Our Man in Westminster: Former anti-Mandela camp is silent – in case its members hang themselves


A lot of men and women in their late forties and early fifties did stupid things in the 1980s of which they would rather not be reminded, so we need not be surprised if the strutting young class warriors who once sported the slogan “Hang Nelson Mandela” are now shy about coming forward.

A certain amount of mythology has grown up around this tale. It is not true, for example, that delegates turned out to conferences of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in “Hang Nelson Mandela”  T-shirts, though the truth is bad enough.

In the UK, no one apart from a hardy band of anti-apartheid campaigners was much interested in Nelson Mandela’s fate until the early 1980s, when the white supremacist regime in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe collapsed and interest suddenly awakened in who would rule a post-apartheid South Africa.

Conservatives from Margaret Thatcher downwards did not like the look of the ANC, which they thought might be a communist front.

Their preferred choice was the Zulu politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but he did not have the political base, or the aura building up around the imprisoned Mandela, who was propelled to cult status among the young in Britain when the single “[Free] Nelson Mandela” by the Special AKA hit the charts in 1984. The infamous “Hang Nelson Mandela” stickers popped up a year later.

Harry Phibbs, a Hammersmith councillor who was then prominent in the FCS, says: “A group of people at Warwick University made stickers that were a parody of the stickers people were wearing saying ‘Free Nelson Mandela and all ANC prisoners’, which said ‘Hang Nelson Mandela and all ANC terrorists’.

“The motive was to disrupt the conference of the National Union of Students [NUS]. It was never proposed by the FCS officially. I suspect that it wasn’t even a view really held by the people who produced that sticker. It was a rather immature way to stir things up.”

By 1986, the FCS had attracted so much bad publicity that Norman Tebbit, the Thatcherite Conservative Party chairman, shut it down. The current Speaker, John Bercow, was the last ever FCS chairman.

He was never seen wearing a “Hang Mandela” sticker, but there is an old photograph of David Hoile, who was vice-chairman of the FCS in 1985, with a sticker on his tie. Dr Hoile, who is now Director of the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, did not return my call.

Proof politics is no place for a teenager

The Labour Party is so anxious to draw the young into active politics that two of the days at their annual conference last year were designated “youth days”. Further back, they were delighted to announce that three 18-years-olds, including Tony Benn’s granddaughter, Emily, had been selected as candidates for the 2010 general election.

What they and other political parties have yet to establish is why any normal 18-year-old would want to spend his or her time being an MP, or councillor. In 2011, Labour pulled off a sensational coup by getting an 18-year-old, Jake Morrison, elected to Liverpool Council, making him the youngest in the city’s history.

That success has since turned to disaster. Councillor Morrison had a falling out with Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who accused him of not being a team player. He took to social media to publicise the row. He was advised by Liverpool’s Mayor, Joe Anderson, to give it a rest, but carried on and was suspended from the party.

The latest twist is that he has decided to run for Parliament against Ms Berger, as an independent. Yesterday he tweeted: “Some say I’m naive, stupid, that I’m having a tantrum, I’m an idiot. Etc etc. I call it standing up for what is right.” Later, he added: “I’ll say one thing – I won’t lose any sleep because a few party careerists are licking arse. People want change and hope, I’m offering it!”

It is easy to see how this story will end. Either he will change his mind or he will get a derisory vote and quit politics. The moral of this story is that 18 is too young to cope with the tedium of being a councillor.

It was ‘The Sun’ editor wot went to Columbia

David Dinsmore, the newly appointed Editor of The Sun, is a well-educated fellow, to judge by the CV on his LinkedIn page, where it says “education – Columbia University, Columbia Business School, Strathallan”. Columbia is one of the world’s most prestigious universities. To be one its graduates is a distinction indeed. Except he’s not. The giveaway is further down the page where it says what and when he studied. The answer is “general management, 2009”. In 2009, Dinsmore was a long-standing Murdoch employee, and editor of the Scottish Sun. A general management course at Columbia lasts 10 days.

The lady wasn’t for turning away gay people

One Tory who kept in touch with Margaret Thatcher to within weeks of her death was Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, who is gay. What did the lady think? “She was completely and utterly uncensorious,” Burns said, when interviewed by Pink News. “She was very naive about the issue of homosexuality, as someone who was born in 1920s Grantham would have been. She was always very surprised to learn that people are gay.”

Burns was not the only gay in Thatcher’s circle. The journalist and former MP Matthew Parris worked for her in the early years. He got more of a negative reaction from her when she learnt that he had jumped into the Thames to rescue a dog than he ever did over his sexuality.

Stop press! It’s National Frozen Yoghurt Day

An email arrives from a PR firm handling the Yoomoo frozen yoghurt account inviting me to a “Girls’ Night Out” at which I am promised a manicure and a glass of champagne. So begins the build-up to next month’s National Frozen Yoghurt Day. Don Draper, eat your heart out.

Twitter: @andymcsmith