Politicisation is rarely a process with a clean line. Any easy narrative to explain where we find ourselves on the Nolan Chart is usually a false construct. Why we think what we do is almost always messy.
Our views on liberty, the role of the state and how to make the world a better place come from a hoodoo brew of parental influence, cultural DNA, education and events. Other factors apply as well. I have more than one friend who owes their current political orientation in part to falling for pretty face. Where hormones lead, philosophies on the best way to order an economy can often follow and grow deep roots.
The stuttering route to my current weltanschauung takes in everything from the deep poverty my family experienced when I was a child to dystopian novels and the Dead Kennedys. Individual acts of kindness and pointless bureaucratic obstruction. The power cuts of the three-day week and police brutality at Wapping. A raft of writers from John Pilger to Sébastien Faure. Images from the 1970s nightly news acid-etched in my memory as important to my development as the words of Karl Popper or Moh Kohn.
One element from my teenhood that helped shaped how I think and feel politically was the 1984-1985 miners’ strike. The events of the period spiralled so far beyond industrial action the dispute became a rift in the fabric of the country. It divided. Placed you on a side whether you wanted to be on one or not. You knew at some intestinal level that the gears of history were shifting. After the strike, whoever won, everything was going to be different.
Today, on the 25th anniversary of one of the arbitrary, but most commonly accepted, start dates for the strike, I feel the need to mark it. To ignore, turn my face away from the collisions of history would be a denial of my own narrative. However, London is not coal mining territory. My options for communal remembrance and discussion of the strike are somewhat limited.
It seems the only apposite action I can take is to attend the launch of Marching to the Fault Line – Francis Beckett and David Hencke’s account of the strike. Therefore I leave Millbank and head towards Bloomsbury. Dusk is slow in coming tonight and I enjoy the last gulps of sun before the crowed sodium blare of traffic and advertising begins.
Hitting Whitehall, I walk into a wall of sound. The political artery is lined along the whole length of one side by hundreds of Tamils and supporters of the Tamil Tigers. They are arm-linked in a human chain that simultaneously chants for mercy and shouts for justice. Signs are pinned to their clothing proclaiming ‘Genocide’, ‘Don’t commit a sin, let food and medicine in’ and that old classic ‘We need bread not bombs’.
The high number of protestors wearing Tamil Tiger scarves gives the crowd something of the football terrace mob. For a moment I imagine some parallel dimension where Yam Yam Army hooligans have adopted both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tamil independence as causes worthy of militant support. This mind’s eye chimera quickly banished by the fact that chants are neither racist, homophobic or related to anyone going home in an ambulance.
Groups of police officers sit in riot vans waiting to be called into action while increasing numbers of their colleagues patrol the crowd’s perimeter. I cross the road, walk crablike along the central reservation. Take in the protestors’ placards and the way their cries remix the sound of Gabriel Fauré playing on my iPod.
The launch is somewhat dispiriting. The red wine is good, the bookshop redolent of the time when Thatcher was the enemy. However, hearing members of the Left still fighting battles lost decades ago rubs with an exasperated tiredness. The dreamed revolutions of then are corroded. Lost in a now which has forgotten so much more than just the names of the past.
Amid and on top of this scrummage for blame and dominant analysis, Beckett and Hencke’s are on fine form. Anecdotes roll, questions volleyed back with grace and humour. Marching to the Fault Line is a grand example of good journalism. It is also the perfect model of how FoI requests can further the recording and understanding of events already receding into the fuzzy horizon of history. It exposes secrets, helps capture the hidden factors that at times seemed to be pushing towards undeclared civil war. I am glad to get my copy signed.
I drift home. Try to take in a country where the spirit of resistance is found more easily in expat Tamils than my own generation. The strike really did change things. Later, canalside, I drink tea and enjoy a supper of beans on toast. Simple pleasures, resonant of the year I have spent so much time remembering today. The television adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding plays. Channel 4 might have missed a trick. Tonight of all nights, they should have been broadcasting GB84.