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Voice 35 Years: Black voters have their say

WHICH WAY?: A young voter poses for this edition of The Voice

AS BRITAIN went to the polls in June 1983 to elect a new government, The Voice newspaper conducted a street poll of black Londoners on the eve the general election and the results showed that 71 per cent of those taking part wanted the opposition Labour party to win.

The front page story of The Voice’s 39th edition, published on June 11, 1983 carried the headline ‘71% say Labour!’ and reported that of the representative sample of 497 people interviewed for the street poll taken in a number of London boroughs, 363 said they would vote for Labour, another eight per cent said they would vote for the SDP–Liberal Alliance while the Conservatives were pushed into third getting only three per cent.

The Voice poll was monitored by the Centre for Contemporary Studies.

The article described the street poll results a welcome boost for Labour, but in the end it was the Conservative party led by Margaret Thatcher which eventually went on to win the general election for a second term 35 years ago.

The street poll, however, was clear evidence that black people were overwhelmingly opposed to Tory policies and proof that the party’s advertising campaign which said: “Labour says he’s black, Tories says he’s British” that appeared in a number of black publications did not sway black voters.

The Voice article went on to show that 53 per cent of those polled were adamant that unemployment was the most pressing problem facing black people ahead of race relations, defence and education.

However, contrary to popular belief, most black people indicated that they would be voting, although more said they would vote if there were more black candidates running.

Sixty-three percent of those not voting said they would have voted if there was a black candidate in their area, 11 per cent said they would not vote for a black candidate while 26 per cent said it would make no difference.

The Voice’s election coverage continued on to pages four and five where the paper’s news team took to the streets for a round-up of election stories. Among these was a report commissioned by the Runnymede Trust that examined the number of ‘marginal’ seats in the election.

Headlined: ‘Report gives hope to black candidates’, the story listed Labour’s Paul Boateng as the only black candidate fighting for a marginal seat in West Hertfordshire. Boateng had defeated the former sitting Labour MP Robin Corbett at the selection process and it is alleged that his left wing tendencies might be too extreme for erstwhile Labour voters.

Another story, with the headline ‘Tories jittery over NF link’, reflected that the Conservative party was becoming increasingly nervous about the National Front infiltration into its ranks and was desperately trying to distance itself from the extremist and racist party.

The story quoted party chairman Cecil Parkinson: “We have no wish to have any truck with such people and we are taking steps when we find them to get rid of them.”

The lead story on page three carried the headline ‘Brixton gets hot again’, indicating that trouble had flared up between police and youth in Railton Road, south London, in the notorious front line area.

The Voice’s article said scores of police officers in armoured vans and equipped with riot gear, stormed into Railton Road and surrounding streets as a police car burned opposite the newly opened Dexter Road Community Centre. The trouble started when a youth was apprehended by a police officer and following a scuffle, the officer was cut by another youth wielding a knife.

When more police officers entered the area and arrested another youth, the situation soon got out of control and a police patrol car was set alight by an angry mob of youths.

The tension was diffused as police sealed off the area and the fire brigade dealt with the burning car.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday. Share your memories on social media using the following hashtag #Voice35Years. Each week we will be publishing a front cover from its first year of publication.

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