For the 1992 election I was working in the Glasgow Pollock constituency for the campaign to elect Tommy Sheridan to Westminster. Tommy conducted operations from his prison cell, as he was at her Majesty’s pleasure for the ‘crime’ of fighting the Poll Tax. We had a General Election to fight and we were standing unashamedly and boldly as the Militant, on our record in defeating Thatcher’s Poll Tax and for full blooded socialism!
Ramsay McKinnock grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory in 1992 General election.
Tommy was the leader of the Anti Poll Tax campaign and had been jailed for his pains. He won a seat on Glasgow City Council from his prison cell after the General Election of 1992. Pollock was the strong hold of Militant in Glasgow. There seemed to be an endless stream of young working class revolutionaries in Pollock. Tommy had real mass support on the housing schemes and his jailing was just plain vindictive and increased his standing as a fighter. He stood against a right wing Labour dinosaur who had not lifted a finger for the working class of Pollock during his time in Parliament while Tommy was in prison, being punished for his inspired leadership of the mass Anti-Poll Tax civil disobedience campaign.
I stayed in Castlemilk one of the largest housing schemes in Europe. I was brought up in Gateshead and thought I had seen and lived in rough places but Castlemilk was another planet for me. Planet desolation. From my window on the 12th floor all I could see were more tower blocks, more misery, all the way down the hills to Glasgow City centre.
I had read the statistics on the train up from London so I knew the majority of the people on the scheme were on the broo and a lower percentage were on drugs and every other social problem was to be found in Castlemilk. I felt desperate as I looked down on the suffering caused by he callous policies of Thatcherism from my high rise flat.
My host made it clear that he was too fucked up to work in the election. He was a member of Militant but his only contribution to the election campaign was to put me up. He knew what full timers were like so I was not to pressurise him in any way to get out and do things.
He could only offer me a cup of tea because he was between giros when I arrived but he showed me a few tins of EEC surplus food which were given to the poor of Glasgow. I was advised not to visit the only pub in the scheme on my first Friday in Castlemilk. I later learned that the pub served as an outlet for the various drugs sold on the estate.
On my first Friday night in Castlemilk I stayed in with the comrades who did not touch alcohol but instead got out their stuff. They were surprised that I did not partake. I had been brought up in the Militant to regard drugs as a hippie and petit bourgeois deviation which deflected us from the struggle. However I could see things were different in Castlemilk and I had no arguments of any worth as I sipped from my can of lager.They told me it was the only way they could survive and stay sane in Castlemilk. Instead of pissing their giros against the wall every two weeks and probably becoming violent they bought their stuff, smoked together, relaxed and talked.I was not tempted to join in mainly because of my pathological hatred of smoking.
Other weekends I went to Glasgow and joined the madness in the city centre pubs. The city seemed to me to be a mix of friendly warmth and the threat of indiscriminate violence always in the air.
One Friday night I travelled back to Castlemilk on the last bus. As we climbed the hill, couples snogged, drunks stared blankly into the distance and everyone else ate their chips. I heard a shout from the top deck and a bloke in a suit fell head first down the stairs. He lay flat out on the bottom deck, eyes closed. Nobody moved as the bus climbed further up the hill.Then from behind I saw the first drops of a dark crimson lake coming towards me from his head. Still nobody moved except me.
I thought he was dead. It looked like half his head had caved in. A guy told the driver to stop and radio an ambulance. “Is he that bad pal?” he shouted back at us.
“Turn him on his side in case he throws up.” We decided against that because we thought he had broken his neck. I gathered fish and chip papers and laid them behind his head to soak up the blood which by now had reached the back seats.
“Are we not moving?” complained a passenger.
Then he woke up. He did not cry or shout out. He just said, “ma heeds wet, what´s wrang wi ma heed.”
“Just a little cut pal, don t worry.” I lied. We kept him still by giving him a cigarette. I thought that only happened in the movies. When the ambulance arrived they put him on stretcher and gave him words of comfort.
“I don´t want to go to hospital. Ma Ma will kill me. Don’t tell her ‘am lathered.” I thought that was the least of his problems.
I got into the routine of the election. I worked in the slightly better off area of the constituency where it was felt there were fewer opportunities for us. I worked with a young team of new comrades who never stopped. Of course there were skivers and cynics amongst us but on the whole we gave it our all.
There was the night of the thousand posters. The Labour Party had resources but not the enthusiasm of youth and revolutionary ideas. We decided to raise our profile in the week before the election. A team of young people went out and collected mountains of cardboard and we made posters for the lampposts. One night they were put up and in the morning ‘VOTE TOMMY SHERIDAN,’ was everywhere. Labour sent a team to take them all down. Fired by anger we put them all up again. There were street meetings, car cavalcades and mass canvasses. Our candidate was in prison yet he had more presence than all the other candidates put together.
We collected for the Anti Poll Tax Campaign outside the football grounds. Comrades assured me that we would get more money from Celtic fans. Comrades who were Rangers fans insisted it was because it cost more to get inside their ground and not for any political reasons.
Inside Paradise on Tommy’s birthday a message flashed up on the giant electronic scoreboard; “Happy Birthday Tommy from Scotland’s millions of non payers.” The LP complained in the Sundays that Celtic was getting involved in politics.
I could see how famous Tommy was and in what respect he was held although people doubted he could win the election. The only opposition I encountered was from folk who thought he was too good to be true, they cynically predicted he would turn into a Tommy ‘McHatton.’ People wanted to believe but decades of being sold out by Labour had knocked the stuffing and belief out of them.
In the end Tommy got over 9,000 votes and second place. Labour´s donkey he-hawed on about having seen off Militant once and for all in his victory speech. It struck me that many of those in positions of power have not got a clue about what is going on around them in politics.
At the count Tommy’s agent gave a sober speech and mentioned that Major had probably won down south. That cold water dampened any gloating Scottish Labour were thinking of indulging in at our expense. The workers of Britain had lost yet again due to Labour´s incompetence, their preoccupation with expelling socialists and socialist ideas.
“Stand under your own banner and see how you do!” They used to mock us. Well we did and look what happened! As we marched out clenched fists aloft singing the Internationale we passed Donald Dewar and his team hurrying away to hold a debriefing on Labour´s disastrous night. His face said it all. He looked at us with a mixture of hate and fear.
The next day I caught the train back to London. At the station I wandered into a bookshop. I picked up a copy of Kinnock’s biography from the cheap bin. I did not have an ounce of sympathy for the oaf. Two days before he had been contemplating his future as prime minister yet such a man who came so close to winning power could not see and would never see how he grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. I laughed my socks off as I handed over my 50p for the book and realised we had probably heard the last of the Welsh Windbag’s empty oratory. So the 1992 election was not all bad then!