December 4, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Build up to the Anti-Nazi League carnival

2 min read
The Anti-Nazi League Carnival in 1978 was a unique demonstration led by bands like The Clash and TRB against the rising power of the National Front
Anti-Nazi League carnival

I was at school with the son of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) boss Len Murray and together with a mate of mine, Mark, and some other kids, we all went down to the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978. It now seems like an epoch ago but was an incredibly exciting day.

So, why did the Anti-Nazi League organise a carnival and why did so many of us go?

Anti-Nazi League Carnival 1978 – the run-up

Racism was on the rise from the mid-70s. The National Front had been doing very well in local elections. The skinhead scene had been infiltrated by both the NF and other more violent extreme Right groups. There had even been a string of murders and very violent attacks on Britain Asian people including in our borough.

The economy was on the slide and there was a kind of national angst about Britain’s declining place in the world. I think the 70s was a time when everybody finally woke up and realised we didn’t rule a fifth of the global anymore. To some people, that was an existential disaster.

Immigration from the ‘New Commonwealth’ had increased since the Second World War and the 1970s saw the arrival of Asians expelled from Uganda by its bonkers dictator, Idi Amin. Many of these Ugandan Asians would go on to very successful in business in the UK but at the time, the knuckleheads amongst us just wanted them to ‘go home’.

DISCOVER: LGBT woes in the early 1980s

Anti-Nazi League carnival gives us a focus

To employ an old cliche, the Anti-Nazi League carnival was an idea that found its time. We all wanted to voice our hatred for the bigots. So, here was a fun day out to do just that.

I’d never seen anything like the Anti-Nazi League carnival in my life and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it since. It wasn’t glossy or glitzy. Bands like The Clash didn’t walk on as celebrities but at least effected humility – though I’m sure they meant it. The crowd was raucous and still full of the rebellious punk ethos of 1976.

This documentary from the time gives a real flavour of how a movement arose through the Labour Party, trade unions and pressure groups to push back against the NF and the purveyors of race hate.

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