Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

➤ Lest we forget the 907 Falklands dead and the 1,965 injured

Belgrano, sinking, Falklands, 1982

May 2, 1982: ARA General Belgrano lists heavily to port in the Atlantic Ocean, while its crew abandon ship. Sailor’s picture via Press Association

❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY 30 YEARS AGO that prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took Britain to war in the South Atlantic Ocean, all because a repressive dictatorship in Argentina had occcupied a tiny island with a handful of marines posing as scrap merchants. Since the 1800s, Britain had asserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (population 1,800) and its neighbouring dependencies, while Argentina repeatedly claimed its sovereignty over the colony it knew as the Islas Malvinas. They lie 300 miles away from Argentina and 8,000 miles from the UK.

Neither nation formally declared war on the other, yet the 74-day conflict led to the deaths of 649 Argentine and 255 British servicemen and 3 Falklands Island civilians. There were 1,188 Argentine non-fatal casualties and 777 British. The whole tragic saga was made more complex when the US declined to intervene because its Central Intelligence Agency had supported the military junta of Leopoldo Galtieri, the President of Argentina, against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

One month to the day after the Argentinian invasion, Sunday May 2, the British war cabinet headed by Margaret Thatcher, met at Chequers, the prime minister’s weekend retreat, and unanimously agreed to a naval order to sink the Argentine warship, General Belgrano, in the South Atlantic.

The Sun, Gotcha, 1982, Belgrano, Falklands War,Subsequently, to its eternal shame, Britain’s biggest selling daily paper The Sun boasted in its most notorious headline: “GOTCHA”. This rabid jingoism by middle-aged politicians and armchair media generals alike, as they relived memories of World War Two, drove a wedge into the generation gap that has never been equalled. Those of us under 40 — too young to remember WW2 — were appalled that a simmering 150-year-old squabble with Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands should now warrant military action by Britain. We were even more appalled at the near-total, gung-ho media hype that blessed it.

Britain initiated the first naval loss at 4pm that Sunday when the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror fired a pattern of torpedoes at the Belgrano which was patrolling south of the Falklands. Two struck the vintage light cruiser and within 20 minutes its captain ordered his men to abandon ship. It was more than a day before 770 were rescued from the open ocean. Meanwhile 323 crew had died.

In their superbly detailed chronicle The Battle for the Falklands (1983, republished 2012), journalists Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins report the reasoning of a senior British commander: “You have got to start something like this by showing that you’re bloody good and you’re determined to win.” After the sinking, a British destroyer captain said when he broke the news to his ship’s company: “There was a mixture of horror and disbelief. There certainly wasn’t any pride.” The legitimacy of this British action remains the subject of controversy today.

Retribution followed two days later, on May 4. An Argentine Exocet missile struck the British destroyer HMS Sheffield amidships, with devastating effect, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship sank six days later. In the Royal Navy, Hastings reported, officers and men were shocked at the ease with which a single enemy aircraft had destroyed a warship specifically designed for air defence.

On June 8, at Bluff Cove on East Falkland, Argentine aircraft bombed Britain’s civilian-manned landing ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, causing the biggest loss of British forces in the conflict. A total of 32 Welsh Guards died, and 150 men suffered burns and injuries.

Bluff Cove, Falklands war,Sir Galahad,

Britain’s civilian-manned vessel Sir Galahad ablaze after the Argentine air raid on East Falkland, June 8, 1982. This videograb comes from newly unearthed footage shot by guardsman Tracy Evans, which is viewable on the BBC news website

➢ Welsh Guard’s film shows Falklands War scenes for first time (above)

➢ Falklands War 30 years on — by Simon Jenkins who co-authored the most detailed account of the conflict: “How British PM’s lucky gamble turned Thatcher into a world celebrity, not only repelled the Argentinian invasion but also paved way for her ideological reforms.”


1980 ➤ Secrets revealed about the SAS, arming Afghanistan and death of the tanner

Yes Minister, Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Eddington

Rt Hon James Hacker MP (right): “This is a democracy, and the people don’t like it.” — Civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby: “The people are ignorant and misguided.” — Hacker: “Humphrey, it was the people who elected me.” (From Yes Minister, BBC TV’s satirical sitcom set in Westminster, launched Feb 25, 1980)

❚ PREVIOUSLY SECRET UK GOVERNMENT RECORDS are routinely declassified after 30 years. Cabinet documents for 1980 were released by the National Archives at noon today, Dec 30 2010. Here’s a selection of titbits most of us have been unaware of…

➢ SAS to be given immunity for killing foreigners — The televised storming of the Iranian embassy building in London in 1980 boosted the SAS’s international prestige and generated invitations to deploy them on overseas hostage rescue missions. (Guardian)

➢ Margaret Thatcher in cover-up after Czech spy exposed John Stonehouse — Did you know that John Stonehouse, the former Labour minister who “did a Reggie Perrin” and vanished abroad, was said to have been a spy? (Guardian)

➢ Britain secretly agreed to back Afghan resistance fighters after the Soviet invasion of their country — One faction of the Mujahideen fighters, who were also covertly funded by the CIA, went on to become founding members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. (Daily Telegraph)

➢ Unflappable Douglas Hurd stunned into silence during Afghan revelations — UK Confidential on the BBC iPlayer

Ahmad Shah Massoud ,Afghanistan, 1983, Nagakura

Ahmad Shah Massoud (left): on the ground in Afghanistan in the Panjshir province of Afghanistan 1983. Photographed © by Hiromi Nagakura

❏ Listen online to BBC Radio 4’s response to today’s revelations in an excellent edition of UK Confidential chaired by Martha Kearney. After hearing that western powers had decided in 1980 to provide “discreet support for Afghan guerrilla resistance”, former Labour minister Roy Hattersley and former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant wrong-foot Douglas Hurd who had been a foreign office minister at the time. How much aid was spent on arms? Had we armed the wrong people? Kearney herself notes that “arms were going to Shah Massoud” (later dubbed “the Afghan who won the Cold War”.) Twice Hurd is forced into silence, as he formulates his eventual reply: “I’m not saying. Of course I’m not saying.” Terrific radio, from the 32-minute mark.

Other topics include Margaret Thatcher’s patrician scolding by Harold Macmillan… her furious row with the Bank of England… her moderate reaction to early trade-union strikes … and how the government tackled an Iranian warship on the River Tyne.

➢ Cabinet ministers feared 30 years ago that MPs were abusing their expenses — Margaret Thatcher was warned that there was a “grave risk of serious public scandal” over Parliamentary allowances and that some politicians may have to be prosecuted. (Daily Telegraph)

Harold Macmillan, Supermac, Vicky

Harold Macmillan: depicted as Supermac by the cartoonist Vicky

➢ Macmillan’s 11-page private warning to Margaret Thatcher — “Supermac”, the Conservative prime minister from 1957-63, sent a remarkable letter criticising the PM’s economic strategy. (Guardian)

➢ The sixpence was killed off to raise £3.5m by melting down the old coins — Margaret Thatcher ordered the “death of the tanner”, introduced in 1551 and made obsolete by the decimalisation of sterling. The last coins were struck in 1967. (Daily Telegraph)


1980s ➤ So many shapers shaped the decade that people think was all down to Margaret Thatcher

A handful of key books this year have added to our estimations of that much demonised decade, the 1980s, and to our understanding of its cultural shifts. Shapersofthe80s has of course always drawn a distinction between the youthful creativity of the earlier Swinging 80s, and the ethos that finally took hold in Britain and earned the name of “Thatcherism”

Loadsamoney, Harry Enfield, Thatcherism1980s

Emblem of the 80s: Harry Enfield’s yob character, Loadsamoney. © Rex features

➢ Rejoice, Rejoice!: Britain in the 1980s,
by Alwyn W Turner (Aurum Press, 426 pages)

Alwyn Taylor, Rejoice!,1980s,book❏ A SHARP AND WITTY ANALYSIS of the 80s came this year from cultural historian, Alwyn Turner. Its savage title Rejoice! Rejoice! echoes the triumphal cry that burst from the lips of prime-minister-turned-warrior-queen Margaret Thatcher in 1982 when victory was declared over Argentina in the Falklands War (910 dead, 1,965 casualties). Reviewing the book in The Sunday Times, Dominic Sandbrook wrote: “One of the pleasures of Alwyn Turner’s breathless romp through the 1980s is that it overflows with unusual juxtapositions and surprising insights. Who knew, for example, that not only Alan McGee’s Creation Records but the bawdy magazine Viz were set up with money from Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme, dismissed at the time as a feeble attempt to disguise the horrors of mass unemployment?

“Where this book really shines is on the intersections between politics and popular culture… For Turner, the defining characteristic of the 1980s was its obsession with size: big money, big hair, big issues, big politics. But what also emerges from his account is the sheer, unashamed nastiness of public life during the Thatcher years. This was a time, after all, when Thatcher’s cheerleader [disc-jockey] Kenny Everett publicly joked about kicking [the elderly opposition leader] ‘Michael Foot’s stick away’, while thousands chanted ‘Ditch the bitch’ at anti-government demonstrations.

“It is a refreshing surprise, however, to read a book on the 1980s in which Thatcher, while naturally dominant, does not entirely drive out all other voices. As Turner admits, the Iron Lady cast a larger shadow over national life than any other prime minister since Churchill: the style magazine i-D, a quintessential product of the decade, called her ‘almost a fact of nature’. But the results of her revolution were mixed at best, and the irony is that in many ways her policies had the opposite effect from what she hoped.”

Turner is not alone in presenting Harry Enfield’s comic character Loadsamoney as the emblematic figurehead for Thatcherism, a swaggering slob waving a fistful of banknotes while yelling, “Look at my wad!”. In the Financial Times Francis Wheen follows through: “Even if many Britons eventually accepted [Thatcher’s] economic remedies, Turner infers in his history of the 1980s, Rejoice! Rejoice!, ‘culturally the country was unconvinced’. Ideals of enterprise were all very well but winning at all costs, with no thought for the loser and no care for the way one played the game, ‘seemed somehow wrong’. The British still sided with heroic failures and doomed underdogs such as the hopeless ski-jumper Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards.”


➢ Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues: The First 30 Years,
by Gaz Mayall (direct from Trolley, 280pp)

Gaz Mayall, Jarvis Cocker, Radio 2,

Gaz Mayall on 6Music: celebrating his 30th clubbing anniversary talking with Jarvis Cocker on The Sunday Service in October. © BBC

❏ GAZ MAYALL IS one of UK clubbing’s national treasures, and the paperback Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues is a nostalgic first-person collection of great club photos and comic-strip flyers that tell their own tale of London’s oldest continuous club-night, where Tracey Emin was once the cloakroom girl. The lad in the hat, who has kept his tiny nightspot jumping since July 3, 1980, supplies a brief but breathless string of anecdotes about live guests such as Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Joe Strummer. Gaz was one of the pathfinders who perfected the then brilliant notion of throwing a party every Thursday and playing his favourite rebel dance-tunes. As the 22-year-old Gaz told Shapersofthe80s that year: “People come here for good music”, which essentially meant his own heritage as a kid raised amid rock royalty and steeped in ska, reggae, rockabilly, rock and R’n’B.

Gaz's Rockin Blues, book, 1980sOn his club’s 30th anniversary, Kate Hutchinson wrote in Time Out: “It’s still going strong: you’ll find throngs of people swinging to guest live bands and DJs every Thursday night at the Soho basement dive St Moritz. It’s also the kind of hangout that keeps new generations coming, so the crowd always stays fresh. Those who aren’t old enough to go yet can mingle with everyone else at Gaz’s sound-system at Notting Hill Carnival, where he’s been causing a roadblock since 1982, or at his stage at Glastonbury, which he has run for the past three years.”


➢ The Music Instinct : How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It, by Philip Ball (Bodley Head, 464pp)
➢ Listen to This, by Alex Ross (Fourth Estate, 400pp)

The Music Instinct, Philip Ball, books❏ TWO IMPRESSIVE BOOKS THIS YEAR have dissected how music works its magic. They are not posited on the 80s at all, though they may well be emergent phenomena of our era of musical diversity. Critics heaped praise on Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct, an engaging survey by a popular science writer. Bee Wilson in The Sunday Times called it a “wonderful account of why music matters, why it wrenches our souls and satisfies our minds and sometimes drives us crazy”. In The Guardian Steven Poole praised Ball’s “deft analyses of the limitations of attributing ‘emotion’ to music, or considering it as a ‘language’ (Lévi-Strauss: if music is a language, it is an ‘untranslatable’ one)”. And the Amazon reviewer Steve Mansfield liked the author’s scope “by drawing his examples from across the spectrum of music, equally comfortable discussing and occasionally comparing music as diverse as J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Eliza Carthy, gamelan orchestras, ragas, Schoenberg, and the Sex Pistols”.

Alex Ross, Listen to This, books❏ IN 2008 ALEX ROSS, music critic for The New Yorker, landed an unlikely bestseller with his gripping survey of 20th-century music, The Rest is Noise, plus a torrent of highbrow praise. This year he packages some choice essays under the title Listen To This, which David Smyth in the London Evening Standard said “ranges even more widely, making century-spanning, triple-jumping connections in the same way his shuffling iPod leaps from Stravinsky to Louis Armstrong. Coming from a background of listening to nothing but classical music in his teens and discovering rock’n’roll in adulthood, Ross can explain the brute appeal of, say, Radiohead’s Creep in a way that makes you feel your mind enlarging as you read”.


➢ I Know This Much: From Soho to Spandau,
by Gary Kemp (Fourth Estate, 320pp)

➢ If I Was, by Midge Ure with Robin Eggar
(Virgin Books, 288pp)

Gary Kemp, I Know This Much❏ FOR A MUSICIAN, the music really tells the life story. It’s rare for many of them to try to flesh out the story in prose, let alone as autobiography. Two who starred centre stage in 1980 were Ultravox’s Midge Ure and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, and though their accounts of the early transformative years of the decade weren’t actually first published this year, their paperback reprints continue to act as intelligent correctives to the hyperbole that accompanies some of the 30th-anniversary air-punching.

Songwriter Gary Kemp surprised many when last year’s autobiography, I Know This Much, proved so eloquent, encouraging rock writer Paul Du Noyer
to claim that it “sets a new standard for rock memoirs”. One of Amazon’s top reviewers, Mr Steve Jansen, believed that Kemp’s perceptive memories of a London now transformed make a “a touching testament to spiritual growth”. He wrote: “Kemp is able to reflect with great poignancy on a young man’s journey into, and through the shining city of dreams. In Kemp’s case that city, metaphorically, but more often literally — and literary in its evocation — is unmistakably London, and the metropolis is ever present like a ghost, framing his actions and attitude.”

The prominent journalist Robert Sandall of The Sunday Times, who died in July, had made Kemp’s his book of the year: “A sharply observed account by a quintessential London musician. Kemp exudes confidence, candour and a keen appreciation of the capital’s club culture.” This year’s paperback edition brought the story up to date with a postscript on his band’s reunion.

Midge Ure, If I Was❏ MIDGE URE IS THE OTHER eye-witness to the birth of Blitz culture, and his memoir, If I Was, hasn’t been out of print since published in 2004, and a revised edition is slated for next summer. Here, the musician tells with exceptional vigour a no-holds-barred story of his own journey from impoverished Glasgow childhood to new-wave superstar .

Amazon reviewer Lisby writes: “Ure writes fluidly and conversationally, imparting the kind of tactile detail that takes readers to the place and time of which he speaks. Ure is astonishingly honest, yet never vindictive. He is, in his prose, much as he is in his lyrics, a good person trying to be a better one while hoping the same for us all.” Another Amazon regular called thedouses adds: “Midge’s autobiography is a very well written, frank and honest book, which offers a fascinating insight into his own career and life but also other notable musical figures of the 80s and 90s music scenes in Britain, as well as providing background to the Band Aid and Live Aid events. He doesn’t use the opportunity to settle scores as so many of his contemporaries have done.”

Apart from being a busy wizard stirring the magic cauldron from which emerged many musical innovations in the 80s, Ure here establishes his central role in the production of Band Aid’s charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, which led to Live Aid, the globally televised rock concert in 1985 which raised millions for famine relief.


David Bowie, 1975 ➢ Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974), by Kevin Cann (Adelita, 336 pages) was reviewed here on Dec 11. “Being a Bowie fan for almost 40 years I am flabbergasted. Many, many never before seen pictures” — Amazon reviewer Peter Gooren