police in “demanding more powers” shocker

The UK is already the western democracy which has the power to detain people for the longest length of time without trial. Apparently that isn’t sufficient, what with all this terrorism we are having.

Parliament has just agreed that detention can be increased from 28 days to 42 (Douglas Adams has a lot to answer for). Predictably the police say they need 42 days and the civil liberties lobby say this is bollocks.

But what, you may ask, has this all got to do with obscure UK fast chat deejays from the 1980s?

You remember the early 80s, right? Or if you don’t you’ve seen enough footage of burning police cars and punks and rastas and “Ghost Town” on TV “list” programmes to have a fair idea about it.

Lord Scarman’s report into the 1981 Brixton riots did away with the “sus laws” and their legitimising of police harassment of black youth, but mistrust between the police and the public remained high in many areas (when is it not?).

Proposals in the 1983 Police Bill included powers to:

hold people for 96 hours without charge
set up random road blocks around an area
conduct forcible intimate body searches of detainees
use force in taking fingerprints (even of minors)
seize confidential information held by doctors, lawyers, journalists

and of course more stop and search powers, because you can’t have too many of them, eh?

It being the 80s, there was huge protest against the proposals (rather than today, when all you get is Shami Chakrabarti launching some balloons outside the Houses of Parliament). The HQ of the National Campaign Against The Police Bill was at 50 Rectory Road, Stoke Newington. Interestingly, the campaign seems to have received funding from Ken Livingstone’s GLC to the tune of £38,000 which lead to questions being asked in parliament.

Some of this money presumably was spent on admin and printing leaflets (some of which can be downloaded as pdfs here).

Thatcher’s right wing government was re-elected for a 2nd term in June 1983, helped in part by the resurgence of patriotism following the Falklands conflict, and flogging off council housing. The 1983 Labour party manifesto had included:

  • Repeal the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, because it infringes the rights and freedoms of individuals.
  • Disband the London Special Patrol Groups and local SPGs, which have increasingly been deployed in aggressive public order roles.

but also a load of brave but unelectable policies such as abolishing the House of Lords, cancelling Trident nuclear missiles, etc.

“Kill The Police Bill” by Ranking Ann was released on Rough Justice Records in either 1984 or 85. It must be their only release (surely?). The 12″ was “produced by GLC Police Committee Support Unit” and published by Mad Professor’s Ariwa Music. I imagine by the sound of it that Mad Prof actually produced the music iin the studio rather than “the committee”, although that does conjur up some amusing images in my head.

So the Conservative government give Red Ken’s GLC a sack of money, which they then spend on a reggae record opposing proposed govt legislation. I bet that went down well.

Ranking Ann was born Ann Swinton in Croydon, but was discovered by Mad Professor via a contact in Wolverhampton whilst she was studying at university. Apparently she had some involvement with the Black Rock soundsystem which was run by her brother. Her first album “A Slice of English Toast” was released on Ariwa in 1982.

The tune itself is classic mid 80s Mad Professor stuff – a version of the Heavenless riddim with police sirens. Ann’s lyrics deal with police oppression in general, and the bill in particular as well as a first person (true or fiction?) account of her arrest.

The back cover includes all the lyrics for the benefit of those who can’t fathom Ann’s (rather light) patois. I imagine the record was well received by student lefties and guardianistas but that may be my own bias. Certainly Dick Hebdige, arch-academic of things sub-cultural, dedicated a whole chapter to the tune in his book Cut ‘n’ Mix (Comedia, 1987).

Furthermore Mad Professor himself makes the point that Ann’s material “was not appreciated until the late 80s, when academics and hippies from Exeter to San Diego demanded to see her.” in his sleevenotes to the excellent Ariwa 81 Sessions compilation.

Having said that, Green Gartside did appreciate her work and got Ann in for some toasting on Scritti Politti’s dubbed out remix of their “The Word Girl” single. Shortly after this burst of activity in the mid 80s, she moved away from reggae and into Gospel.

As Hebdige points out, the record and allied protests did not prevent the bill becoming an Act of Parliament at the end of 1985, following further conflict between the police and residents of Brixton and Tottenham. These riots lead the Metropolitan Police Chief to call for even more powers, including giving his colleagues access to plastic bullets whenever he felt like it.

The Thatcher government closed down the GLC in March 1986.

Reading all this back and thinking of the vast amounts of unrest in the 1980s (riots, the Miners’ strike, a terrorist threat from the IRA, 3 million unemployed, the prospect of the cold war concluding in nuclear annihilation) I am not convinced that there is more disorder now.

And I’d be pretty surprised if Boris Johnson used his mayoral funds to release a tune by a female grime MC tearing into the new Counter Terror Bill.

Make a note in your diary to read this post again in 42 days.