Hunting out low people in high places. Solomon Hughes examines the newly released documents that reveal Thatcher's hatred of CND
(First published: Morning Star June 30, 2006 )
Back in 1984, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to ban a CND demo because it coincided with a visit by her pal President Reagan, according to papers released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The police talked Thatcher out of the idea, although Special Branch still did its best to find "subversives" among the CND marchers of the time.
Reagan came to London in that year for an economic summit. According to the Home Office papers, the "CND line has been that they would hold no major demonstration in London during 1984.
"But, when London CND announced a major demonstration directed at the summit (and, more particularly, president Reagan) national CND appear to have decided to take it over and ensure that it was stewarded effectively, rather than risk it getting out of hand."
A three-page minute written for Thatcher discusses banning the march. The note breaks the bad news that the police expected up to 100,000 protesters massing in Hyde Park and "this is a body of a size which cannot be physically prevented from moving, if it wished to do so."
It continues that, "as a practical matter, to prevent the march from ever leaving Hyde Park by force would, in the police view, be impossible and one can see why."
The Home Office then discusses the legal grounds for banning the march. The Home Secretary can stop a demonstration, but only if "the powers to direct the route will not be sufficient to enable him to prevent serious public disorder."
The Home Office told the Prime Minister: "I think the police would be in difficulty in arguing that there is a threat of 'serious public disorder' especially in view of the organisers' co-operation."
The possibility of banning the march was undermined by the advanced police negotiations with the CND.
The police believed that any attempts by protesters to "break away" from the march and get closer to Reagan "would be small enough to be contained."
While Thatcher wanted the march stopped, the police were impressed by the complete reasonableness of the CND.
The bad news for Thatcher was that the police believed that "the majority of the participants would be reasonable people, who would co-operate with the police on the day, if given a reasonable outlet for their feelings," so there was no need to stop them.
A possible ban was further undermined by the fact that Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin had already given the CND permission to use Trafalgar Square on June 9 when Reagan arrived.
The papers said: "Unfortunately, the Home Office were not consulted before this decision was taken" because "the relevance of the date was, presumably, missed on this occasion."
The Home Office advice for Thatcher concludes: "A march on this scale will attract major news coverage, which may distract from the summit."
However, it admits: "In the circumstances, unwelcome though this demonstration may be, there do not appear to be any grounds or powers to prohibit it."
A Downing Street reply to the memo conceded that "Ms Thatcher agrees that we have to accept the judgement of the police" on the march. The Home Ofice papers covering CND demonstrations of the 1980s also show that Special Branch spent considerable time reporting on CND demos.
There is, for example, a 47-page report from the organisation describing the October 22 1983 national CND demo. The report lists every single banner on the march and has a page listing slogans chanted. Struggling to find any example of "extremist, subversive or political groups," Special Branch resorted to counting the number of black people on the march.
"Very few non-white faces were seen during the marches and subsequent rally. Of those coloured persons seen, most were present as supporters of political (extremist) or trades union groups. Hardly any CND branch numbered a member of the ethnic minority in its ranks."
The Special Branch report includes a summary of every speech given in Hyde Park on the day. These include notes on Benjamin Zephaniah, "a black dub ranta (political poet)" and a discussion of a "coloured American lady, who was introduced as an associate of Martin Luther King."
Special Branch spent some time recording the songs and speech of former Osibisa member Spartacus R, a "black singer."
Presumably, searching for signs of incitement to violence, Special Branch says: "Of certain significance was his final speech to the crowd.
"He said: 'It's not enough to demonstrate. It's good because it shows we have solidarity, but it's not enough. You've got to hit the people who are doing this. Hit them, hit them. Freedom comes first, peace second. How can I be at peace when you're standing in my head?' His comments drew applause from a section of the audience."
Special Branch was embarrassed by the large turnout of the demonstration, as it had predicted that only 50,000 - 70,000 would protest. It believed that CND had run out of steam after Thatcher's re-election. However, the papers show that "the police have confirmed that around 200,000 people took part - some three times the predicted minimum."
This intelligence failure was a "matter of concern" and led to many internal papers invetigating why Special Branch had failed to predict such a big demo