Anti-Thatcher moments

Crass to Katharine – how Thatcher proved grist to the mill of radicals then and now

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Katharine Hamnett's T-Shirt

The photograph of Katherine Hamnett meeting Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street in 1984 is embedded in culture way beyond fashion. Queen of the protest garm Hamnett's 58% DON'T WANT PERSHING t-shirt spoke the wishes of the British public, bold as brass, opposing the stationing of nuclear missiles in the UK. Legend goes that Thatcher "made a noise like a chicken" on noticing the text, which was hidden under Hamnett's jacket and removed just before their introduction. Legend also has it the designer faced a bankrupting audit as punishment for the embarrassment.  

Crass's "How Does It Feel To Be The Mother of 1,000 Dead?"

Besides inciting anarchism and DIY ethics through their music, British punk rock band, Crass, were known for their use of squatting, hoaxes, and other forms of 'direct action' in the 70s. Promoting anti-fascism and anti-capitalism through sound collages, graphics, albums, and films, in 1982 the members helped co-ordinate a 24-hour squat of the empty Zig Zag club in West London with around 500 people to prove "that the underground punk scene could handle itself responsibly when it had to and that music really could be enjoyed free of the restraints imposed upon it by corporate industry". The collective were among the most brazen musical opponents of Thatcher. Their songs 'How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead?' and 'Sheep Farming in the Falklands' addressing the Falklands war prompted Conservative MP Timothy Eggar to attempt to prosecute the band under the Obscene Publications Act. 

Derek Jarman's Hymn For Thatcher

In his 1993 polemical book At Your Own Risk, filmmaker and activist Derek Jarman wrote "on December 1986, finding I was body positive, I set myself a target: I would disclose my secret and survive Margaret Thatcher. I did. Now I have set my sights on the millennium and a world where we are all equal.” Though he was to pass away a year later, he left an unmatched canon of anti-establishment works. Personal narratives often symbolized socio-political issues for Jarman, as his works explored class struggle, queer rights and AIDS activism with the backdrop of a Britain that was rotten to the core. The Tempest (1979) – released the year Thatcher became prime minister – was set in a decaying stately home, while The Last of England explored the civil abuse of the period as Tilda Swinton played a howling pre-war figure. Jarman swerved naming the one that presided over this divided, crumbling nation, yet the Iron Lady looms like an omen in the sky.

VIM – "Maggie's Last Party"

The Second Summer of Love and the Iron Lady have a tricky relationship. As Simon Reynolds described in Energy Flash, rave was Dionysian collectivist response to the "no society" rhetoric of the Tory's top, built, pushed and promoted by exactly the sort of entrepreneurs she so fetishized. Still, while tearing up the lanes of Chipping Norton was only made illegal with the Criminal Justice Bill under Thatcher's successor John Major, VIM's proto hardcore classic Maggie's Last Party is a cheeky dig at that most disapproving of PMs released the year after she got the boot. 

JG Ballard's "What I Believe"

In the prose-poem "What I Believe", the tower block's poet laureate and every architecture blogger's favourite writer JG Ballard wrote, his tongue presumably far in his cheek, "I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts". It's not the first time Ballard fantasised about a right-wing leader of the 1980s but the stanza's final line "My dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel" ranks with Robert Wyatt's "Shipbuilding" in its poignant skewering of the Falklands War. 

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"What I Believe" JG Ballard

Deller's Battle of Orgreaves

British artist Jeremy Deller staged a historical re-enactment piece entitled, The Battle of Orgreave, 17 years after the 1984 event of the National Union of Mineworkers' strike which marked a turning point in the struggle between the government and the trade union movement. Orchestrated by historical re-enactment expert Howard Giles, more than 800 people participated in Deller's piece, many of them former miners as well as a few former policemen, reliving the events that they themselves took part in. Filmed by Mike Figgis for Artangel Media and Channel 4, The Battle of Orgreave contextualises the event and highlights its contemporary cultural relevance.

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A still from "The Battle of Orgreave", 2001 Jeremy Deller

Linton Kwesi Johnson's Di Great Insohreckshan

In 1978, Thatcher said people "were rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture" and in doing so gave a name to the Metropolitan Police's deeply unpleasant stop and search operation, Swamp 81. This sparked the Brixton Riots – one of the 20th centuries most devasting civil distrubances in which over 5,000 people took the the streets of the south London borough on the 9th and 10th of April. In the wake of the burning, Thatcher said "Nothing, but nothing, justifies what happened", disagreeing with Linton – and the official report into the disturbances – who placed the blame square to the feet of the racial targeting and deprivation in the borough and beyond. LKJ's hymn to the guns of Brixton stands as a defiant tribute to the spirit rising those nights. 

Black Audio Collective – Handsworth Songs

Formed in response to increasing racial tension and social unrest amid turbulent, Thatcherite Britain, the early 80s saw a radical new wave of experimental black film collectives – often supported by the then brand-new Channel 4 – including Sankofa (Isaac Julien was a member), Ceddo, ReTake and Black Audio Collective. BAC’s most famous film, Handsworth Songs covered the fallout from the 1985 Handsworth riots, sparked by police brutality in the Birmingham district. Mixing newsreels, interviews with riot victims, grainy home movies and Thatcher’s notorious “swamping” speech into a mosaic-like film essay, the film attacked the stereotypical representation of black people by the media in Thatcher���s Britain.

Vivienne Westwood's Tatler cover

Vivienne Westwood impersonated Margaret Thatcher for a portrait during the time she was in power, wearing a suit Thatcher had ordered from Aquascutum but never picked up. The subversive image ran as Tatler's April 1989 cover and was blown up on billboards during London fashion week. Emma Soames, Tatler's editor got the sack days later. "Margaret Thatcher was a hypocrite. That’s what I put in my head. I thought there’s the child in the hospital bed and there’s the TV camera. I’m going to show the world how much I care," Westwood says, speaking on her Active Resistance blog.

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Thatcher's Decapitator 

In 2002, theatre producer Paul Kelleher lobbed off the bushy-haired head of Margaret Thatcher's marble statue in central London in political protest as an 'artistic expression and my right to interact with this broken world', reasoning that he was frustrated and "worried as to what sort of world [he] had brought [his] son into". After a failed attempt with a cricket bat concealed in his coat, he then completed the execution with the swing of a metal bar. Upon capture he said, "I think it looks better like that." Kelleher was jailed for criminal damage to the statue valued at £150,000.

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