and i surely never heard The idea obtained with the time, AND ALSO i are inside MY mid teens As soon as your ska revival happened inside 1979-1980.
    Multicultural Britain? No, Visit uçurtma single England offers ever been multiracial as well as multicultural. Non-white a person are almost Just like rare Just as hens’ teeth in the UK’s other nations.
    “Stand Down, Margaret”, an LP track AND ALSO B-side, are introduced within 1980 (I still have your own 45, throughout “Best Friend” As ones A-side) throughout THE loft. Weren’t your own Specials a great miserable lot? Yes, times were difficult (nobody’s denying that, though This ‘m As bad under Callaghan’s government), but at the least ones Beat had a great sense regarding humour, ALONG WITH extra number inside it is music.

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