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Monday, April 13, 2009

Fighting subversion

As if to prove that nothing much has changed today's Times newspaper has an interesting article on subversion and protest in the 1970s and the Government's rather authoritarian and over-the-top reaction to what turned out to be nothing more than a harmless protest by school children:

With their long hair, loose ties and flared trousers, the Pupil Power radicals wanted to overthrow the oppression of the cane and the conformity of school uniforms.

Special Branch and the Government saw them as pawns in a communist plot to undermine the nation between double maths and PE.

Confidential police and Whitehall papers released under the Freedom of Information Act show the official concern at the rise of subversive pupil groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Thousands of boys and girls were recruited to the movement, leading to classroom strikes and violent protests. The Schools’ Action Union and the National Union of School Students appeared to threaten the British way of life, demanding an end to corporal punishment, the introduction of free dinners and, for the over-16s, contraception.

Having seen left-wing students bring down the French Government, the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, was taking no risks and ordered MI5 to monitor the revolutionaries, who included boys from Eton and Harrow.

I first became politically active in the early 1970s. I was canvassing for the Liberal Party in the February 1974 General Election at the age of 14. Yet, I missed all this fun by a few years.

The paper tells us that an education official reported to the Prime Minister that there was “significant, but rather ill-defined and inarticulate, discontent” among children. “Some boys and girls are already beginning to develop political attitudes in an immature way, and are affected by the example of militancy set by older students and by adults, including their own teachers,” he added.

Investigations by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, then at the height of its battle with the IRA, revealed that the National Union of School Students’ campaign was backed by the Young Communist League, the Trotskyist Young Socialists and the Young Liberals. Officials were shaken enough to consider restricting entrance to sixth forms.

A protest involving 10,000 truanting pupils was planned for May 1972 in London but according to Special Branch only 1,500 turned up: It started in confusion with different groups gathering on opposite sides of the Thames before they joined to march past County Hall on the South Bank with protesters chanting “Uniforms out” and “Caning out”.

Later the pupils split, with half marching to Hyde Park for a brief demonstration while others remained on the South Bank, where they were involved in scuffles with police while chanting: “Attack the pigs.”

A Scotland Yard report revealed that the protesters had planned to hand a letter of protest to County Hall, home to the Inner London Education Authority, but “subsequently discovered the letter had been lost”.
Peter, With respect, I don't think that I ever want to imagine you in short trousers - although I'd guess an odd few of your Tory acquaintances would find such an image quite exciting!
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