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The Daily Mail's Hatred of Mandela

Today the Mail is singing Madiba's praises, but it wasn't always so keen on this towering figure of resistance. SOLOMON HUGHES takes a look

Most British news reports on Nelson Mandela's death note the number of streets and buildings named after the ANC leader in Britain, showing how much British people cared about the great man.

They don't say how hard the Tories and their friends opposed the Mandela name. 

Now David Cameron says Mandela was a hero. But when it mattered, when he was imprisoned by apartheid's jailers, the Tories were enraged by Labour councils supporting Mandela. 

The Tories' big ally in their anti-Mandela campaign was the Daily Mail. 

The Mail complained this week that Mandela's memorial ceremony was "a shambolic disgrace to his name." But it hated his name when he was imprisoned.

London was the international HQ of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Britain was a vital base of the ANC. 

Britain saw big public protests and heroic underground support for Mandela and his fellow fighters. 

Naming streets and buildings after Mandela was a small part of this. It encouraged the campaigners and spread his name - to the disgust of the Mail and the Tories. 

A search of the Mail archives about Mandela throws up story after story denouncing the Mandela renamings.

In August 1986 both the Mail and the Tories were enraged that Labour-led Coventry Council wanted to name its new archive building after Mandela instead of poet Philip Larkin. 

The Mail quoted Tory spokesman Stan Hodson saying: "Mandela has a record of being a terrorist. He has nothing to do with Coventry. What will naming a public building after him do for our tourist industry?"

This was part of a long campaign in the Mail against naming streets and buildings after Mandela.

In September '82 it had a page three splash on "How the left turned Lark Rise into Soweto Close" following Cardiff Council's decision to name roads in a new housing estate after South African heroes.

A shocked Mail reported: "The quiet cul-de-sacs will be labelled Mandela Avenue, Biko Close." 

Laing Homes, building the new private estate, was outraged, complaining: "How can we possibly sell people homes when they hear the names of the roads they are in? 

"We are in the business of selling homes, not playing politics. People want to live in friendly sounding streets, not places named after foreign political leaders." 

Inevitably the deputy leader of the council's Tory group Gwilym M Jones said: "We will be opposing the names."

In 1983 the Mail carried several stories about Camden Council's decision to rename one of its roads "Mandela Street." 

Camden proposed the change because the Anti-Apartheid Movement actually had its headquarters in the road. 

But the Mail was enraged that "the left-wingers on Camden Council" wanted to name the road "after the jailed black African nationalist." 

The Mail said residents were "furious" at the name change and in "revolt" against the Mandela name. 

It claimed that everyone on the street with the exception of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Central Electricity Generating Board signed a petition against renaming their street after Mandela. If so there must be some very embarrassed residents in Camden right now.

In November '84 the Mail reported that "left-wing" Harlow Council had renamed a road "Mandela Street," finding an unnamed local to denounce it as "utterly confusing."

It didn't stop at street names. In November '86 Manchester Council put Nelson Mandela on its Xmas cards. 

The Mail's headline - "The left gives Santa the sack" - suggests it was not keen. 

Manchester Tory MP Winston Churchill - grandson of the more famous Churchill - told the Mail this "tasteless propaganda is profoundly disturbing."

The Mail's campaign was crystallised by Paul Johnson, who was given a whole page to denounce the "Crazy street warfare of the left" in July '85. 

Johnson was still angry with Cardiff councillors wanting street names to "commemorate revolutionary leaders such as South African blacks Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko." 

Johnson said the street names were "deliberately provocative gestures," adding that calling a road "Mandela" was done by the "fanatics who run Labour's local government regimes" who "never miss an opportunity to set people at each others throats. It is part of the Marxist doctrine of class warfare." 

Johnson wasn't just worried about support for revolutionary leaders and "South African blacks." 

Give in on Mandela and "where would it end?" 

The Mail's columnist argued that "women's lib, increasingly powerful in the Labour Party, would stick its oar in and thousands of streets would be named after harpies and harridans." Worse, "homosexuals, another Labour pressure group, would demand their quota. We would have scores of Oscar Streets and Wilde Roads."

So for the Mail, supporting Mandela was as bad as supporting gay people or women.

This disgusting reactionary cocktail might look like something only Johnson - a ridiculous right-wing buffoon - would mix.

But his views were reflected in the high levels of Tory government.

When Michael Howard began drawing up his famously bigoted Section 28 against treating gay people as equals, he originally wanted to use the same law against councils supporting Mandela. 

Just like Johnson, he seemed to think Labour councils naming streets after Mandela and being gay-friendly was all part of one plot. 

Papers I got under freedom of information show that Section 28 wasn't just proposed to stop councils "promoting homosexuality" and banning "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" in schools. 

The law originally aimed to stop any kind of "left-wing political activity" by local councils. 

Howard's civil servants wanted the law to be a "proscription of a number of activities undertaken by local authorities in areas peripheral to their functions. 

"These include the promotion of homosexuality but also other activities such as anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear activities." 

Howard agreed. Seeing councils being gay-friendly was part of "all the peripheral political activity of left-wing councils" and he was considering "proscribing some other activities by local authorities, such as anti-apartheid, anti-police and anti-nuclear activities."
 

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