Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
  2. Africa
6 December 2013updated 27 Sep 2015 5:32am

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.

By Media Mole

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.