Gay's the Word - the pioneering LGBTQ+ bookshop on Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury - has on display a fantastic array of political badges. They once belonged to Paud Hegarty, the bookshop's manager for twelve years in the '80s and '90s who died in 2000. The story is told here - and in the panel which accompanies the display in the shop..
The badges (pins is the American take) were discovered in an attic eighteen years later - and rather wonderfully, the story of the badges, the causes and movements they celebrated and the man who collected them has a new lease of life.
I didn't know anything about Paud's pins until I chanced across them in Gay's the Word. With the shop's permission, I photographed the five displays and I'm posting them here without further comment. Enjoy!
Here's a wonderful array of badges from the 1970s and early 1980s - a generous gift from a friend. (Thanks Ken!)
The enamel badge showing a safety lamp was issued by the Kent area of the National Union of Mineworkers for the 1972 strike. Kent was one of Britain's smallest coalfields, and also one of the most militant. Only a handful of Kent miners crossed the picket lines during the cathartic 1984-5 strike. Kent had just three collieries in the 1970s and early 1980s - the last closed in 1989, within a few years of the union's defeat.
There are some really nice Rock Against Racism badges - a movement launched in 1976 - and the 'Disband the SPG' badge is a protest against the Metropolitan Police's notorious Special Patrol Group, members of which were almost certainly responsible for the death of Blair Peach at an anti-National Front protest in Southall in April 1979.
The Fares Fair campaign was launched in the early 1980s by Labour left-wingers, led by Ken Livingstone, who ran the Greater London Council - the GLC was itself abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.
There are a couple of badges relating to radical theatre - promoting the 7:84 performance group (the badge reads '7% of the population of this country own 84% of the wealth') and the Half Moon Theatre, then in the East End. And there's that curious 'Save Hackney' badge which looks as if it may have been part of a campaign to save a Lido or swimming pool. Anyone know?
And the two badges not in English - one in solidarity with Chile and the other with Cuba - are in ... what do you reckon? - Dutch? - Esperanto?? - No - they're in Swedish!
... but it's a start, surely!
So, to mark the exact centenary today of the Bolshevik Revolution which swept Lenin to power in Russia - OK, that's just a coincidence, but a happy coincidence - I was given a wonderful box load, yes a box full, of political badges! 520 of them. When I got them home, the first thing I did was a take a long look at them all and count them.
The badge he's holding reads: 'get britain OUT of common market'. He voted 'no' in the 1975 referendum. More than that, as a student at the old Polytechnic of North London he decorated the streets of Holborn and Kentish Town to help get the message across.
The slogan, as he remembers it: 'Say NO to the Common Market, and YES to the world'. Good try - but the referendum vote went the other way.
Werrner's spell in student politics were elongated by his success in getting elected, several times, to sabbatical student union posts. His collection suggests that he accumulated badges at the rate of a couple a week for quite a few years. It's a great collection - and a real insight into the web of interlocking causes and issues which engaged the left (not the far left, as Werrner points out - the Trots regarded the Broad Left as unspeakably right wing) at a time when it still mattered.
You may be wondering what 520 political badges in a box looks like. Here you go:
There's lots of beauties - and rarities- among them ... and some real iconic images. Here are a few of my favourites:
Along with this treasure trove came a box load of Leeds Postcards - the brand leader in radical and alternative postcards. It was founded in 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher's first general election triumph, and it's happily still going. Here's just a tiny sample:
But a century on, let's give the final word to Comrade Lenin. Among the collection is this badge of Lenin and Trotsky together, produced by the Young Socialists (not the Labour Party's Young Socialists I suspect, but the WRP's youth group with the same name). Viva!
LATER: And that phrase 'Wearing Badges is Not Enough' - it comes from a Billy Bragg song from the mid-1980s. Here are the lyrics in full:
Days Like These (U.K. Version)
The party that became so powerful by sinking foreign boats
Is dreaming up new promises because promises win votes
And being resolute in conference with the ad man's expertise
The majority by their silence shall pay for days like these
The right to build communities is back behind closed doors
'Tween government and people stands the right arm of the law
And shame upon the patriot when the mark of the Bulldog Breed
Is a family without a home and a pensioner in need
Those whose lives are ruled by dogma are waiting for a sign
The Better Dead Than Red Brigade are listening on the line
And the liberal, with a small L cries in front of the TV
And another demonstration passes on to history
Peace, bread, work, and freedom is the best we can achieve
And wearing badges is not enough in days like these
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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