Recalling the ‘most dirty, homophobic by-election’

Survivor of the Bermondsey by-election, Peter Tatchell, is still fighting for the community that turned their back on him 40 years ago. Mr Tatchell, 71, is a British human rights campaigner best known for his work with LGBTQ+ social movements, writes Claudia Lee.
Bermondsey by-election campaign

Labour’s Mr Tatchell lost the election to Simon Hughes of the Liberal party, after they ran a homophobic campaign against him.

The Liberal victory represented the biggest swing in UK election history.

Throughout the campaign and during the by-election, Mr Tatchell was subjected to more than 100 violent assaults, 30 attacks on his flat, a bullet posted through his letterbox, 30 death threats and hundreds of hate letters and late-night threatening phone calls.

Mr Tatchell said: “It felt like living in a war zone. I suffered from PTSD and night terrors for a while after.
At that time homophobia was rampant throughout Britain and it was probably even a bit worse in a very traditional working class area like Bermondsey.”

The anonymous Which Queen will you vote for? leaflet, distributed across the constituency at night listed his phone number and even his home address.

Although it has never been confirmed, Mr Tatchell has reason to believe that the leaflet was illegally distributed by the Liberal party.

He was refused police protection, contrary to media reports at the time that claimed he was given a 24-hour police armed guard.

Mr Tatchell said: “Not a single national newspaper supported my candidacy.

Main picture, Peter Tatchell and Chris Donovan during the Homes Not Offices occupation in 1982

Nearly all the media railed against me almost non-stop for the 15 months leading up to the by-election, especially the tabloids, which printed fabricated claims and doctored photos to make it look like I was wearing make-up.

The Labour Party’s election poster

The Press Council refused to intervene.”

Despite his traumatic history, Mr Tatchell remains in Bermondsey, and continues to fight for its residents.

Mr Tatchell said: “The Bermondsey constituency was badly neglected. It was just across the river from the City of London and less than two miles from the Houses of Parliament, and yet it was a landscape of derelict docks and warehouses, run-down council estates and a lack of basic social amenities.

“That’s what inspired me to stand for Parliament. To try and get a better deal for local people.

“During the Bermondsey by-election campaign, the big issue that I fought on was against property developers moving into the constituency and forcing out local people. They wanted to build new corporate office blocks and luxury flats for the rich.

“I wanted jobs and houses for local people. My vision was to transform Bermondsey into an urban garden city of houses with gardens for local people, tree lined streets and pocket parks.

Main picture, Peter Tatchell and Chris Donovan during the Homes Not Offices occupation in 1982

“At that time there were very few green spaces in Bermondsey, apart from Southwark Park. It was a grim, grimy concrete jungle. I wanted to change that. I thought working class people deserve better.”

Mr Tatchell continues to fight for working class housing and against gentrification in South London.

He said: “The only way we are going to stop the gentrification and the forcing out of working class people is by campaigns of resistance.

“We have to send a message to Southwark and other councils that working class people deserve quality housing and good public services.”

To the younger generation, he advises: “Don’t leave it to someone else, they might be leaving it to you. All our rights and freedoms are thanks to previous generations who have fought for a better society”.



Pictures: Peter Tatchell , Peter Tatchell poses for a picture during the 1983 

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