Searchlight Interview with Anna Sullivan

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Date: Aug. 17, 2015
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Audio file

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Searchlight Interview with Anna Sullivan
Searchlight Archive, University of Northampton

So, would you like to tell me a little bit about where you were born, and what growing up was like?

Right. I was born in 1939, four days after war was declared on Germany. I was born in Northampton, because all the pregnant mothers were sent out of the city, because my family lived in East London. But as soon as my mother gave birth to me, she came back again. So I didn't stay in Northampton for long, but that's where I was born. And I was in London with my family -- my father was a fireman, a firefighter, and -- until the Blitz. When the Blitz happened a year later, again, on my birthday -- 7th of September, I think it was -- they decided that I should be evacuated as -- so did thousands of children. So I was sent away when I was a baby. I was only a year old. I was brought up by -- the people who fostered me as an evacuee were the richest mill owners in the north. Yes, Yorkshire, ordinary. And there -- so there I was, this baby from an East End family, brought up in this extraordinary house in the countryside. And -- until the son of the family, who was in bomber command, was shot down over Germany and was killed, and then they moved from that house to Lancashire. And we went to Southport. So then I was brought up by the sea until the war was over, and then I came back at the age of six to a completely flattened East End, to a family I didn't know -- my mother's Jewish family. My father, who was then in the Communist party, and a very active trade unionist -- he started trade unions in the '30s all over the place, at Ford's, the paint industry, the sweatshops in the East End that he helped to unionize. He was in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, so I had this -- one side sort of got over the complete trauma and shock of two totally different lifestyles, if you like, and of getting to know all these people. Very exciting childhood, because he became a counselor. He got in by a massive vote as a Communist in the east of London because of his credentials as an anti-fascist. He fought -- he was at Cable Street. He was at The Olympia. You know about Olympia, where -- yeah, where Mosley held an enormous rally, The Olympia Stadium. And the comrades -- he told me this story when I was a child. And the comrades decided to infiltrate it. Yes. And he said to me, "The stage was pitch-black, and suddenly, this enormous light came on, and Mosley stepped out onto this platform dressed from head to toe in black, with the boots, and the big, silver-buckled belt. And --" he said, "And everybody -- thousands of people --" it's scary. This is all happening before the Second World War started --"raised their hands in a Hitler salute." And so I said to him, "And what did you do, Daddy?" And he said, "Well, we heckled [laughter]." And I said, "You heckled?" And he said, "Well, yeah, it did -- it got very -- it did get very scary, because they were throwing the comrades off of the balconies." Yeah. So that's the sort of -- I was brought up with those stories, and about Cable Street, and all the unemployed workers' movement, which he was also massively involved in. And he -- and I used to hear him speak. He was a very charismatic speaker, and I was, you know, very close to my father. I just adored him, and respected him, and admired him. But our house was like -- sort of a Communist party HQ, because he was the agent for -- God, who is it? Harry Pollitt, who stood for Parliament? No, it wasn't Harry Pollitt. It was Bill Rust. Anyway,, he didn't get in. But -- and we -- you know, the house was always full of comrades, and campaigns, and everything. So that was my background. What he instilled in me, and so did -- and my mother, was an absolute hatred of Fascism, and what that meant. And so, when I grew up, I got married young, as we all did in those days. And then I had -- I'd had three children by the time I was 24, two daughters and a son, who all got involved in the movement many years later with me. And my father was still very active politically. He left the Communist party in 1952. He left -- it was very interesting. It nearly broke his heart, actually, because it had been his sort of -- he said to me -- he said, "When I was 17, there was a general strike. And I just shut down my machine, and the governor said, 'Where do you think you're going?'" And he said, "And I told him, 'I'm going to join the miners, and support them in their strike.'" He said, "And that was the day I became politicized." And, you know, I was brought up on all those stories, and he was -- he was a great Socialist. He said to me, "You can't be a Socialist unless you love people. You have to love people to want to make a difference to their lives, if you can do that." And that's where, in the end, him and the CEP, you know, came into more and more conflict. You know, they abandoned their industrial committee, and set up with -- as he said, the intellectuals took over and destroyed the party, and the revolutionary road to Socialism -- and then, of course, Stalinism. You know, we didn't have in those days the sort of media that we have now, where you can find out everything that's going on, a click of a switch. News didn't come through, often for years, of what was really going on. And then came the Korean War, and he -- you know, the party members were told that they had to support the North Koreans, because that was their directive. And my father said, "I can't do that. I can't support the North Koreans. I can't support any other war. I can't see any more young men go to die." You know, so he left the party, but he was then sort of lost, in a way, but then got involved in the Tenants' Movement. He formed the Federation of Council Tenants throughout London. He got involved in the big rent strikes, the Stently [assumed spelling] Counselors and all that sort of thing. And so that was going on all through my teenager years, and then, I got married. And then, my partner died when I was 28. And so, I then decided that I had to get some sort of career. Because if you were working-class -- although I went to a grammar school, you didn't go to university. You went to work at 16, which, of course, is what I did. So I didn't have any degree or anything. But I decided that, you know, I couldn't bring my children up in poverty, so I had to find a career for myself. So I sat a university entrance exam for the University of London, and got in, and then did a degree, an education degree, and then became a teacher. And then, joined the union, and that's when my sort of -- I hadn't really been active in politics, in inverted commas, until then. But in a way, all my life, I'd been involved in politics, because everything about my background, everything I learnt from my family was politics. But I wasn't -- I hadn't joined anything until I joined the union.

So in your teenage years, growing up in a house which is, as you said, filled with comrades and --

Yes, yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.

-- party -- what presence did Fascism have in that immediate post-War period?

Oh, yeah, because my dad was in -- when Mosley tried to come back, and -- down Ridley Road. He was, yeah, very involved in organizing against that. Oh, yeah. And, I mean, I never forget, as a child, going to the cinema with my mother, who was a great cinema-goer, and seeing the first newsreels of the death camps. I would've been about seven, and -- oh, oh, God. You know, and my father, although he wasn't Jewish, was very involved in the East End, and, you know, he used to -- he talked about the way the Jewish people organized against Mosley. It wasn't just a big -- I mean, they -- you know, they were extraordinary. Because they were all in the unions, the garment and tailors' union, and things like that, which, of course, he helped to organize anyway, before then. You know, and -- so it was there -- it was -- it's hard to explain. It was, you know -- when I was not living at home, when I was with -- my children were little, and I -- every single weekend, every Saturday, everybody gathered at my parents' house, my sister and her children, and me and my -- and whatever. And the discussion was always politics. You know, it was all about whatever government it was that was in, what was happening, what was happening to housing, what was happening to all sorts of things, you know. So I was very, very lucky, I think. It was an extraordinary childhood and upbringing, and I know that some people -- because I met them when I was in the SWP -- whose parents were very political. And the children deliberately did the opposite [laughter]. Some of them joined far-right parties. Oh, God. That would've killed me, if my kids had done that. And so that was my early background, but I didn't actually sort of out there, active, if you like, in organizations until I was in the National Union of Teachers. And then I joined Rank and File, which was a much more radical group of the NUT, and it was a bit like the stewards' movement. Yeah, in the '30s, when the Communist Party was going into industries all over the country, they formed the shop stewards' movement. And their aim was not necessarily to recruit people to the party, but to get everybody in trade unions, and to actively encourage people to fight for better conditions of work, better pay, whatever. And the Rank and File was very much based on that -- on those lines, and so we were a more radical group. And then, in the '70s -- I started teaching in 1975, and by then, the National Front and some other sort of -- God, what is it? The something of Britain movement. I can't remember particularly who they were. There's always these sort of strange, shadowy groups, you know, of, like, 10 people. And then you had the big groups, like the NF, and the British Movement. They were those -- the two, really. And they started to really, really organize around Brick Lane. Do you know about Brick Lane? Big Bangladesh-y area, used to be in East End, town hamlets, and there used to be massive Jewish areas where my Jewish family came from -- Whitechapel, around there. And then the sort of -- as the Jewish population became a bit more prosperous, they sort of moved -- they moved over. This always happens, isn't it, to migrant groups, as you know. And they moved up the road a bit, and so in the '60s and the '70s, there was a big influx of people from Bangladesh, particularly Bangladesh, and some instance, Pakistan, but mostly Bangladeshi. And they were, in the '70s, having a really bad time at the hands of these groups, with their shops graffitied -- very much the same sort of thing that happened to Jewish people in the '30s -- and fire bombings, and beatings up in the street. And so the left of various denominations all used to organize marches to -- in support of the Bangali community, but the National Front held enormous paper sales in Brick Lane. And I was involved in all of that, and I -- you know. And then, in 1977 -- no, I started -- that's right. When I joined the SWP, it was called IS, then, International Socialists, and then it became the SWP just after I joined. And they said, "You have to do a paper sale, you know, every week, Anna [assumed spelling]. Where do you think --" so I said, "Oh, I know." I said, "There's a big market where I live called Chapel Market. We could try and sell the paper there." And so another guy in Rank and File, who was also in the SWP, said to me, "I'll come with you, Anna. I -- you can't do it on your own. We'll do it together. We'll try and sell the papers." The very first day we did it, it was Saturday. And we went right into the market, and we were holding up our newspapers. And suddenly, I noticed there was a ring of people around us also selling newspapers. And I thought, well, I don't recognize that. What's that? And it's British something-or-other. And it was very funny, really. And I said to my companion, "Who the hell are these people?" And he said, "Don't worry, Anna. Just local Nazis. Just carry on." It was really funny. And the store holders said to us, "We're so glad to see you people. We've had to put up with these bastards week after week." So the next week, we came back, and I said to him, "Actually, I think -- you know, we're right in the middle of a market. It's really packed, and we're pissing people off because we're getting in their way. And they're not going to buy papers off of us. They're doing their shopping. I think we should move a bit further down the road." So we did, which then became the high pavement in Upper Street, which was -- they're standing there. And Chapel Market was just along a bit, and then up a side street -- here they all are. Some of -- but this is -- this is more in the '80s, but in the same place. And there are the railings. That's Upper Street there, and there's a tube station down there. Anyway, so we started to sell our paper there, and -- or to stand with it, and then we started to produce some leaflets to try to offset the propaganda that these people had obviously been peddling for some time. And no one had ever opposed them. And it was these local fascist group, National Front, from Hocksten [assumed spelling], which was led by a man called Derrick Day, who lived in that area. And -- in Hackney. And they knew my father [laughter]. I tell you -- the story you're telling me about the young man you talked to, and how things aren't always just sort of black and white -- there's all subtleties, isn't there? And he used to say, "That's Bob Dark's [assumed spelling] daughter, that is. So don't no one lay a finger on her, because she's working-class [laughter]." It was really odd. And what was happening was that things were getting very, very difficult for the fascists down in Brick Lane because of these great big marches against them. And the police were beginning to say, "We can't have this every week. You know, you're causing all the -- you know, whatever." So they turned their faces to us up the road in Chapel Market, and decided, oh, we'll try there. There's no opposition there. There's only a madwoman and a couple of other people. They thought I was a bit mad, because I wasn't afraid of them. And I wasn't. Never was I afraid of them, and I think that's because my father taught me -- he used to say to me, "You never give them not one inch of the pavement, because once they've got our streets, then, you know, everything will get much worse. We can't let them control the streets." So -- and, you know, I was brought up with a complete sort of disgust and disdain for people who had these views, and where those views had led to in the Holocaust. And, you know, I wasn't afraid of them. I was nervous for some of my comrades, in a way, because some of them were really frightened, and I don't blame them for that. They hadn't been brought up like me [laughter], to be honest. And, you know, they used to always say, "Well, you hiding -- all you lot hide behind her. You're all cowards." And that wasn't the case, really, because they did attack me physically as well, you know. But it was a strange thing. I'm one of those people -- you know the whole thing about -- what is it? The flight or -- fear-or-flight, or something, where some people in crises -- they don't freeze, but I stay very cool, and can see very clearly -- they almost become detached from what's happening. And they can see very clearly that it's happened -- in plane crashes, exits, and other people run. And I was one of the detached persons, and I used to say to them, "If you run away, they'll chase you and hit you. So at least let's stand together, and they can try to hit us. But, you know, running away will not save you. It'll make it worse." And that was true, absolutely. I mean, obviously, if someone's charging at you with a knife, you don't stand there. You do try to get out of the way and get away from them, but, you know, this was fists, and boots, and things, you know. They used to -- sometimes, they had weapons. Anyway, this brings us up really to 1977, with when the fascists did the march in Lewisham, which became an enormous battleground. And I happened to be away that week on holiday -- very rare for me. Me and the kids, we went to -- where did we go? France. And I came back on the day of Lewisham, but too late to have gone there. And I walked in my house, and the phone was ringing. And I picked up the phone, and it was my mother. And she said, "Put on the telly! We're knocking the shit out of those Nazi bastards in --" [laughter] this was my mother. No, black shirts. She always called them black shirts. Out of the black shirts, yeah. Yeah. And after that, the Anti-Nazi League was formed, because there was masses of arrests. The police were very, very aggressive to the anti-fascists, and a lot of people got beaten up, and hurt, and all the rest of it. And the NF did have a big march. I mean, you know, they did, right the way through a black area, you know. And previous to that, there'd been sort of fire bombings of homes where black people lived, and all, a big build-up. It was very bad, and they were marching all over the bloody place, you know. In the Midlands -- Leicester was one. That was a big later, but Leicester. And so, I was still in the SWP then. And so the SWP -- the national secretary came around to all the local branches and said, "We're going to set up an anti-Nazi league, and we want members of the party to convene all the groups in all the different areas." It was quite clever, the way they did it. "And we're going to have a big national conference," which they did, to launch it. And they had all these sort of media stars who supported it, and all sorts of things like that. And so, I went to a meeting in -- they changed its name so many times -- in north London. It was North London Polytechnic, and it then became North London University. Then it became Metropolitan University, but it was then North London Polytechnic. And the students union there were involved, and we had a big inaugural meeting, and then split up into different areas. And I was asked to organize the south of the borough, which, of course, was where all the fascists lived [laughter]. I drew a short straw there. But anyway -- so -- and so this big circle of people came around me, and there were people in the Labor Party, some in Militant -- that used to be a fringe group in the Labor Party. And they were all expelled from the Labor Party, of course, under Neil Kinnock. But they were all good people, and we started -- our first-ever meeting was to address the ever-growing, enormous presence of the National Front and their friends at Chapel Market, and what -- how we dealt with this. And we decided that, you know, just sort of handing out leaflets on the street every week -- okay, well, they would be on one side of the pavement, like there. We would be -- you see here -- you can see her up there against those railings? They would be that side. We would be the other side, or the other way around -- you know, whoever got there first. And we decided we had to leaflet all the estates, and so we divided up the whole of the south of the borough, and went to all the estates, leafleted every single house. And, God, the energy -- you know, how did we do it? You think -- you know. And when I think -- these days, you know, things are going on, and the left can't seem to get itself together to sort of organize anything. It's extraordinary, and we did it all without computers. We -- it was extraordinary, really. Without mobile phones -- you know, you made arrangements that you would all meet at whatever time, and you went. You went, because if you didn't, you let down everybody else. Now, I used to always say that the -- you know, it wasn't a moral judgment, but, you know, if you don't turn up when you say you will, you're putting all your colleagues in grave danger. Because we were getting attacked left, right and -- physically. They just used to come at us with poles, and charge -- you know -- and, you know, we were getting arrested all the time. And then --

Is this all centered at Chapel Market?

Yeah, all centered at Chapel Market. And they would often be -- we would count, and there would be 50 of them with -- I lived just up the road from Chapel Market, and I used to walk from my house -- the one that got petrol bombed -- I used to walk from my house, and turn the corner, and there they'd be with enormous flags, Union Jack flags, a whole line of them on spiked poles. Not little ones, great big bats. Yeah, and they'd all be standing there with the flags, and their papers, and they -- you know, and they would start, you know, shouting abuse at us. The police used to be there, of course, in the end. They were there. There was one wonderful inspector -- I'd never forget him. Inspector Barker [assumed spelling], his name was. And he hated them. And this guy here, Jimmy Fields [assumed spelling], attacked me -- where is he? He's -- I think he's here. He -- yeah, him. He attacked me. He had steel toecap boots on, and he broke my hamstring. And I was on the ground, and Inspector Barker happened to be driving past in a police car. And he saw it, and he leapt out of this police car. He was in his 50s, and he chased him about a mile up the road until he got him. And he arrested him.

What precipitated that attack?

We did nothing to precipitate it. They hated us. If we were there -- they wanted -- they were trying to establish a political presence in that part of Islington, and we were stopping them doing it. And they hated it, and so, you know, they were very, very violent in those days. They didn't even hide that they were violent. They just were. And, you know, a lot of -- there was people there who had been in the army in Northern Ireland and all that sort of thing, you know, ex-soldiers who were in the National Front. And they were very aggressive, and they just used to -- they'd give a signal. Someone would say something, or they'd shout, "Sieg Heil!" That was usually what they did, and then they'd charge, and hit us. Anyway, he got sent to prison, because Inspector Barker said to me -- I heard him say to another policeman, "That damned Nazi has attacked that lovely lady from the ANL, and I'm not -- I'm not standing for it," he said. But mostly, they weren't like that. And then, he got demoted. He got sent to Scotland Yard in charge of traffic.

As a result of his --

I don't know. I think he -- they -- the powers that be thought he was too sympathetic to us, because the police were terrible. They -- you know, Nazis could do anything, and they'd arrest us. And, you know, he came up to me just before he left, and he said, "I'm having to leave. They've moved me. They're sending me to --" he said, "I'm really sorry, but I've talked to my constable over there --" and it wasn't him, but it was someone who looked quite like him. "And I've told him to look out for you." And that guy did. He hid me in a doorway once, when the police were charging and arresting everybody. Anyway, you know -- so it's interesting.

What was the police presence like on a typical Saturday --

Well, it started out with just a few people, and then, of course, it got much bigger. And they would have a line of police, and we used to go in and have meetings with the police and with the local council. I did a lot of that. I was always going to council meetings, and to the race relations committee, and saying what was happening, and to liaise with the police that, you know, these people were propagating racial hatred. Why were they allowed to stand there and do it? And all -- and they used to come up with all sorts of excuses, like, oh, yeah, well, they weren't -- there aren't any black people around for them to offend, you know. And they were racist themselves, you know. I mean, it's only -- you know, the Stephen Lawrence case, you know, is example of that, but before Stephen Lawrence, I mean, they were even worse. They were terrible. But you did get small pockets of people in the police who weren't like that, and they were having a hard time. They were up against, you know, enormous prejudice within their own force. And, you know, they were told -- one policeman told me -- I said, "Why do you always, you know, arrest us, and why -- you know, I don't understand it. We have a civil right to picket and to -- you know, to -- we're peaceably leafleting. We're not attacking them, you know." And he said, "Well --" he told me that in his training -- it was Hendon [assumed spelling], I think, in those days. They were actually told that people like us and trade unionists were all scum who were trying to bring down the government. You know, and this was -- these were young constables who we -- they were told that. It was part of their training. And I think it's the reason that Blair Peach died and was murdered, because we were the enemy, not the fascists. That's absolutely how it was. And then, you know, 1979 came, and the election, when Thatcher first got into power, and the fascists held an enormous meeting in Southall. My daughter was there, one of my daughters, and I was at home. I wasn't there. I was at home, because I was ill. And -- but I had the radio on, because we knew that -- I don't know. We just had a feeling something bad was going to happen, because the Front were being allowed to hold a big election meeting right in the middle of Southall, of the Asian community. And the population rose up in protest -- not violent protest, at first -- in protest. And by 3:00 in the afternoon -- and the meeting wasn't until 7:00 at night. The police were charging -- baton charging them, because they sat down in the road. They'd -- passive resistance. And was literally playing football with their truncheons with these people. It was terrible. And this was all on the radio, and I was listening. And I knew -- my Miriam was -- was she nursing then? I think she started her nurse training, and she said she was going straight from work to Southall. And this went on -- and, you know, me and my other daughter, who -- Sharon, who did get involved in the movement, but on that day -- again, she's a very severe asthmatic, and she was quite sick. And we just sat and listened in horror as it got worse, and worse, and worse. And she never came home. And then, the next morning, a teacher friend of mine telephoned me, and said, "They've killed Blair." Because we were all friends, you see. We were teachers, and we all -- I knew him really well. He was a lovely, lovely man, and they beat -- smashed his head in, and he died. And I still didn't know where Miriam was, and then I got a phone call from a family who knew -- who were there, and who had found her. And they said, "She's with us, and she's been -- she's got head injuries." And, oh, God. And she -- when he died, she was going home. They were all walking to the tube to go home, because by that time, there were 400 or something people arrested. You know, it was terrible. And she said she'll never forget. She walked down the street, and it was full of glass. It was like walking on ice. It was extraordinary. And she heard the siren of this van, and she ran. And she ran down these gardens -- was the way you can get into a garden, they -- in the north, they have a lot of terraces like that. And she ran. She ran into this garden, and they chased her, the SPG. And a 6'4" policeman, you know, brought his baton down on top of her head when she was on the -- cowering on the -- like this, on the ground. She was 17. She was a young girl. And it happened to be the house of an Asian family, and they ran out, and they dragged her into their house. Terrible. Terrible times. And it wasn't long after that that we all got arrested at Chapel Market, at Chapel Market 11. He was -- he died in April. It was St. Georges Day. It was a St. Georges Day -- and we were arrested in the summer, again, by the SPG. They came to Chapel Market, and first, they grabbed me. They'd obviously been told, "Get the organizer." So they grabbed me first and arrested me, and my daughter, Sharon, was there. And she screamed, and hung onto me, and said, "Let go of my mother," so they arrested her. And then, Miriam did the same, and said, "Leave my mum and sister alone," so they arrested her. But all of a sudden -- they'd shoved her in a police car, and she screamed the whole way, because she was -- she had the memory of what happened to her in Southall only a couple of months before. And the police were frantic. They didn't know what to do, because some of them were quite young constables, actually, who didn't like being told what they were being told to do by these SPG guys. Because there was a lot of police that -- and in the end, they arrested 11 of us. And they put me in a cell on my own, and we had a -- it was a big trial. It was quite a cause célèbre, the Chapel Market 11, and not one of us was convicted. We all got off.

What was the charge?

Oh, any -- police assault, and -- to obstruction of the highway, to threatening behavior, to all sorts of things. And, you know, the judge couldn't believe it. And we had very, very good lawyers who worked for nothing, barristers who then became quite famous barristers, actually, who were young and starting in their careers. And, you know, we did raise money to pay them, in the end, but -- and then, a couple of months later, they did it again. But this time, they just got me, and again, my daughter, Sharon, got the two of us, because she hung onto me. And so they grabbed her. And this was the SPG again, who didn't know anything, really, about -- they didn't come from the area. That was the whole thing about the Special Patrol Group. It was a bit like what happened, in a way, in the miners' strike, where they would send the Metropolitan Police up to the Yorkshire mines, because the local police felt so bad about what they were doing. Although, they would -- they were involved, but the Met was vicious, you know. Anyway -- so that was that principle, really, that they didn't really know. And we got to the police station, and I said, "Don't tell them anything. Don't say anything, you know, and, you know --" again, it went to trial, and we got off again.

What was the charge the second time?

I can't remember. Something stupid. They basically would try -- they were told that I was the reason that all these things were happening every Saturday with the fascists, you know, and if only we went away, and let them just get on doing what they were doing -- you know, the fascists -- you know, there wouldn't be any more trouble. It was all our fault. I mean, it was very, very bad, and -- but the funny -- my father, you see, when he used to tell me stories, he used to tell me stories often of terrible things that were happening. But then, he would somehow find humor. It was the way working-class people dealt with hard lives. They found humor in sometimes extremely difficult situations. And so I kind of did that. And when they bundled me into this van, I was holding my handbag. And it was wrenched out of my hand, and it ended up on the pavement. And as you can probably notice now, I'm someone who loves makeup, and always wears makeup, never been without it, you see. And my makeup was in this bag, and so I -- shout out of the window to Ummesh Desai [assumed spelling], who was a young Asian guy who was leafleting, "Ummesh! Ummesh! Get my bloody makeup! It's on the floor!" You know, it was very, very funny. And he said, "You care about your lipstick when the SPG have got you? Are you mad?" It was very funny. Anyway, he did pick up my makeup, and when we went to court, I mean, the judge couldn't believe it. Again, you know, why do you keep bringing these people here? What have they done? And one of the officers didn't even turn up. We were lucky that we had a very good local MP then called Chris Smith [assumed spelling], who I had a lot of time for. He was always being accused of being sort of too to the center of the party, the Labor Party, but he was a damned good MP, and he was really supportive of all of us. And he was always ringing the police station and saying, "What do you think you're doing?" And, "Let these people go," and all of that sort of thing. So that's what he did again, and we came home. And that was still in 1979, and in -- you know, the fascists slowly got fewer and fewer, and dwindled away. And then, the SWP -- which was a great victory for us, and the movement, and all these brave people who did this week after week. Sometimes both days, Saturday and Sunday, they used to turn up. And then the party decided to close down the ANL -- to close down the ANL, to close down the Women's Movement, to close down the Rank and File Movement. They were expelling comrades all over the country. Ummesh Desai, in 1981 -- this was 1981 -- was selling papers in the middle of the Brixton riots. And when he got home, he [laughter] -- when he got home, he got a letter of expulsion from the party. I mean, that's what -- it was insane.

What prompted this series of expulsions?

Oh, well, the Tories have got into power now, and so there's -- you know, we don't need to fight the fascists. We'll -- the party must look inwards, and rebuild itself, and -- to fight the Tories. And let's get rid of all these -- these are all divergent things. We don't -- you know, it will take it away from the true path. It was such a load of crap. And, of course, I was still being asked to speak. I used to speak at all sorts of places -- various student unions, all sorts of places -- about what was going on, and the history of fascism. It wasn't just about how you oppose them. It was, you know, addressing all sorts of issues. And in the union, everywhere -- and the party were instructing their members of their student union to not -- to boycott me, because I was a counter-revolutionary or something. Party-wrecker, they called me, because I -- a lot of people came with me when I was ousted. I didn't tell them to, but they just did, out of disgust. They couldn't believe what was going on. You know, and these great trade unionists, men who I knew through the Rank and File, not just in teaching, but in the building trade, were expelled, who had fought the lump. Do you know what the lump is? No? Right. The lump in the building industry was non-union labor used on building sites where they just got cash in hand, no insurance, no nothing. And in the building trade, of course, so many men were killed in those days, because there were no proper safety measures. Because if you were on the lump, you couldn't get anything. You know, it was very, very bad. And they were campaigning against it, and they were expelled. You know, all these wonderful people -- it was a dreadful time. And the party maligned us, and -- what did they call us? Squaddists [assumed spelling]. Squaddists. That's because when people hit us, we hit them back. But, you know -- and I was a -- I'd been attacked a few times, and they said that I had a siege mentality. And fascists used to stand and watch my house, you know, outside the house. It was appalling, and it was, I think, a big, big mistake. Because the whole movement fragmented, and whereas we had a -- you know, the ANL, even though it started as a vehicle for the SWP to launch itself into, and to create members and everything, and kudos, it grew much bigger than that. And it was national, and so many people were involved. And it was all -- it all went. And why? You know, and it fragmented the left, because it caused enormous schisms, and factions, and, you know, bitterness about what happened. People were left with no organization, nowhere to go, all that sort of thing. And I don't think it ever recovered. It's not recovered itself. And so we've got a group here, you know, the one that started from Searchlight -- Hope Not Hate group, but, you know, they do some good work. But it's -- nothing is on the par of the ANL in those days, and it was a massive national organization. You know, I had links with people all over the country, and they knew me. Sometimes, they would come to London to support us. We would do the same -- all of that, you know, and not -- you know, and in big numbers. And the fascists sank without trace.

Do you think, to some extent, the ANL might have been a victim of its own success with the National Front? Failing to make that breakthrough in 1979, and then, as you say, numbers on the street were dwindling.


Do you think it -- that made it harder to hold the ANL together, or --

No, the party dismantled it, really, in a way, before that became apparent. And that wasn't the reason it was dismantled. It was because they dismantled all the other organizations, all the work that was being done on Ireland, everything, you know. But what we said -- we said that we needed, in Islington, to be completely vigilant, because we knew they hadn't gone away. We knew they were waiting in the wings, and of course, we were right. Because they did. They all came back again. That's all this lot. They all came back, Patrick Harrington and all those -- Ian Anderson, all those people. They all came back again, and they flocked Chapel Market. But we were the only place, really, and there were -- you know, we had to then rebuild ourselves, you know, without any party support. Because, you know, the party would do leaflets and all sorts of things like that, and put out a call to support us, and -- through all their networks, and we didn't have that anymore. And that was very hard, but we did reorganize, and we stood against them. And although we got rid of them again from the streets, in Chapel Market and around there, after long battles, they then came back in the form of Blood and Honour in 1986. And there we were again, you know. And we were also involved in -- in particular, in a school called Highbury Quad when I was a teacher there. I was the only T-rep where there was some very bad fascist attacks going on against the Asian children, who also lived on the local estate. And the fascists lived on the local estate. And so we, as teachers in the school, started to really, you know, take this on. And this was '85, '86. And we implore -- fought -- ILEA said we were being too political, and the families were isolated. We had the help of a wonderful woman, a Bengali woman called Maia Chaudry [assumed spelling] who became part of our group, and who was our interpreter. And we went visited the families. It was the women that really stood up against these bastards, you know. The husbands didn't want anything to do with it. And we formed -- we fought about a two-year campaign with the local council to evict these people who were perpetrating these attacks. And we used to -- we organized an escort. We used to go and pick the children up every morning, on a rota, from their homes, and escort them to school, and then take them home again. And in the end, we fought a long battle with ILEA to make them provide that protection, but they hated us for doing it. Because we shamed them. We were on TV and all sorts of things, talking about it. And finally, finally, we made the council take them to court, and they did it because we organized -- and you can tell -- Highbury Quadrant school racial incident forms. We organized forms like this, and every time -- and gave them to the families and the children, and they wrote down on these forms the date, the time, what was said to them, what happened. And we collated an enormous -- you know, this isn't all of them. But this is -- yeah, we collated a lot of -- all the information. Because they kept saying, "We don't have any proof. We don't have any proof." And so we -- well, we'll get proof. And we actually got people on the estate who joined our group who used to go on patrol and monitor what was going on, and it was an extraordinary organization, really. And then, we organized a play scheme, because these poor kids could never go out to play. And so, every Saturday, we organized all sorts of things. We took them swimming. We did all sorts of things with them, took them to museums. We took them youth hosteling, you know, so that they could have some bloody normal life outside of their flats. And these fascists were still there, threatening them with dogs, and spitting at them. Terrible, terrible. And in the end, they were taken to court, yeah, and they were evicted. We won the case. And some of the families were transferred to much better places, as well, but we paid a cost. One of our members, Hafeis [assumed spelling], was beaten so badly in the street by these fascists that he was hospitalized. They smashed out every single tooth in his face, and he had beautiful teeth, and beat him to a pulp in broad daylight with crowbars. Kate Rex [assumed spelling] had someone fired at her with a shotgun, missed her, but went straight through her car window. And me, I got my house petrol bombed. So we paid a high cost, because it was all at the same time that we were fighting Blood and Honour, as well.

So let's just take it back a little bit for the sake of chronology.


After the -- kind of the decline of the National Front you mentioned, Nazis coming to Chapel Market --


-- were these people in the National Front, formally in the National Front --


-- or were they from outside, or --

No, they were in the National Front. They all -- well, they were all carrying National Front newspapers and leaflets, so I'm assuming they were in the National Front. Yeah, they were, because some of them were very well-known members. Searchlight could -- you know, identified loads of them. The big thing in 1980, '81 to '82 with Patrick Harrington, was that -- when I said to earlier on, well, I used to stand and talk to them, and he was -- he thought he was very clever and superior, did Patrick. And he led a really bad attack on us one day, with bricks and all sorts. But before then, there'd been several attacks in the local area. A woman in a bookshop had had her skull smashed in, in the local left-wing Marxist bookshop, IMG bookshop, actually. And a few things like that had happened, and he -- I said to one of the comrades -- I said, "We need to get some evidence against him. Have you got a tape recorder?" So we brought this tape recorder with us in a plastic bag. God, talk about primitive. And he said to me, "Do you know, Anna? You and I aren't that different, really. We both want the same thing." And I said to him, "How do you make that up?" "Well," he said, "we both despise the ruling class, and, I mean, when Hitler came to power in Germany, the rich were jumping out of -- bankers were jumping out of the windows and killing themselves. And we believe in a social revolution, but with a different end result." Right? So he said all this, and I said to him, "Yes, but -- that's right," I said, "but surely, you know, smashing in the skull of a young woman in a bookshop isn't -- is that the sort of thing that you think is justified in your social revolution?" And he said, "Well, all revolutions have victims and casualties, Anna. You should know that." He said to me -- and on and on he went, talking about he believed that violence was justified, on, and on, and on. Because he was so -- he thought that he was a bit of an intellectual, and that he -- you know, he loved the sound of his own voice. So we were taping all this. And then suddenly, he stopped talking to me, and he did -- and I was looking around. And I thought, there's a lot more fascists here than usual. Where they have all come from? And they'd come from a van, but because I was engrossed in talking to him, and with -- and I suddenly said to the comrades -- there was only 15 of us. And I said, "Hang on a minute. There's something going on, and, you know, close ranks." But before we could do it, he suddenly shouted, "Sieg Heil!" They're not very original, are they, really? But he did, and did the Nazi salute, did this, you know, Sieg Heil. And suddenly, this sort of enormous amount of bricks came hurtling through the air at us. I'll never forget someone asking me -- was it a policeman? Well, were they half-bricks or whole bricks? [Laughter] And I said, "Well, I didn't exactly measure them as they were raining down on us." And so I -- you know, they -- and then they were -- grabbed hold of one of our leafleters, and they were beating him half to death in a doorway. So I ran back with one other person, and he was very brave. He was the guy who was doing the taping with me, and he picked up -- you know newspaper billboards? And used it as a shield, you know, and then there were just the two of us left, and this poor man being kicked in the head. And suddenly, the -- several quite elderly lady shoppers came tearing out of -- with a -- I mean, this is true -- with their umbrellas, and laid into these -- the fascists, and said, "You bloody black shirts! We're sick to death of you! Stop kicking him! You -- you're just terrible!" And there was a policeman -- two police, actually, and they ran away. [Laughter] And so then, they -- then the fascists left, you know, with Harrington smirking. Yeah. And so, when he did that whole thing about going to university, and all the students came out and -- against him, and formed a picket, and the police took photographs of all the students on the picket line. And they went to the lecturers, and they said, "We want the names of all these students, because they had no right to do this. He's got every right to have an education, go to university. He's not a violent man. You know, his past association is nothing to do with --" all that crap. So he -- they refused. Fair play to them. They wouldn't give the names. So they got a court injunction against the lecturers, and all -- they all got summoned to court. And they were all going to be done for contempt of court and imprisoned, because they wouldn't -- they disobeyed -- it was a court order to give the names. So we rolled out the tape to prove that Harrington was not this gentle, nice young man who -- yes, he'd been dabbling in right-wing politics, but he'd seen the error of his ways. You know, because this tape was only a little while before he did all that. And so, we submitted it to the court. Searchlight cleaned it up for us. They were -- he went mad, Harrington, and -- because he thought that Searchlight had done it. But, of course, Searchlight hadn't. We did. But they cleaned it up for us. And so the injunction was dropped, and all those lecturers got their jobs back. They'd all -- they were all going to be sacked and imprisoned. Yeah. So when my house was petrol bombed, about three years later -- because I think that was '82, or '83, and my house was petrol bombed in '87. They -- I found -- it's really moving. I'd forgotten that I got all these letters from -- they raised money to pay for all of the stuff I'd lost. Yeah. And they said, "Oh, if it hadn't been for you, we would've lost our jobs. And we're really sorry this has happened to you, and this, that, and the other," which was very nice.

So --

So that was really the end of -- in a way, that was the end of their presence at Chapel Market. It was '82. But then, all this lot then came. Then the Highbury Quadrant -- the school thing was '84, '85, '86, and that's when they appeared as well, in -- just up the road.

That was this Blood and Honour?

Blood and Honour, yeah.

How did you become aware that Blood and Honour had --

Somebody told us. I can't remember who it was now, but someone said, "Oh, there's some really bad-looking skinheads in -- you know, wherever, in that house." And then we started to steal their rubbish, and my daughter used to do it with her boyfriend [inaudible], you know, midnight or 5:00 in the morning. And that's how we found out their names. And, you know, he was a bouncer in Heaven, big gay club, Nicky Crane. So we wrote to Richard Branson, because he owned it, and said, "Do you realize who this man is? And you employ him?" And he wrote back and said, "Oh, you know, my employees' private life is nothing to do with me." Yeah. But then, you know, he got -- you know, if one did believe in God, you would think God struck him down. But I don't believe in God, so he didn't. But --

Did Nicky Crane stand out at this point?

-- oh, yeah. You couldn't miss him, either. Physically, he certainly stood out. And -- you know, and he was always -- he'd been -- he'd been imprisoned at least once or twice for a GBH [inaudible], because, you know, he used to -- he was really vicious. And I never really met him face to face. I saw him when we were -- we did the march past his house. It was -- that was -- it was wonderful, that was. It was all these -- we got so many of the local Asian community involved, and, you know, that's the key, really. And all these wonderful women, you know, in their saris and headscarves were carrying placards saying, "We will not be bullied by these racists." And, you know, they were great. Then -- but, you know, all these things, I think, take their toll. I mean, I was a full-time teacher and trade unionist, and doing all this work, and I -- then, in 1984, right at the end of the miners' strike, my father died of leukemia. He was only diagnosed two weeks before he died, and he was dead. It was terrible. He was only 74. And my mother had died 18 months before, and he never, ever got over her death. He was completely grief-stricken. And that was a downward slope for me. I remember him saying to me -- before, when I was very involved, and he was seeing what was happening, and the way they attacked us all the time. And he would keep trying to stop me doing it, and I said to him, "You know, who are you telling? I'm my father's daughter, for God's sake." And he said to me, "Yes, but I know what terrible things they're capable of, and I'm frightened for you, you know." Well, my mother did say to one fascist, "If you harm a hair of my daughter's head, I shall run you out of Hackney." I don't really know how she was going to do that, but that's what she used to do. She was -- [laughter] and she was incredible, too. Yeah. And then, I got very ill. I got a pneumonia, and never recovered from it. And then, by 1988 -- and then my house was petrol bombed in '87, and both my parents had died, which -- I never really got over my father's death, particularly, because I was -- he was my closest friend, really. And I got ME. I don't know if you know what ME is. You do? Pardon?

Just explain for the --

Oh, myalgic encephalomyelitis, it's called, and it is a -- now, it is known to be a disease of the central nervous system that often happens after a virus infection. Often, people who have glandular fever develop it. And there was a lot of controversy at first over it. You know, it was like, oh, it's a psychosomatic illness. It's all in the mind. Because people didn't understand it. Doctors didn't understand how someone could look fine and be so ill, and no blood test ever showed what it was. And, you know, I'd taken a second ment from school to do a year's masters as an art therapist, because I was an art major. I always -- I had taught art, as well as creative writing, as a teacher. And I just got iller and iller. I got to a point where I could hardly walk across the room. And I kind of knew that there was something really bad going on, because I was sitting in the middle of my classroom, and I couldn't get up from the chair. And I said to the children, "I'm sorry, but I am -- I can't -- you'll have to come to me. I can't actually get across the room." And I just thought I'd had a terrible flu, because that's how it presents itself at first -- which you never quite recover from. And then you go back to work, and there's enormous pressure in teaching to go back to work. And you go back to work, and then it happens again. And then, you know -- and I was sort of collapsing in the street. I was getting violent headaches, and terrible -- now I know that I was also -- I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, because of the petrol bombing. I relived it every single night at 3:00 in the morning, which is when it happened, the explosion, and all the windows exploding. Which is what happens when they get very hot. And because there was no treatment, because no -- I kept going to my GP, and she -- you know, whoever I saw would say, "Oh, well, you know, do you have a relationship at the moment?" Or -- you know, it was all that. You know, so -- [laughter] and it was -- it had to be something, you know, in my life that -- whatever, and no one would believe that you were ill. And I've met other people with ME who developed it at exactly the same time, and they all said the same. They all thought we were mad, didn't they? And it was dreadful, absolutely dreadful. And finally, it got to a point where I ground to a halt, literally, and this is what -- I was in hospital for three months in Charing Cross. And I met the most wonderful doctor -- this was all about 1988, '89 -- called Stewart Rosen [assumed spelling], who was an Orthodox Jewish doctor. And he used to sit and hold my hand, and just talk to me, and talk to me. And he said to me, "The only way you will even get better at all is that you have to forget all the things that you think you have to do." And I did, and I had to let go of it all. Which was really hard for me, you know. I had to let go of IREFA [assumed spelling], and that's where Dave Lando [assumed spelling] came in and took over for a while. But it -- sort of the guts fell out of it, in a way, not because I was anything special, but women run things in a different way to men, I'm afraid. They just do. [Laughter] And we had an enormous amount of women in the group, you know. It was sort of -- we had a lot of people from the sort of black and Jewish lesbian group, and people from the prostitutes' collective, of all things [laughter] who were all involved in this anti-fascist work. And they just didn't feel as comfortable, because I used to run the meetings, and chair in a very sort of -- it's the one thing I feel I did well, is that I chaired in a way that everybody felt that they could speak, that they had space, that no one dominated. And if anybody did, I would tell them to stop it, and to just be quiet for a bit, and let's see what so-and-so over there might think, you know, and that sort of thing. And I think I was good at that, and I missed it during all that. And the group did sort of fall apart, really. It was still involved in some things. And it's a shame. I remember saying once -- one campaign we were involved in -- which was nothing to do with IREFA. It was to do with teachers against racism, and things, in town hamlets, and there were some terrible things going on in schools there towards the Asian children. This was in the '80s and early '90s. No, no, couldn't -- it couldn't have been the '90s, because I was too ill. And saying to two friends of mine -- when someone had supposed to have got these leaflets that we were needing for something, and didn't do it, and forgot, or it wasn't done on time, or they were still at the printers. And I said to them, "You know, there's only five people that I know in London who can actually write a leaflet, print it, and get it out on time, and three of them are in this room." [Laughter] That was me and the two others, and that was true. And organizations are like that, aren't they? I do think that human beings sort of -- sometimes, they need -- they want someone to lead. Now, how you do that is very important, and how you do it so that it doesn't become a sort of pedantic, Stalinistic group where people feel alienated, and that they don't have a say, and that they then drift away. And a lot of trade union groups were like that, you know. I mean, while all this was going on in the union, we formed a group in the NUT in Islington of women -- of 10 women who stood as the Women's Collective, to be the -- a collective group of women to do the job of the secretary, and the treasurer, and the offices. I tell you what. The male trade unionists went mad, absolutely mad. And it was the biggest election in the history of the union in that branch of 2000 members, and we won. And we ran the union in a completely different way for the next year, 18 months. And that was when I was at Highbury Quadrant School. And it was very, very successful. We sort of doubled and trebled the membership that turned up for meetings, and people liked it. And women just -- I know -- I mean, God, Margaret Thatcher was a woman, but you know what I mean. It doesn't that all -- but in this case, it kind of worked. And I supposed I watched my father, and the way he operated, because he used to take me to council meetings when he was a councilor. And that was very exciting, you know. He was always -- his big thing was that people should never be -- that working-class council tenants -- well, they were all working-class -- should never be evicted. A family should never be evicted from their homes just because they owed money. And there had to be another way of doing -- of working it out. And so he used to organize -- because they used to send in the bailiffs in those days. It was really vicious. Well, it's happening again now, of course. And they organized barricades, and all sorts of things, stopped the bailiffs coming in [laughter]. And I was at a council meeting once when they were going to discuss this case, and the public gallery was packed. And my father got up to speak, and this great big cheer went up from the gallery. And then all these leaflets descended down onto the council chamber, and the mayor was going mad, and banging his gavel, and -- clear the gallery! Clear the gallery! And it was this particular -- the Keo [assumed spelling] case. I'll never forget it, really. And that was against evictions, yeah. Those were the days, eh? That doesn't happen in council meetings now, does it? Anyway, so I had to retire from all this activity by 1989, and although I'm still very much in touch with what's going on, I can't do it anymore. I mean, I was in a wheelchair for a year, and I still have days when I can hardly get out of bed. I'm much better than I ever was. I suppose I lived in a sort of twilight world for about 15 years, I'd say, of sleeping, and getting up, and staggering around. God, it was terrible. And I'd been so -- I'd had such an active life, and, you know -- so then I started painting again. I was even too ill to paint. And writing -- so, you know, I've had quite a lot of stuff published, and books in things, short stories, poetry. I'm writing stuff. Every now and again, I do write stuff -- you know, political stuff for things.

Any publications in particular?

No, usually it's union stuff. I -- you know, for the union. But the publications, yeah -- well, the short stories, it's called -- what is the name of the -- I've got the book in there. "Mordecai's First Brush with Love," which is a load of short stories by Jewish women writers, and then poetry and stuff I wrote about my father, that was for Women's Press, which doesn't exist anymore. And then I've had other poetry published in poetry anthologies, "Poetry Now," and things like that. But I didn't -- I started writing when I was in hospital, and I used to have these visions of my father, that he was in the next room. I mean, the thing about ME is that it really is -- it's one of the most holistic illnesses, which is a sort of funny way to describe it. But it really is of the body and the mind, because I think -- why do some people develop it and others don't, who've had the same virus? Why did I develop ME? And I think it's -- the trick is, when people's lives perhaps have reached a stress level -- and mine certainly had, by then -- a stress level of such enormity that -- Stuart -- he -- Stuart Rosen described it to me. It's -- and the immune system then becomes very, very compromised, and can't cope with all the physical things that happen. So it's both, you know. I mean, I'm -- the highest percentage of people who get ME are teachers and doctors. And, you know, people commit suicide with it. I nearly did. I thought, if this is the rest of my life, there's -- I've had it, you know. But I didn't. I had wonderful women friends who sat with me day after day, and night after night -- and these were all people who had been involved in all this work with me, you know -- until I got past that bit. Yeah. Who do you know, then, who's got it? You must -- you look like you know what I'm talking about.

A couple of friends, one friend in particular.


I won't go into all the --


-- on the tape.

It's terrible, though.

Would you mind if I ask you a little more about the bombing?


Yes, you mind, or yes --

No, I don't mind. No, I don't get -- I don't get recall anymore, so it's all right.

-- so this was 1980 --


-- 1987 --


-- July. You talked about your work in the school, in the quadrant -- Highbury Quadrant.


You've talked about kind of getting involved in the estate work --

Yeah, Highbury Quadrant -- yeah, that's this. Yeah, yeah, that's right.

-- families. You've talked about Blood and Honour showing up, in particular Nicky Crane.


This was all kind of in the immediate run-up to the bombing?




Were you getting threats, anything like that?

Oh, there's always threats. You know, at the law center -- I mean, I've got -- there was -- they were always sending -- because we were involved with the local law center, South Islington Law Center. Those wonderful people there -- and none of them are there anymore -- who got involved in this with the Highbury Quadrant, because they were representing the families legally against the council. And they were wonderful. And threats used to be sent to them. I mean, the National Front used to write things in their publications about me, and urge comrades to go to Chapel Market, and to beat me up, and get rid of me. They used to call me Anna Porker. Anna Porker was a -- I think a Hungarian revolutionary. That's where my family originally came from, surprisingly, but they wouldn't have known that. Yes. There were -- they were always threatening me. You know, I mean, Crane said, "Whoever's doing this --" I told you that, when we were leafleting his area. You know, I'm going to kill whoever's -- I'm going to kill -- but people often say that and don't mean it, except that he usually did. Because he did try to kill people, didn't he? He used to beat them up and do all sorts of things. So yes. In a -- I suppose half of me wasn't surprised. I mean, the police -- it was three -- between 3:00 and 3:30 in the morning. I was asleep in the room downstairs. My son was asleep in the room upstairs, and thank God the doors were shut. Because it was one of those houses with a great big Victorian window, and it was -- it went -- there was a room -- a big room there. And then the next room was a great big kitchen. It went all the way through. And I woke up -- I heard something crash above me, because I was underneath -- and I sort of woke up like this. And suddenly, I heard my son running down the stairs, saying, "Get out! Get out! We've been petrol bombed!" And we -- he just had a raincoat over his body with nothing on underneath. His girlfriend, as well, was with him, Diane. And then -- and obviously, my pajamas, and we ran. Because the doors were closed of the rooms they threw the -- if it had gone through the passage, if we hadn't had that letter box down there, then that would've been a different story. I could've got out, but my son couldn't have done. Because there was -- I was down in the basement, which -- with the garden door, and I could've just run into the garden. So we ran to our neighbors -- obviously -- who heard it, of course. All the bloody street woke up, and -- because they threw four milk bottles full of petrol. And the police arrived the next day, and -- or did they come -- the fire -- the firemen came. The firemen were brilliant, actually. And the only thing that survived from that room was a wallet that I had with air tickets in, and my passport, and some money. Because my -- Miriam was then working on a kibbutz, and I was going to see her. It's the first time I was -- would've been my first ever visit in 1987. And that was before the first [inaudible], actually, and Jerusalem was a wonderful, open city. But anyway, that's -- whatever. And he said, "We think you might want this." And how that survived, I don't know, but it did. But everything else was gone, and the dog -- because we had a dog. And we managed to get the dog out. She was burnt all down her back. And our neighbors opposite took -- you know, said, "Come in here. Come in here." And they kept giving me whiskey, and I hate whiskey. I'll never forget it. I hate whiskey, but I drank it. And -- when I was -- I did -- I went into my detached mode, you know?


As if it wasn't happening to me. It was very strange. And when the police turned up -- they sent the police and forensics, and they were looking through all this stuff in my house. And they found a lot of anti-fascist leaflets, and copies of the National Front, because -- "The National Front News." We used to -- I mean, I've got whole box files full of them, because we -- I maintained that we had to know what they were saying. It was important. Because how could we counter their arguments if we didn't know what they were? I mean, obviously, the very basic arguments, we knew, but all sorts of other things that they were writing about in their newspapers that were distortions of the truth, of situations, of all sort of things, and also, people's names. And that's how we got a lot of information and intelligence on who their members were and what they were doing. And they said to me -- the police said to me, "What's all this, then, this literature? What have you -- what are you involved in, then?" So, you said, I said, "I'm a teacher, and I'm involved in, you know, anti-racist and anti-fascism." "Oh, well, then," they said to me. "Well, then, you've brought it on yourself. What do you expect?" That's what they said. And I said, "If you mean stopping seven-year-old children being attacked by Alsatian dogs, you know, controversial, then, you know, I'm your woman, you know." They were terrible. And of course, I gave them all sorts of names, but no one single person was arrested. I mean, there was a fascist, the next morning, standing across the street like that, staring at my house, which was -- [laughter] yes.

Do you think you know who did it?

I don't know, really. There's theories -- I mean, it could've been any number -- it could've been the family -- the particular violent, criminal fascist family -- because they were all criminals, as well as fascists -- who we brought a case against. Because they did say -- they did scream in court, "We're going to get you bastard teachers for this!" Because we were all teachers who were giving evidence, except for the one or two Asian women. And of course, they did. You know, they're -- I think it was probably to do with that, more than Nicky Crane. But who knows? You know, because they nearly killed poor Hafeis. I loved that man. He was wonderful, and they nearly killed him. It was awful. Never got anyone for that. Broad daylight. But that was the times. I mean, you know -- and the -- I think the one thing that the terrible tragedy of Stephen Lawrence's death did was to bring a lot more discussion around the terrible racism in the police force, you know, and their real dislike for people who fought against it, you know.

Obviously, this is a pretty huge event. What -- do you remember anything about the reactions -- people also involved in anti-fascism at the time?

Oh, yeah. I mean, yes. I got a lot of support from all around the country, from people who were rising once again to the emerging BMP, and, you know, the gradual -- it was all -- they were all coming out of the woodwork again at the end of the '80s and into the '90s, yeah. And it didn't take long, really. They -- again, just as the left and the anti-fascist movement fractured, so did they. Yeah. But then, they were coming -- I mean, Nick Griffin was probably, you know, the one who pulled all that together. God, what a terrible man he is.

How closely were you able to follow, obviously, the rise of the BNP and Nick Griffin from -- '99 onwards, I think, was when he took office. How closely were you able to follow --

Well, I was, through Searchlight, and -- because, you know, I've continued to talk to Jerry -- not just to Jerry, but other people who worked at Searchlight. And they continue to -- would, you know, try to support me, and talk to me, and also, that I'm -- I read for England, I'm telling you. And, you know, I read everything that's written about these people, and also what I know of them -- I remember when he was a student, you know, and was elected as head of a student union in -- Harrowgate, wasn't it? Was it Harrowgate? Yeah, Harrowgate, and there was a big set-to over all of that. And he was only young. That was in the '80s, of course. What did he study, for God's sake? He's just -- ridiculous man. But there you go. He's not doing so well now, is he? And then slowly, they're dying off, the old guard, Coleen Jordan [assumed spelling] and all of them, you know, Crane. Oh, dear. Stuart Donaldson, of course, was killed in a car crash on the way to a funeral of another Nazi [laughter]. Yes. I mean, what worries me more than what's happening here now -- and there's bad things happening here, and we've got a very, very right-wing government, and the Labor Party aren't a lot better, really. They ought to be, but, you know, all they can think of is getting elected again. So they're saying ridiculous things. But what's happening in Europe is scary, you know? In Germany, big rise of the neo-Nazi movement there. Sweden -- Sweden's terrible. Hungary, yeah, eastern Europe. God, look at Putin, you know. It's very frightening, and I don't know how it will all end. You know, and where's the -- there's not -- you know, we need, really, a really big European anti-Nazi league again of some sort. I mean, I know that in France, there's quite a big anti-racist grouping, but look what's happening in France, you know. Jewish people are leaving France by the hundreds and thousands, because the anti-Semitic attacks there are horrendous. You know, where's it all going to end? It's really scary. So that really does worry me, and the same sort of mantras are being trotted out, and -- like in the '30s, and the rise of fascism in Germany. Well, that was in the '20s, of course, you know. And then here, you get this government talking about curtailing union rights, you know, all of that sort of thing, you know. And that's the first thing that went in Nazi Germany, of course, was the unions were made illegal, 1928.

The two -- I mean, obviously, there's still hardcore fascists in the UK.

Yeah. Oh, yes.

Certainly nowhere near the scale of maybe the National Front in the late '70s.

In the '70s, yeah.

But the two kind of principal developments on the -- I guess you'd call it the far-right British politics, are, firstly, the level of support for UKIP, the rise of UKIP.

That's right.

I was going to ask you, how do you feel about UKIP?

[Laughter] How do I feel? I think they -- I think they tap into a lot of ordinary people's fears about the rapidly-changing structure of communities. You notice it a lot in London. You know, you get on a London bus, and you hardly ever hear an English voice. Then you see really old people getting on, really confused, and it's like where -- you know, they don't understand anything that's being said around them. And I think they tap into that fear of that -- of, how do people keep up with that change, and where's it going, you know? I think the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is also another big issue, which, of course, UKIP addresses well. And they do it in a lot less vicious way than the BNP, you know. It's a -- they come across as sort of -- I don't know. I mean, Farage is a joke, you know. But, I mean, they've expelled so many people from UKIP, because every -- you know, like, every other week, someone in UKIP would suddenly stand up and say something really violently racist, and ghastly, and he would have to expel him. That was -- it was quite funny, really. But I think they're a danger. I do think they're dangerous, I think particularly if the electoral system is changed to proportional representation. Because then, they'd have a hell of a lot of people in Parliament, you know, which is what happened in Greece, of course, with New Dawn. Or Golden Dawn, wasn't it? Yeah. So I think they're dangerous, and I think the left here are in a muddle about all sorts of things. About the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, because they get it all mixed up with not wanting to appear racist, or not being racist. Do you know what I mean? But not really. Leave it. It can go to message. But a really sort of -- not really looking at what's really going on, and saying, "Well, actually, that is out of order." You know what I mean? Because they're terrified of being seen as racist, and there's a big problem with that at the moment, I know, in the NUT. And teachers have talked to me about it, you know, in the union branches, and -- who feel very worried and uncomfortable about some of the motions that are being passed, you know, in conferences, and all sorts of things. So that's another issue, and I think UKIP tap into that as well. And people are scared. I think people are scared, and I think that they give voice to that fear, but exaggerate it. They don't -- their solution is stop everything. Know what I mean? Isn't it?

The other group I wanted to ask you about, and probably not so prominent now as they were, is English Defense League.

Oh, God, yeah, the EDL. Well, what can you say about them? I mean, it's interesting, because I've watched a film about the leader. Tommy -- is it Tommy someone? Was his --

Tommy Robinson.

-- yeah, Tommy Robinson.

It's a pseudonym, but --

Yes, I know, but that's what he was called, yes. And he -- because it all started at Luton, didn't it? And his opposition was a really fundamentalist, radical Islamic man who was every bit as bad as him, you know. And it kind of sprang out of that kind of conflict, and then they formed the -- I think -- you know, what really upsets me about them is that they run around waving the flag of Israel, you know. Thank you very much, no. You know? [Laughter] Go away. We don't need you. And so I think they're a lot more muddled than UKIP, so I don't think they're such a danger. I think at street level, I think they probably are much more dangerous than UKIP are, because UKIP are trying to present themselves as a political party with real problem-solving policies. Whereas the EDL are very much a reaction, a reactive sort of spontaneous movement, you know, to things that they don't like, but they're much more, you know, rough, tough, aggressive, and violent. And that must be frightening if you are in an Asian community somewhere with them marching through it. And they remind me of the sort of equivalent -- the -- you know, the old British Movement, in a way, and the way they -- the British Movement used to sort of pose themselves as being much more -- I don't know -- the National Front were always trying to get elected. So they were putting forward a political program, even though they were also aggressive on the streets. But they were -- they did have leaderships that were trying to cover that side up, whereas the British Movement never did. They -- you know, they were what you saw, and I think that's the difference between the EDL, really, and UKIP. But I could be wrong [laughter].

The other thing I'd like to ask you about is how you feel the states and institutions like the police deal with those kinds of groups now, compared to in the '70s and the '80s when you were kind of --

I don't think now that they show quite so much bias for them as they did then. I think they dare not. I think the Furson [assumed spelling] report and the -- you know, after the riots in '81, and then the Stephen Lawrence -- and then other things that have happened since then, where -- and an awful lot of internal restructuring, and looking at their attitudes and trainings. I think they're better. However, they weren't very good, were they, when the students were protesting against fees, you know? And so, they're probably being told to tread softly, softly on certain issues, and I think the whole sort of ethnic minority, and dealing with these sort of situations -- they have to be much more circumspect than they used to be. But they're still the same load of thugs when confronted with a load of kids, who they kettled [phonetic], and kept tracked, and -- it was terrible down here. And, you know, arrested lots of young people, and it was awful. And that was after the last election, wasn't it, the 2010 one, when they decided they'd up all the university fees?

Okay. Last question I usually ask. Is there anything I've not asked you about, you'd like the chance to talk about, that you --

I think I've talked enough. I think I've talked enough.

Okay, we'll leave it there, then.

And thank you.

Thank you.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|KVNKKE620813058