Thursday 28 March 2024

We Are The Pirates Now

Yesterday’s sixtieth anniversary of Radio Caroline’s first broadcast has brought out the usual guff. Now, don’t get me wrong. Although it rarely comes up on here, I am a serious lover of popular music, with, though I say so myself, some knowledge of the subject. Just never ask me to sing or play anything.

But for all its alleged left-wingery, and its ability to annoy the forces of conservatism no end, rock’n’roll was made up of common or garden proto-Thatcherites, often tax exiles. The only notable exceptions were David Bowie and Eric Clapton, way out on the Far Right, at least performatively in Bowie’s case.

The Sixties Swingers hated with a burning passion the Labour Government of 1964 to 1970. The pirate radio stations were their revolt against its and the BBC’s deal with the Musicians’ Union to protect the livelihoods of that union’s members. Hence the Marine Offences Act 1967, which outlawed broadcasting from a boat off the British mainland. The Minister responsible was Tony Benn. Of course.

Behind this union-busting criminality was Oliver Smedley, who was later to be a key figure behind the Institute of Economic Affairs, an engine room of Thatcherism. Viewers of The Boat That Rocked, once a mainstay of late night television, should consider that the Postmaster General so mercilessly ridiculed in it was in fact Benn, and that the Prime Minister who legislated against pirate radio was Harold Wilson. Those Swingers used the lowering of the voting age to put what they thought were the Selsdon Tories into office in 1970.

They went on to entrench their moral, social and cultural decadence and libertinism, first in the economic sphere during the 1980s, when the pirate radio stations were entirely frank and accurate about their own impeccably Thatcherite credentials, and then also in the constitutional sphere under Tony Blair. David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss accepted uncritically the whole package: moral, social, cultural, economic, and constitutional. Indeed, they embodied it.

Rishi Sunak wants to do so, and he would if he were given an overall majority this year. Keir Starmer already does, even in Opposition. The Liberal Democrats were founded to defend the moral, social, cultural and economic aspects against unsympathetic sections of both main parties, while bringing about the constitutional ones on the same basis. They pursued that mission vigorously in office, as they would again. Whether or not it was immediately apparent in the 1960s, and there were a few who did see it, the anti-industrial Malthusianism of the Greens has always been fundamental to the entire project.

But when I tell you that there is going to be a hung Parliament, then you can take that to the bank. I spent the 2005 Parliament saying that it was psephologically impossible for the Heir to Blairs Conservative Party to win an overall majority. I predicted a hung Parliament on the day that the 2017 General Election was called, and I stuck to that, entirely alone, all the way up to the publication of the exit poll eight long weeks later. And on the day that Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

I have no plan to join the Workers Party of Britain, although nor would I expect to stand against it. If, however, it did not contest North Durham, then I would. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not. We have made a start.


  1. Smedley was a perennial candidate for the Liberal Party.

    1. The tradition of Arthur Seldon, Alfred Roberts, Mark Littlewood, Nick Clegg and Liz Truss.

  2. Someone should write a history of pirate radio stations, a wonderful triumph of freedom and the human spirit which challenge the monopoly of big record labels and help poor, struggling artists reach new audiences directly. More than that, in tyrannies such as Cuba, pirate radio stations are one of the few refuges from stultifying state control and censorship of the media.