For a short period Haringey Labour Briefing was the dominant force Left in Haringey both inside and outside the Labour Party. In a movement in Haringey that contained many able comrades, Mandy was probably the key figure. She provided great tactical political skill, combined with immense powers of organisation. She gave a huge level of commitment to the struggles, and showed great personal courage in the face of a most vicious witchhunt. Like all good leaders she could also inspire others to join the struggle and to follow the example of her commitment.
Mandy moved to London in the late 70s to become a teacher in a secondary school in Haringey. She claims at the time to have been apolitical. But she soon became involved in her trades union (NUT), and women’s groups. She joined the Labour Party in 1982 just after the Benn/Heffer leadership challenge.
Mandy was active at a time when significant ideological struggles were taking place, in which Haringey was often a key focus, whether that be fighting against rate capping, homophobia, and fighting for equal opportunities, for black representation, or democratic accountability within the Labour Party. Mandy was at the heart of all this.
Her rise to prominence locally began with miners solidarity work, through her local ward labour party –Green Lanes. It’s effectiveness, whilst the row about twinning versus centralised fund-raising, – draw in other local activists. It built strong links with the South Wales NUM. She was the key organiser in this small local solidarity group, which was able to organise large benefit events which filled Hornsey Town Hall, and culminated in a concert of a 1000 at the Logan Hall in Bloomsbury.
During and immediately after the miners’ strike, Haringey Labour Briefing emerged as the key political grouping within the borough. Haringey Labour Briefing, over those years, provided a model of political activity, combining thorough organisation within the Labour Party to win control of the local parties for the left; with an outward looking perspective to build mass struggles. Mandy was at the very heart of everything Haringey Labour Briefing did – whether that be organising within the Labour Party or being involved in broader struggles. In 1987 Mandy also became a supporter of Socialist Outlook.
Mandy was heavily involved in the fight to get Bernie Grant elected as MP for Tottenham, following the de-selection of Norman Atkinson; even if originally he had not been her first choice for the next MP in Tottenham. With some in the local party unwilling to work for Bernie’s election, and in the face of a campaign of vilification in the media trying to whip up racism and prejudice locally against Bernie Grant, Mandy’s organisational and mobilising skills were to the fore.
Mandy helped set up the “Positive Images” campaign. This was after controversy was whipped up over the inclusion of a statement in the 1986 Haringey Labour Party manifesto, which committed Haringey Council to devote resources to “to promote Positive images of gay men and lesbians”. This was another example of how political action within the Labour Party was linked to campaigning and action outside the party. Demonstrations were organised in Haringey in support of the policy and against the homophobic campaign stoked up by local Tories and the press.
Meanwhile the painstaking work through caucuses and political action, led to the left having a majority in the borough’s Labour Party. Mandy was Chair of Tottenham Labour Party between 1986 and 1988. Democracy reached a high point with Labour Councillors being held to account. In some meetings constituency delegates had equal votes with councillors in taking key decisions. Some Labour Councillors were de-selected before the 1986 Council Elections after abandoning the fight against rate capping.
When Bernie Grant stepped down as Leader of Haringey Council, following his selection as the Labour Candidate in Tottenham; Steve King and Martha Osamor took over as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, and for a short while the left was in the ascendancy. But the Labour right wing within the Haringey Labour Group, soon organised to replace them. This they achieved in 1987, and immediately the new leader began making significant cuts from the autumn of 1987 onwards. In response, Mandy and Mike Marqusee initiated through Haringey Labour Briefing, an attempt to build mass resistance to the cuts by setting up “Haringey Fights Back”. Public meetings and mass lobbies were organised, whilst inside the Labour Party attempts to get councillors to oppose the cuts continued.
There were some memorable occasions in this tenacious attempt to stop the decimation of local services being implemented under the then leadership of Toby now Lord Harris. No one who was there will forget the all night Council meeting, when a committed group of left labour councillors, supported by a mass lobby and Briefing led meetings through the night, refused to vote through cuts. This was despite coming under immense pressure and the threat of personal surcharge from the acting Borough Solicitor. This was a credit to the political and organisational skills of Mandy and others in Haringey Labour Briefing.
Then there was the evening of 10th December 1987 when the Haringey Labour Party Local Government Committee met to discuss the cuts. Heated discussion took place. Finally the riot police, already deployed within the Haringey Civic; were used to clear the public gallery during the course of the meeting. Two councillors and two labour party activists were arrested. A complaint was subsequently made against Mandy and she was charged with “a sustained course of conduct prejudicial to the Party”.
It was at this point that the attempt to smear and discredit Mandy began in the national media. She was turned into a national hate figure, with the clear intention of undermining her leadership of the campaign against the cuts. The attack was vicious and very personal. She found herself on the front page of the Sun and door stepped, having to climb over a garden wall and out through a neighbour’s door in order to be able to get off to work. Various attempts were made to get her employer to take action against her. One example of this was an article in the Daily Mail on 11th February 1988, in which Richard Littlejohn wrote: Appointing Mandy Mudd as a school governor is as appropriate as putting Kurt Waldheim in charge of a holiday camp. Do you want her ruining your daughter’s education? I don’t.”
Mandy herself commented about the attempt to discredit her: “The Labour party and the Sun are not attacking me because I am weak and vulnerable, but because I am strong and effective, not because I am different…but because I am part of a movement…our combined strength threatens those who hold power in society and so they move against us”
It was at this time that the respect that Mandy gained both as an activist and a school teacher came most to the fore. One of the many letters she received at the time was from a group of the school pupils she taught. They wrote: “Dear Mandy (oops! Sorry we know we’re not supposed to call you that!) Dear Ms. Mudd…we’re really disgusted with what certain papers are trying to do to you. And we want you to know that our opinion and respect for you has not been diminished one bit by the persecution of the gutter press. We now understand why it is called the gutter press. Anyway take care and don’t let these things get you down. We all hope to see you back at schools soon. Lots of love and best wishes, we’re behind you every step of the way.”
In the midst of the campaign against her, Mandy was voted out as Chair of Tottenham Labour Party by one vote in February 1988. However the determination to fight on and the audacious decision to stand as a councillor was taken. Mandy was selected to fight Bernie’s vacated Council seat in June 1988. In explaining her decision to stand Mandy wrote in the June edition of Labour Briefing she wrote: “Given that I am facing disciplinary action from the NCC and that I have been vilified and harassed by the gutter press, even comrades on the left might find this surprising. So why am I standing? The struggles around local government are so important that no one can afford to abstain. Socialists must fight not only to defend jobs and services, but … for the right to have state services run by democratically elected representatives.”
But time was against us and Mandy and her candidacy was blocked by the Labour Party.
Even during this busy time, Mandy and Haringey Labour Briefing had time to mobilise for a succession of Socialist Movement conferences, as part of another attempt to build movements linking the Labour Left with other struggles.
Mandy played a heavy price for her courageous leadership throughout this period. The Labour Party witchhunt and public demonisation, put Mandy under immense pressure. It was a deliberate and highly politicised attempt to derail a political movement by attacking and trying to discredit one of its leaders. What was most disgusting was that those involved were not satisfied with removing her as a political threat, they also sought to destroy her career and hence her life. It remains our belief that certain people in the Labour Party deliberately leaked stories to the press to discredit Mandy.
For the rest of her life Mandy had to contend with the impact of this on her career as a school teacher. It is a real indication of her abilities as a teacher and as a manager, that the witchhunters were not able to prevent her becoming a successful secondary school headteacher.
A key aspect of Mandy’s organisational skills was organising bloody good parties. The trip to the friendly off licence on West Green Road to load up her car with drinks for parties ,either at her house or the Tottenham Labour Party Offices; became a routine occurrence. Mandy was a great DJ too, always able to keep a continuous stream of highly danceable records on the turntables, featuring the Northern Soul Music she loved so much.
Another of Mandy’s qualities was her personal loyalty and support for her friends. Many of us who became close to her at the time, have benefited from her help and support in the many years that have followed. Even whilst working huge hours in the committing tasks of a secondary school headteacher, Mandy always found time for her wide group of friends.
In one way the late 1980s seems a very different era. But in their essence the struggles of the 80s remain the same today. To finish are two quotes from Mandy’s speeches from the 1980s, referring to the struggle of women and her own stand against the witchhunt. They provide just as valuable a rallying call now as they did then.
“Women are in struggle in a multitude of ways every hour, every day – whether giving leadership or support to political and industrial movements, as in south Africa or [the] Women Against Pit Closures [campaign], or as activists in trades unions or the Labour party – we are in struggle to take control over own lives ….it’s women who are being hit hardest by the cuts – it’s their services, playgroups, daycentres that are being closed. It’s their community groups who are looking for funding, and it’s them who are losing their jobs in their thousands and suffering from severely worsened working conditions. But it’s also women who are leading the fight back.”
“I haven’t come here today to tell you how terrible things are for me. I am not smashed, intimidated or discredited – in fact I feel stronger and even more determined to fight. I have come to urge people to stand and fight with me, not just for me, but for all socialists who are being witch-hunted…I am not intimidated, I will not shut up and I will continue to fight for socialist policies…[to]…achieve equality and dignity for all people in this country and internationally.”