Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 2 April 2012

From Tumbledown to The Beanfield: The violent legacy of the Falklands War

I earnt my activist spurs under John Major's government. We thought we had a tough time, thanks to Michael Howard and the Criminal Justice Bill. But with hindsight we had it easy compared to those who fell fowl of Margaret Thatcher's government ten years previously. Then the solution to The Enemy Within was a not a new law, but a policeman's truncheon.

When the Scots Guards crested the ridge of Mount Tumbledown in the early morning of 14th June 1982 and saw the Argentine army running back to Stanley, it marked the end of a remarkable military adventure.

One of the shortest wars ever fought, the Falklands War was the only occasion since World War II in which two nations had settled their differences with submarines, aircraft carriers and amphibious soldiers.

Two thousand islanders were back under the government of their choice, Argentina's brutal military dictatorship was fatally wounded, and an unpopular British Prime Minister suddenly found herself, not only forgiven for the folly of loosing the islands in the first place, but, thanks to a compliant Murdoch press, raised to the status of national saviour.

Having ridden that wave of popularity from winning the war to an election victory over faction-riven Labour Party, the next two years were to see Mrs Thatcher unleash an astonishing level of violence directed at her own people.

The first victims were the miners.

Tricked into a strike they could not win, the miners faced a state on a war footing. Metropolitan Police Officers were sent to rural mining towns were they acted with breathtaking arrogance as if they were an occupying army. Nottinghamshire became a police state.

The miners were slowly ground down, but the killer blow was delivered in South Yorkshire on 18th June 1984 at a place called Orgreave.

The extent to which the confrontation was contrived is controversial, but pickets arriving for the usual pushing match found well laid out car parks and a police army that outnumbered them and hemmed them in on three sides.

At first it seemed it was business as usual, but soon the miners were being charged by police cavalry and attacked by 'short shield' snatch squads. They retreated and, finding themselves blocked in against a railway line, eventually fought back with whatever they could get their hands on.

They were pursued into the village where this iconic photo was taken by John Harris, of a mounted officer taking a swing at activist Lesley Boulton - one of the very few women present on the day.

The strike limped on until March the next year, but the outcome had been decided at Orgreave.

Looking back former miner, turned copper just before the strike, Mac McLoughlin said "I joined the police because I wanted to do something for my community. And I did do something – I helped Thatcher rip apart our communities and destroy our lives."

The miners though had been a macho lot, and on occasion had given as good as they got, but the state's next victims would not be so butch.

Travellers, or New Age Travellers, or Hippy Convoys as they were called at the time, were a reaction to the austerity of the decade. The unemployed on wheels, they were people who'd turned their backs on the sink estates springing up in Britain's industrial towns and cities and found a new way of life, and a community that cared, on the road.

Convoys being driven from one side of the country to the other were a regular news feature in the eighties, a break from the grim statistics of industrial decline and conspicuous consumption of a growing '1%' of extreme wealth.

On 1st June 1985, almost a year from the Battle of Orgreave, a large convoy moved off from Savernak forest towards Stonehenge. Following behind on his motorbike, just out of curiosity, was the owner of the forest, the current Earl of Cardigan. The police blocked the road and the convoy took refuge in a field, where it was trapped.

According to Police Review a week later what happened next "had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners' strike were implemented."

Riot police entered the field under orders to arrest every member of the convoy and what followed was an orgy of violence in which police attacked men, women and children, their vehicles and their belongings with truncheons, fire extinguishers and rocks. When it was over 537 people were under arrest - the most arrests in a single day since the Second World War - and all that was left in the field was broken vehicles, scattered belongings and blood.

That the assault was not followed by a major miscarriage of justice was solely because of the brave stand of Lord Cardigan. Vilified in the right wing press, he spoke out regardless. An unlikely saviour of the Travellers, he later said "I hadn’t realised that I would be considered a class traitor; if I see a policeman truncheoning a pregnant woman (as I did) I feel I’m entitled to say 'that's not a good thing you're doing, officer'. I went along, saw a dreadful episode in British history, and simply reported what I saw".

His testimony at least ensured that the only person go to prison was a police sergeant, although the Establishment contrived to prevent those wrongfully arrested receiving compensation and, no other officers could be prosecuted as they had all removed their ID numbers before the attack.

The third of Thatchers 'enemies within' were football fans.

Football hooliganism was a real problem and not an invented one. Maybe this too was blowback from the Falklands War and many foreign observers linked the two together when commenting on violent Britain. It certainly gave the Police a chance to refine their public order tactics, and long before the Met started kettling anti-Capitalist demonstrators it used the tactics on potential trouble makers.

And somewhere along the line the division between fan and hooligan got blurred. Nowhere is this more striking than the Hilsborough Disaster in 1989. The reason was the disaster was a mistake, a fairly major mistake, but a mistake never-the-less. But what happened next was no error.

Using the conduit of a Tory MP who had supported the death penalty, opposed sanctions on Aparteid South Africa and supported Clause 28, South Yorkshire Police, the force responsible for Orgreave, put out a series of lies about Liverpool fans. Despite the fact that every TV viewer had seen fans helping the casualties and using advertising boards as improvised stretchers, the right wing press still spread the story that they were the villains of the piece.

The current Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, is currently fighting to stay in his job as he was working for South Yorshire Police at the time [Bettison resigned on 24 October 2012]. He claims he was only an ordinary plod, but he has been named by Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Liverpool Garston, as one sixth of a black propaganda unit responsible for the cover up.

What strikes me now about these events, nearly thirty years later, is the utter cravenness of the press at the time. After Hilsborough the Police, a Tory MP and the Sun combined to rewrite the truth in a way that would have made Stalin blush.

But whilst Murdoch's Sun and Maxwell Mirror were as loathsome as each other,  the supposedly unbiased TV news was little better.

When the BBC showed film of Orgreave they edited it so that scenes of miners throwing rocks preceded shots of the police horses charging, when in reality the events had happened the other way round.

After The Battle of the Beanfield, ITNs Kim Sabido, who had given an emotional address to camera saying "What I have seen in the last thirty minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I've witnessed in my entire career as a journalist" returned to the office to edit the footage his crew had filmed, only to find most of it missing.

Ian Harris's photo was only printed in one national paper after Orgreave, whilst photos of The Battle of Beanfield are almost nonexistent as only two journalists were present and one was arrested and the other chased away.

Many people see a conspiracy here, I just see apathy. Nearly ten years after Orgreave I was still arguing with supposedly intelligent people who still refused to believe the BBC messed up the film. I imagine the editors in their darkened rooms thinking to themselves "British Police could not have done this as this is not what British Police do".

There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.

So this is what the Falklands legacy means to me.

If you are a war veteran reading this, I'm sorry. You fought an honourable war, bravely and in terrible conditions.

I've met many of you since, in homeless hostels and mental health facilities, and you seem to be decent people, immune to the triumphalism that marked your return.

But your victory ushered in an age of Barbarism to this country that had not been seen since the days of the Luddites 170 years earlier.

When Mrs Thatcher eventually departs this earth there will be much debate about what to put on her tombstone. My vote is for "Now wash your hands".


Rob Malagola said...

Excellent and sane site (far and few between) and the kind of post that keeps the old heart beating strongly (angrily). Stay straight and true,
for the many battles of this world.

Martin Porter said...

Thanks, you need a bit of anger sometimes to keep you going.

Your blog looks interesting. i must take some time to explore.

byron smith said...

"What stikes me now about these events, nearly forty years later"

Thirty? Otherwise, thanks for the history lesson. As a foreigner in residence, your posts are frequently enlightening.

Martin Porter said...

Err, yes, I did do Maths at school....

I'm glad you like the blog. The third element of Thatcher's 'Enemy Within' were the football hooligans.

A real problem not an invented one, but it now seems that the same officers who lied about Orgreave also lied about Hilsborough. More when I know it.

Martin Porter said...

The Hilsborough story is now out so I've updated the post.