Billy Bragg: Margaret Thatcher Made Me A Socialist


Billy Bragg: Margaret Thatcher Made Me A Socialist

Watch the full interview with Billy Bragg on Democracy Now! at British rocker and activist Billy Bragg began his music career in the late 1970s in London when he formed the punk rock band Riff Raff. His 1984 album, "Brewing Up with Billy Bragg," included the song, "It Says Here," a critique of politics and tabloid newspapers that still rings true today in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. In 1998 and 2000, he participated in two well-known albums — Mermaid Avenue, Volumes 1 and 2 — that gave voice to another folk troubadour who sang about the poor and working class: Woody Guthrie. Bragg composed music for lyrics written by Guthrie and performed many of the songs alongside the album's other main contributor, Wilco. But to speak of Bragg simply as a singer-songwriter misses his passion for speaking out against injustice and fighting for many causes. In the 1980s, he called for support for the 1984 strike by the National Union of Mineworkers, one of the most significant chapters in Britain's trade union history. It was ultimately defeated under the watch of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Bragg went on to organize for the defeat of Thatcher and her Conservative government. He joins us for an extended interview and performance. He reflects on his long history of activism and sings several songs.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report, I'm Amy Goodman. As we return to my conversation with the legendary British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. I asked him about the 1984 miners' strike in Britain.

BILLY BRAGG: I'm in a very—I'm one of those people who was born in a very fortunate time, when I—you know, my parents' generation and grandparents' generation fought very hard for a welfare state in my country, in which the rights of the individual were underpinned by the collective provision of free healthcare, free education, decent affordable housing, proper pensions. And that was—you know, that's what we refer to in my country as the post-war consensus. Parties came and went—Labour, Conservative, Liberal. Nobody ever changed that, until Margaret Thatcher came along. And she decided that it will be better to have—to pay less taxes. So she began to take apart the welfare state and that provision. And the government owned the coal mines. And although there was plenty of coal under our country, she then began to close them down. So they went on strike. And really, the strike became a defense of that welfare state, of those ideals of collective responsibility and collective provision.

And as a singer-songwriter who had grown up listening to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and The Clash, it seemed to me that my place was to be, you know, there on the picket line playing songs. And it was interesting, because it was a bit of an education for me, because I didn't—like I said, I didn't go to college, so I didn't know a huge amount about socialism. So it was a very steep learning curve. They wanted to know why this pop singer from London had come up to the coal fields, sitting up late at night on sofas with people, drinking cups of tea, smoking cigarettes, talking about politics. And so, yeah, I can tell you that my—the great inspiration in my politics was Margaret Thatcher. Were it not for her, I probably wouldn't be a socialist.

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