Brighton has had, for several generations, a tradition of resistance. In the 1930s, when Oswald Mosely’s Black Shirts tried to rally in Brighton, there were fierce street battles, and the fascists were prevented from meeting on The Level. In the 1960s, with the founding of Sussex University, radical student activity abounded, with sit-ins and demonstrations. In the 1970s there were dozens of left-wing and anarchist groups operating in Brighton, based around the old Resource Centre where the Brighthelm Centre now stands. Punk, New Wave, and Ska music vied with the politics of fascist groups. Feminist and separatist women’s politics was flourishing.
The arrival of the Thatcher government in 1979, and with it mass unemployment, saw Right to Work marches, the People’s March for Jobs, and more fascist activity. The National Front was active locally, with many of its national leaders living locally. The Anti-Nazi League attracted lots of support from students and young activists, although not from the Militant-dominated Labour Party Young Socialists who supported the less militant Committee Against Fascism. Militant and the LPYS didn’t support the opposition to the Falklands War, but hundreds of young people did march against the war. This growing activism created momentum that led to Labour’s assault on the Tories 130 year control on Brighton Council. Hundreds of young activists had joined the Party and led by David Lepper and Steve Bassam, Labour took control of the Council in 1986 for the first time ever.
The Poll Tax created further momentum and support for the Party peaked in 1990. But within two years all was lost when the Brighton Labour Party was closed down as part of Kinnock’s witch hunt against Militant. The Party has never properly recovered and young activists today are few and far between. The anarchist and fringe left groups have gone. Small, marginalised groups have emerged, but they are characterised by sectarianism and an inability to organise and mobilise. Some young people have maintained their political awareness, but mainly in single-issue campaigning. More often than not, they have become disillusioned and disengaged. And who can blame them.
The Labour Party in government betrayed the heritage that brought advantage to many of its leaders by introducing tuition fees and saddling generations of graduates with years and years of debt. Housing is a major concern and so too are job prospects. The Greens, who should be in a position to harness the anger, aspirations and idealism of young people, are showing themselves to be poor organisers and somewhat elitist, in spite of the success of Caroline Lucas. A question the Greens must answer is: why are talented young activists like Tom French in the Labour Party and not part of the next chapter of the Green’s march forward in Brighton?
The Labour Party has failed young people, the Greens are failing to capitalise. What a failure by both.
Filed under: Politics | Tagged: Anti-Nazi League, Black Shirts, Brighthelm Centre, Brighton Council, Caroline Lucas, Committee Against Fascism, David Lepper, debt, Falklands War, feminism, Green Party, Labour Party, Labour Party Young Socialists, Margaret Thatcher, Militant, National Front, New Wave, Oswald Mosely, People’s March for Jobs, Poll Tax, Punk, Resource Centre, Right to Work, Ska, Steve Bassam, Sussex University, The Level, Tom French, tuition fees | 8 Comments »