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.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.