Twitter fact-check: David Cameron didn't want to "Hang Nelson Mandela" in the 80s

The prime minister did go on a dodgy trade trip to South Africa in 1989, but tweets alleging that he wanted Mandela executed while a student are mistaken.

As the news of Nelson Mandela's death broke, there were inevitable reminders from the left - and some on the right - that the Conservative Party's stance towards the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s was not, to say the least, something its current members would be happy with.

Most infamously, there were the "Hang Nelson Mandela" posters, pamphlets, badges, and songs. One image in particular - you can see it above - contains two particular allegations about David Cameron's time as a young Tory in the 1980s. You can see it being passed around on Twitter right now.

The first claim is untrue. The "Hang Nelson Mandela" merchandise was produced by a faction of the notoriously extreme Federation of Conservative Students, an organisation that was fiercely libertarian and anti-communist. Former member Harry Phibbs - now a councillor for Hammersmith & Fulham - said its members were often frustrated that "the Thatcher government wasn't Thatcherite enough".

In 1985, when the image above was created, Cameron would have been 19, and by all accounts he was pretty uninterested in politics while at university. He wasn't close to being a part of the FCS, let alone a "top member" of the Tory party's most radical youth group. Phibbs has explained to the Independent that the images were created by a small splinter faction as a parody of the "Free Nelson Mandela" badges that many left-wing students were wearing at the time - there's no evidence that Cameron was part of this faction.

Phibbs, by the way, also wrote an article for the FCS paper in 1986 alleging that Harold McMillan was a war criminal for cooperating with the Soviet Union in WWII, a charge so ridiculous that it gave the thoroughly fed-up Norman Tebbitt no choice but to shut the FCS down.

The second charge, that Cameron took an all-expenses paid trip to South Africa in 1989 while working on policy for the Conservatives, and that it was paid for by a lobbying company that opposed sanctions, is true. Many Tories opposed sanctions during the 1980s, something a lot of them - including Cameron - have regretted since then.

In 2006, he said:

The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now. The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC, it is because of them - and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.

It's your choice how much you wish to believe the sincerity of his apology for what was a murky time in the Conservative Party's recent past, but he has apologised.

The misleading image being passed around social media.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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