Friday Ephemera
Imparting Knowledge


Some of you may have seen Vanessa Engle’s witty BBC4 documentary series, Lefties, screened in February last year. The 3-part series revisits the “alternative politics” of the 70s and 80s, when the far left was an all-too-serious force in British political life. Among the gems to savour are the endless factional disputes over exactly how capitalism should be toppled, the farcical mismanagement of the News on Sunday, an earnest exposition on “penile imperialism”, and interviews with former self-styled radicals, now sitting by private swimming pools, fretting about fridge ownership or planning to work on llama farms.

Here’s a brief taste.

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The three episodes – Property is Theft, Angry Wimmin and A Lot of Balls - can be viewed online here. Given a generation of young lefties with little, if any, experience of what their dreams entail when applied in the real world, it’s worth casting an eye over what happened when Socialism wasn’t just something people laughed at.

Help me buy my own llama farm.




The self-proclaimed "leftwing anti-capitalist" lounging by the beautiful private swimming pool was particularly funny.


It’s a feast of creaking pretension. Well worth watching in full.


I still think the BBC is sycophantic to these loons. They wouldn't treat say BNPers in the same chummy way, and National Socialism killed far less people than international socialism.


The Lefties series was, I think, pretty much an anomaly. It does jar somewhat with the more usual bias of, say, the Today programme, which often sounds like the Guardian read aloud. You could argue that Vanessa Engle doesn’t press some of her subjects hard enough on the ramifications of their beliefs, but it’s still fun to watch these despicable little frauds inadvertently damning themselves. The degree of pretension is quite amazing.

The “Property is Theft” episode is perhaps the strongest, insofar as the squatter phenomenon makes for interesting history. Though, again, Engle doesn’t press her subjects on several key issues and there’s a vaguely quixotic tone, as if these Marxist squatters were somehow heroic. The essential parasitism of their politics isn’t acknowledged. We never learn how many of these would-be revolutionaries were spending daddy's money and/or taking handouts from the bourgeois taxpayers whose world they wanted to destroy.


These programmes showed Lefties BEFORE they had an impact on mainstream politics.

They might come across as raving loonies, as they were routinely described at the time, but within a few years they were exerting enormous influence on British culture/politics which is with us to this day.

The key event was the Miner's strike. Once Mrs Thatcher's government had defeated them the resulting fragmentation allowed the 'looney Left' to plug the gap and it wasn't long before they also saw the 'Working Class' (the now despised white working-class) as the 'enemy within'. (The Left/racial alliance's attack on the 'working-class' is an attack on Democracy.)

These mad Lefties and their mad racial politics now dominate large sections of political debate. The question is how did they do it? After all they could not win an election on these policies. The best book on this phenomenon is by Katharine Betts' - The Great Divide. She is writing about Australia but there are many similarities.

PS. Red Ken will face a new party in next years London Mayoral election.


Well, I think the programmes show Marxist ideologues before Thatcher’s triumph over the unions moved much of the problem elsewhere. Most notably into academia, where so many of the little darlings still lay their eggs in soft student brains.

rick mcginnis

Llama farm, painting, visiting India, lounging by pool and feeling vaguely ashamed of one's affluence - easy to laugh at, but one of them is the Americas editor for the Economist, a magazine that still retains a reputation for being more objective than more generalist newsmagazines like Time or Newsweek. Erroneously, I might add, and this is why.

spurwing plover

Lefists and liberals theres not much difference between them


Terrifc post, made for an amusing morning, when I should have been working.


Happy to oblige. Please feel free to rummage through the archives.


Very interesting and often hilarious, and I love the music she's picked (Joy Division, Magazine, the Smiths, etc.). I have a question for British readers of this site. What does "authorities" refer to? In the News on Sunday part of the documentary, it says that some money to finance the publication came from "authorities." In the U.S. the word is usually a journalistic euphemism for the police or public officials ("Authorities stated the suspect was armed at the time he was shot"). I somehow doubt the word is being used in the same way here.



The term refers to local (presumably Socialist) councils, the regional civic bodies that are funded through property taxes. The belief being that financing a Socialist newspaper was a legitimate use of taxpayers’ money, irrespective of the political views of those paying the taxes.


I've just seen the first show. The guy from Eton comes across like the girl in Pulp's song "Common People" - and, as Jarvis says, "everyone hates a tourist".

Pim seems completely harmless, just a hippie really.

None of these people seemed like commissars in the making, and, interestingly, none of them had tried subsequently to go into politics, and try and get elected. Given all their tussles with Lambeth council, it seems odd none of them tried to get elected to the council at least.



Yes, Pim seems to be the most honest person in the film. I think he’s quite charming, in a slightly bonkers kind of way.


So the "authorities" are not quite so different from American authorities as I thought. It's just hard to imagine many city councils in the U.S. financing a national left-wing newspaper by raiding their pension funds. We're not immune to similar misuses of tax funds for dubiously "progressive" reasons, however. I've just written about one instance on my blog, if anybody's interested:


I felt the squatters were more like the out-of-work thespians in "Withnail & I" than the Baader Meinhof gang.

BTW Have you seen Lukas Moodysson's movie "Together"? It catches the full comedy of those 70s experiments with communal living, in a Swedish setting.

Actually there's more need to squat now than there was then. People in their 20s simply can't afford to get on the "property ladder".



Thanks for the link. I can’t help but notice that criticism of how public money is being used was promptly dismissed as “racism” and the result of a “corporate-owned press.” The taxpayers themselves are, conveniently, omitted from the equation, and thus the actual issue – of how taxes are used – is ignored. Socialists do like spending other people’s money, like they have some unassailable right.


I knew someone who lived in Villa rd, the street of Brixton squats in the first episode.

This was in the mid-eighties. At one point the Feminist residents wanted to make the street female only which is odd really because one of the squats was a blues house/brothel. The thing is I don't remember any of the Feminists objecting to this. Maybe they thought the fifteen year prostitutes were empowered by the experience.

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