"I'm a Professional Agitator"
Here's a wonderful cache of political badges that I have been sent by Mike Sharples - thanks Mike!
These are mainly from the late 1970s and include some of the most iconic badges of that time, including the Anti Nazi League red arrow, the 'Fight Racism' black fist and the anti-nuclear power Smiley Sun. And then there's this one ...
Good to be reminded that lefties really did have a sense of humour!
Mike Sharples tells me: 'I was involved in various political and community arts campaigns in Scotland during the 1970s, including a stint as Press Officer of the Scottish League of Young Liberals (Peter Hain was my counterpart in England at the time), as a community drama worker in Edinburgh, as a coordinator of the SCRAM campaign against the Torness nuclear power station in Edinburgh, and as an editor of various community magazines.
'I collected the badges as souvenirs then put them up in the attic along with other memorabilia such as alternative magazines and posters from the 1970s. We have recently moved house, so it’s high time for a clear out.'
Daphne's badges, cards, + a single which never made the charts: Harold Wilson, 'Let's Go With Labour'
The badges and political ephemera accumulated over a lifetime often bear testimony to decades of political striving, campaigning and service. They are the physical manifestations of a vision - of a commitment to social justice and a more equal society.
I am very grateful to a friend, Ruth Hogarth, for giving me these badges and membership cards of her mother's. Daphne Ritchings will be 95 in a couple of weeks time and is now in a home - I asked Ruth to tell me a bit about her mother:
'Both Daphne and my father, Alfred Hogarth, were in politics before they met. My father was active in the anti-fascist politics of the 30s East End under a pseudonym (Peter Hughes) so as not to jeopardise his mother’s business in Bethnal Green.'
'My mother became a socialist I think when she joined the WAAF in 1942. She joined the Labour Party at around that time and has remained a lifelong member - so nearly 80 years. They met when she - a GI bride with a young son and he a married father of two - went to work for him as his secretary after the war.'
'Between them they had seven children (four together) and we all lived in post-war poverty in a two-bed rented flat in London before moving to a new breeze block house in Bucks in the 1950s. It was at that point they both became trade unionists and Labour Party activists - he worked at Battersea Power station and she was a secretary. They both held seats on the local district council at various points during the 50s and 60s. Because of the war, my mother never got an education and, because of children, worked from home until she was 35, doing secretarial work, typing, sewing, childminding, lollipop lady etc. At 35, she became a legal secretary and carried on working in secretarial/PA roles until she retired at nearly 70.
'Later in life she turned from formal politics to protest - CND, Anti-Apartheid, Greenham Common.'
Quite the choice piece among these items is a 45 rpm disc - a 'single' in the parlance of the times - issued by the Labour Party ahead of the 1964 election (which Harold Wilson went on to win becoming only the third Labour prime minister).
This seems to have been the handiwork of Bessie Braddock - and the record has been signed by her, how wonderful! She was a pugnacious figure - the mainstay of the party on Merseyside. She started out in the ILP, was a foundation member of the Communist Party, moved over to Labour and became part of the 'great moving right show'.
Bessie was a formidable personality and campaigner and was once described as the most well-known woman in the country after the Queen:
And if you want to get a sense of the Merseysound Bessie Braddock style - and of Harold Wilson's introduction to it (wisely the A-side) - then give these a spin:
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!
'Disband the SPG'
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!
'Wearing Badges is Not Enough'
... 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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