Letters to my sons. Trying to explain the world to two very small children.

May 13, 2010

1983 Election

Filed under: Family,Memories,Politics — Administrator @ 3:33 pm

Dear Boys,

I wrote about the first general election that I remembered and now I want to share some thoughts on 1983’s election.

By 1983 the family had moved from Grimsby to the North East and by the time the election came around in June 1983 we still hadn’t got used to the colder weather. Margaret Thatcher won the election by a huge majority for a number of reasons. The main reason was the Falklands War the year before.

I remember waking up one morning and hearing on the radio that Argentina had invaded the Falkland Islands as well as South Georgia. We were still living in Grimsby and I my first thought was: Scotland has been invaded. I had no idea where the Falkland Islands were but they certainly sounded Scottish. Also I wasn’t really sure where Argentina was so in my mind it was quite clearly possible for Argentina to invade some Scottish islands – why they would want to do so didn’t enter my mind. My father explained that the Falklands were in the South Atlantic which didn’t help much. He then explained that the Islands were about 8000 miles away. I felt safer at that point as we used to go on holiday to Scotland and stay in cheap and grotty cottages. Argentina were more than welcome to dusty, smelly cottages without TV’s, central heating and had burn water coming out of the taps, that tasted rank by the way. Of course not all Scottish self catering cottages were in such a state, it was all my parents could afford at the time.

As an eleven year old child I really wanted a war because war was exciting. Bombs, bullets and airplanes. As the diplomatic efforts sped up many people around us, my parents especially, were hopeful that war wouldn’t come. They had both lived through World War 2 and many of the older people at church had fought either on the home front or the actual front. When an old man asked me what I thought about the Falklands, I told him that I wanted a war. I didn’t understand the look on his face at the time by I know now: pure pain.

Before long the boats were off to take back the Falklands including two aircraft carriers, HMS Hermes and Invincible. Military bands played as the boats left port in a “Task Force” and different news readers tried to pronounce “junta” correctly. Even with the Task Force sailing 8000 miles, peace was still a possibility because it would take 6 ot 8 weeks for the Task Force to get into position.

We were the last family to get a colour TV in our street but we were the first to get one with TeleText. TeleText was a massive revelation at the time. While watching TV you could press the “Text” button and you would get a “page” of information usually a menu on Page 100. From there you could enter page numbers to get the information you wanted. News was on pages from 102 to 125 and if you went to page 150 you got a news flash. The news flash page allowed you to see almost all of the screen and a few lines of news. If you pressed the Recall button the news flash would disappear and you could carry on watching the TV until the page changed and then it would pop-up again. The problem was you couldn’t change channels because the TeleText was tied to the TV channel you were watching. This wasn’t really a problem for us as we tended to watch BBC1. One night we were watching TV when the News Flash come up on the screen. I read it incorrectly as I though it said that Sheffield had been bombed by the Argentinean’s, in actual fact the ship HMS Sheffield had been hit by an Argentinean missile. My heart fluttered at the thought of a city being attacked, could it be Grimsby next? Our teacher at the time had been a little mischievous in the run to the war telling us that if things got bad and escalated we, his class, could be drafted in to the army to fight. It had happened elsewhere in the world he told us. This information didn’t dampen my desire for war and when I re-read the New Flash and saw that it was a British ship that had been sunk I really was excited. I asked my dad: “Does this mean war?” “Yes it does” he replied with much foreboding. I looked at Uncle Phil and we smiled at each other – nothing like a good war to get an 11 and 13 year old excited.

It must be remembered that in 1982 we only three channels on the TV and no rolling news. Before the news every night there was a half an hour program dealing with the days war news. During the conflict the Argentinians claimed that they had sunk Hermes at least three times. They also claimed that they had shot down a considerable number of Sea Harriers. This lead to the famous quote from John Hanrahan: I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back. They used this quote during the opening titles so it was repeated every night and soon learned.

I remember watching some war footage with my mother not long after the conflict finished and it showed a Harrier launching an air to air missile that followed an Argentine plane before hitting it and blowing it up. I let a “YES!” at that point but my mother rebuked me: “That was someones son that just died” she told me. I think that was the point that it all started to sink in. War isn’t a game, it isn’t fun – it is about people trying to kill while not being killed themselves.

The British eventually won the war and returned home to massive adulation. I remember being at South Parade Middle School on the day victory was announced. The lads who played football in the top and second to top year spent the morning play time singing songs about beating the Argies. I’m sure where the songs came from – someones dad probably went to football matches as there was plenty of swearing. Being only 11 and knowing that “your” country has just won a war, against the odds and thousands of miles away from home filled me with euphoria. Along with other feelings I experienced as a child, I have never experienced anything like it again.

My mothers reaction to the death of the Argentinian pilot has stayed with me because it showed a little split of her personality. She was born in 1937, two years before the Second World War kicked off so she got a full dose of the anti-German propaganda that was pumped into the population from 1939 – 1945 to justify the bombing of innocent German civilians – in the same way that the Germans were busy de-huminising their own population in order to justify murder. Some of this propaganda stuck as, from time to time, she would come out with something very anti-German and then laugh it off as rubbish. I remember just before we left Grimsby we were looking at tapes in Woolworth’s and she found one that had lots of songs on it that she liked. She showed to me and said “I was going to buy that, then I saw that it had ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ on it. I don’t want it now” and she put it back.

I went to a ruby match between England and Argentina recently and I was a little perturbed to see Sea Cadets holding an Argentina flag.  War propaganda leaves it mark. And so it did with the electorate. Just over a year later Margaret Thatcher was re-elected with a massive majority which she used to pass the most divisive of legislation. She was able to satisfy the needs of the people with money while pushing whole segments of society into poverty – poverty that remains today.

Not that I understood all of this at the time. On the day Thatcher won I cut out her picture from the paper and attached to the car window on the way to school. I understood what Thatcher said when she said that the country must compete with other countries and that meant reducing wages. As a 12 year old this made sense and it’s true. Unfortunately there is no way to compete against countries like China that use political prisoners as slave workers although this escaped me at the time as I was caught in the smoke and mirrors that is capitalism – or the version of economics that is called capitalism. But these are my memories of the 1983 election.

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