Campaigning for Blair Peach in New Zealand

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peach

The articles I’ve been reprinting from the British press give (hopefully) a sense of how activists in the UK attempted to keep pressure on the government here to come clean about police involvement in the death of Blair Peach. The demands of the Friends of Blair Peach committee were for a public inquiry, and for disclosure of all documents relating to Blair’s death. Neither demand was immediately successful, although it is clear from reading the Home Office files that the government felt under considerable pressure for the entire year from Peach’s death, and right up until the findings of the Inquest, considered it a realistic possibility that it would have to concede a judicial inquiry.

How about in New Zealand? The organisers of the campaign were Natalia Aston and Richard Hill, a friend of Blair Peach’s who had met him while studying in the UK in 1972, and had been in the IMG (Peach was of course in IS/SWP).

In November 1979, the National Executive of the NZ Labour Party discussed whether to support the call for a further Inquiry and voted to do so.  The National government in New Zealand, however, refused to take up this call:

“The Government has followed this case closely through the High Commission in London because it involved the death of a New Zealand citizen. Nevertheless the Government had held the view that the framework of British law provides an adequate setting for the Peach family and its supporters to to seek redress … The question of whether there should be a public enquiry is for the British Government alone…”

A number of New Zealand MPs supported the campaign including Russell Marshall, the MP for Wanganui, a former Methodist Minister, and a Labour MP. In 1981, Marshall was the Labour Shadow Minister for Education, and he agreed to ask a question in Parliament of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Brian Talboys, the National Minister, declined to make any enquiries of the government in London.

As late as 1986, April 1986, Russell Marshall (now the Minister for Education) was still writing to Hill, saying that he doubted the Thatcher government would concede an inquiry but was heartened by news that the Metropolitan Police was likely to have to concede the disclosure of the Cass report. (As we know, it was only in fact disclosed in 2010).

The boldest decision taken by the New Zealand Friends of Blair Peach was its call in April 1981 for a labour movement boycott of all British imports. “We conduct this campaign”, the campaign wrote, “in the interests of civil liberties and justice, and to commemorate the life and work of a comrade devoted to anti-racist and anti-fascist activities among the most under privileged layers of British society.”

The boycott was widely publicised. The New Zealand Friends were interviewed by a series of national newspapers and on radio. The call also had the effect of forcing  a response from PJ Priestly, the first secretary of the British High Commission, which had been trying to ignore the campaign.

According to Hill, “I can’t  as yet find any records relating to the boycott, but I recall  we had support from a number of left-of-centre organisations (such as the Socialist Left of the Labour Party), community groups  and trade unions. We didn’t really anticipate a significant boycott, and it was more of a way of dramatising the issue (and of course the boycott   of South African  goods was often in the news, and a parallel call  seemed a good way of focussing people’s minds on issues) so we just let the campaign die away when it had served its publicity purposes …  I don’t think we asked the Labour Party per se to support the boycott, though I’m pretty sure some branches – especially in the Wellington region, the most radical region – did so, including the Kelburn Branch of which I was chair.”

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