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Let’s dance? Depends on your politics

publication date: May 8, 2013
author/source: Simon Hacker



Denver Boot from 1983The political weather from May 9 1983 was gloomy, with general outbreaks of despondency. 

Or at least it was for the 58 per cent of the country as the vote would turn out, who didn’t want a landslide victory for Margaret Thatcher in the coming general election. 

Recent retrospectives tend to suggest Mrs Thatcher was the architect of her own huge success, but let’s not airbrush out Michael Foot’s contribution, for all his merit, to her cause.

Under his campaigning leadership, a Labour manifesto was being pursued which was famously described as “the longest suicide note in history”, consisting as it did as merely a collection of any political wish that was successfully endorsed by the party’s membership.

That’s enough politics. Let’s look at something even more depressing than Norman Tebbit with a comfortable majority: the wheel clamp. 

Like so many dreadful ideas, the wheel clamp came from ‘over there’, initially being known as the Denver Boot, having been invented in 1944 and patented by Denver Symphony Orchestra violinist Frank Marugg in 1958. 

Scotland Yard decided to try them out in the capital this month and the rest, as they say, is a miserable history. 

Nevertheless, the clamp became a useful tool against the emerging charter to Do What the Hell You Like. Technically, its power is a little slacker today given legislation in October 2012 to make it illegal to use one on a vehicle parked on private land. Many exceptions apply though, so be wary as it can often retain its bite.

Very much capturing the padded-shouldered mood of the decade, the hit single Let’s Dance reached number one this month. The album, released a month before, sold fifteen million at the last count and was David Bowie’s biggest seller, a record which appears to be unlikely to be beaten by his latest work. 

He later said that its huge success caused him to hit a creative low point and that it “f****d with my integrity”. Most retrospectives judge it as Bowie at his best though and inescapably the backing track for this era.

Despite Mrs Thatcher’s imminent return to power, there was hope out there for anyone in search of inspiration: the Return of the Jedi – the third part of the Star Wars epic – opened on the big screen, telling a tale of good’s inevitable victory over bad. 

Maybe the plot was to be inspirational to two young political hopefuls who were now busy crunching gravel around Dunfermline and Sedgefield in the run-up to that big vote. 

For now at least, the force would not be with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair to get them real power, but each seemed to muster enough appeal to ensure they would bag their first constituencies. 

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