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Keele's Declarations of Independence
The Declarations of Independence at Keele have acquired a mythology all of their own. This is an attempt to clarify some of the facts....
THE DECLARATION OF 1980
A press release of the time stated: "Peanuts for education leads to banana republic creation - UDI at Keele".
In 1980 Keele University Students’ Union issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Here is the text of a letter proclaiming UDI, which was addressed to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Linda Balfe (1979), President of Keele University Students' Union and dated 18th February 1980.
We, the people of Keele, are and always have been, deeply opposed to cutbacks in Education expenditure. We feel, therefore, that our trust in the British Government, currently engaged in implementing such odious cutbacks, has been most violently betrayed. We further believe that the British Government's proposals for education are an affront to the principles and ultimate welfare of society.
We affirm our natural rights, as outlined in John Locke's 'Second Treatise on Government' where it is stated:- "...wherever the legislators endeavour to take away the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves in a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men against force and violence - resistance."
It is our belief that education is a right and not a privilege and should be freely available to all. We are opposed to all measures which restrict access to education or undermine its quality.
We refuse to be subjugated by such means and therefore declare our complete independence from the rule of British Government.
We declare ourselves from this day forward: "The Free Republic of Keele".
The seemingly frivolous initiative delivered a very serious message of protest that severe cuts in Higher Education budgets would have a damaging effect both on students and on universities. The cuts at Keele were particularly severe and threatened the very survival of the University.
Photo right: Free Republic of Keele passport belonging to Anne Jackson (Pillinger) (1981)
THE FROK NATIONAL ANTHEM
“Officials and Citizens of FROK (Free Republic of Keele) gathered on the SU balcony for the daily lunchtime rendition of the National Anthem (with rather spectacular brass accompaniment, as I recall) and speeches and updates on the action.” Chris Parkins (1981)
The National Anthem of the Free Republic of Keele was sung to the tune of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the lyrics were:
WHO STARTED IT?
“The Keele UDI was in the 1979/80 academic year, when I was Social Secretary - a sabbatical post in those days but not a particularly 'political' one. I wasn't as involved as the other members of the committee - in particular the Union President, Linda Balfe, whose idea it was in the first place. I have an idea that it may have been done again at some time in the mid to late 1980's. It does have to be said that the vast majority of students didn't really involve themselves much one way or the other. There used to be a lot of discussion about the problem of 'student apathy' and talk about how to try and get people involved in stuff and I suspect little has changed in this respect?” Chris Parkins (1981)
"In around 1980, the Student's Union made a fully legitimate Universal Declaration of Independence. For more info on the Free State legalities you might want to investigate Christiania, in Denmark, which is a fully recognised self declared, Free State.” Unknown
"The campus became "The Independent Republic of Keele". We even had passport control and customs check points on the entrances to campus. This lasted a few days, and was all in response to cuts or something, I forget exactly what. It made the TV news and reinforced the students' lefty image with the locals for a while. I believe that in the sixties Keele was known locally as 'The Kremlin on the Hill'" Mark Ayres (1982)
"I seem to recall that the daily bulletin thing (was that 'Concourse’ ) came out with a completely new calendar - day 1 being the first day of UDI etc. I seem to recall thinking it all very silly at the time which just shows how boring I was even then." Jenny Mooney (Lynas) (1981)
WAS IT REALLY ABOUT A SWIMMING POOL?
"It is March 1980 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is unhappy about the venue for the Olympic Games in the summer. Does anyone remember the generous offer made on behalf of Keele University to the IOC offering Keele University's sport facilities for the Games? Arrrrhh... there was only one drawback - the lack of a swimming pool – never mind, at least the track events could take place on the campus and the swimming in the local public pool in Newcastle. Anyway, a 'student-rally' (about 12 people) supporting this bid was held in front of the library and the 'bid' even received publicity on the regional TV news. I was all in favour of the idea until I got hit by an egg! If the person who threw it is reading this - thanks a bunch... and there's still an outstanding dry cleaners bill to settle!" Paul Gabbott (1980)
"I vaguely remember we applied to the IOC to host the next Olympics. Sadly, like the rest of my fellow radicals, I've got no idea what we were protesting about. My only enduring memory of those endless Union meetings was the appointment of the Chip Finder General, who played the hugely important part of standing behind the curtains in the main hall waiting for the chip van to arrive to signal the end of the meeting." Si (1980)
"To say that A choice was made between a chapel and a swimming pool is entirely untrue. The chapel was already built but there was some funding that became available and the choice was made between putting it towards chapel running costs or towards building a swimming pool. The funding did go to the chapel however it was not built in place of a swimming pool." Caroline Wallett (2010)
AN ESTEEMED FOREIGN AMBASSADOR
“At the time UDI was linked to Keele's Olympic bid, which was part of the campaign for a swimming pool (one choice was swimming pool or chapel…. Anyway, the Union made its UDI as part of its protest against falling grants and rising tuition fees (some things have not changed) and just to top it all off, they had to choose an ambassador. Many were asked and many replied to say “No!” But one fine and noble man saw fit to grace us with his acceptance. Who better to be the ambassador of this weird and wonderful wonderland than the great Spike Milligan? Yep, it's true. Unfortunately, Union politics being what it is (hard work and with short terms of office lasting only one year) things dwindled off after a short time". Unknown
THE BAT ON THE LIBRARY CLOCK
“The bat I am told was smuggled out of the Biology Dept foyer in a couple of Sainsbury’s bags, but not by the Mountaineering Soc. A Biologist-Geologist by the name of "Cambridge" was, I'm told, responsible. The university were not amused as they had just spent several £000's giving the clock its regular check up. Personally I thought the bat was brilliant, it brightened my day then and for several days, and the memory of it continues to do so today. For me it was one of Keele's best pranks. "Cambridge" didn't make it to graduation. Not surprising as he had a week off at one time in an attempt to drink 100 pints in a week. He had a really nice girlfriend called Janet... I’ll stop me rambles…” Mark Thomas (1982)
“I have no idea who was behind this, or why - it didn't seem to have anything to do with the fun, but serious protest that we were making. Good, though.” Chris Parkins (1981)
Update! The perpetrator whp laced the bat on the Library Clock has been revealed! According to Paul Girvan (1981) it was Cambridge-Mark Jeffries...
“No Cuts" was painted on the Chapel Roof. I'm not sure if this was during the exact week of UDI, but it was certainly around that time. It made quite an impact, being very much 'in your face' as you came into Keele from the old main entrance at Barnes. John Hodgkinson, the Registrar, phoned the Union Secretary to ask if he knew anything about it. I seem to recall that the Union Committee response was along the lines of 'Sorry, we know nothing about it whatsoever, although we do understand that it is water-soluble paint so the rain will wash it off in due course!' And it did. What responsible protesters we were!” Chris Parkins (1981)
“I have always been led to believe that the "No Cuts" graffito was the responsibility of an active hang-gliding member of Union committee, with a strong interest in Arts Umbrella and he therefore had access to water based paint.” Mark Thomas (1982)
“As Social Secretary and secretary of the hang-gliding club at the time, I can categorically assure you that it was nothing to do with me. Union Committee were also able to deny all knowledge of the incident to the University authorities, whilst simultaneously being able to assure them that a water-soluble paint had been used - which was nice, I thought. I did hear that when the person or persons unknown reached the chapel roof, they discovered that they had neglected to bring a paintbrush, so the letters were actually painted on with a rolled-up sock! Still, it was striking, imposing and non-permanent - a perfect protest, in fact.” Chris Parkins (1981)
PASSPORTS AND BORDER CONTROL
“Our 'Passport Control' pointat the old main entrance at Barnes Hall.” Chris Parkins (1981)
"For a short while passports were issued and these could still be obtained for a time from SPIRE (not, to my knowledge, a 'shadowy' adversary of Mr Bond and MI6, rather Keele's School of Politics, International Relations and the Environment). This was all quite for real and, allegedly, all we would have to do to make this completely official is to be recognised by one other state recognised by the UN. (Actually I am not sure it is the UN). Apparently Cuba is the one to choose Does anyone know any Cuban politicians?" Unknown
"I remember the UDI: the local mine pro
vided the fuel for the fires and we stood for hours in turn on the gates. Seemed longer than a week but there we go." Sarah Holmes (1980)
"Independent Keele lasted a week and was a complete pain for those of us living ‘abroad’ at the time (a.k.a. at Hawthorns), although once you knew the password for cyclists (which I think was ".... you Commie ###. ") passing through the checkpoints at speed became much easier. The disappointment was that the kind invitation from K U R F C (especially Steph Bailey & Maj Gen Harper Brown) to providestrip-search parties at the checkpoints to frisk dangerous female students was so swiftly dismissed by the Union. This particular declaration of UDI also coincided with Keele making the papers (yet again)." David Williams (1982)
"Yes, I remember and it and marching (and being told that we were being filmed by the secret police)!" Caroline Jackson (1982)
INSURRECTION OF THE FCS 1981
“The UDI was unpopular with the newly active FCS (Federation of Conservative Students) who organised their own counter-demonstrations and are seen waving some very large flags in the hope that the TV cameras would make them look bigger than they were.“ Chris Parkins (1981)
“I think that 1980 was the second time. Don't know when the first was, but it was before our time. There was a counter movement to the 1980 declaration as the Keele Conservatives turned up in their Ford Capris and similar, head lights a-flashing, horns a-blarin'. They positioned themselves outside the library and I seem to recall quite a heated atmosphere followed. Scared me! Happy Days!” Mark Thomas (1981)
Thanks to Steve Christie (1981) for photos from the Declaration of 1981.
"I notice that on this page for the 1980 UDI the "Counter-UDI" movement was oranised by the Conservative Students movement but, lest I be tarred a Conservative for ever after, I was in that picture in front of the Library steps and I was never a member of the Conservative Club or whatever it was called. I did however live at Hawthorns and didn't appreciate the check point madness. The high-point of the day was when the BBC TV got egged by members of the Anarchist Society (I know - how do you have an "Anarchist Society"" but it existed...)" Michael Dance (1981)
"Graduation year. I had other things on my mind, but I remember the UDI very well." Philip Wain (1980)
"The idea that the counter demo was by the FCS is incorrect - I was there and it is my red Vauxhall Viva HB in the photo in front of the library! The counter demo was organised by a cross-section infuriated at the UDI declaration by the Union hacks and activists based on a motion at a barely quorate UGM - that was in the day when they had to extend the 'quorum' area from the ballroom to include the first floor main bar as not enough people could be bothered to move to the ballroom to make up the quorum numbers and avoid the UGM being declared inquorate and disbanded! The counter demo may have included some FCS members but the main instigators as I remember were Nick Simpson, Graham Boocock, Theo Dennison, Nigel Herbert, myself and others, none of who were members of the political parties. The Counter demo was well planned to coincide with the Union Committee declaration on the Union balcony - the barrier post preventing vehicle access to the front of the library was 'temporarily' removed early on UDI day so the cars had a clear run up to the library steps, - and a clear retreat when the flour and eggs from the mini-market rained down on the vehicles (I think the shop ran out of one or both). We had plenty of interviews with the local TV, radio and press who clamber up the bank from Union Square to publicise the counter viewpoint. Yes, it was heady and showed real student passion on issues of the day and was good natured. We retired back to Hawthorns to wash off the battle damage and relax with a pint or two in The Sneyd Arms." Chris Steele (1980)
"I still have my UDI passport somewhere." Rod Fine (1981)
"I still have my 1980 passport. I can escape. Huzzah!" Peter A Roberts (1983)
"I don't remember any Ford Capris in the cavalcade (very Essex chav even then!) but Nick Simpson (1981) had an olive green open top/back mini (the original Issigonis model) and one of the guys (mature early 20's bod had an old air portable Land Rover - just right for flying the Union Flag as we swept up the access road from Keele viilage! One of our spies/double agents within the Union moments before the planned declaration relayed back comments I could not possibly put into print when the cavalcade appeared in front of the Library and grabbed the media attention. That was worthy of a few free dirnks in the Sneyd. Oh happy days." Chris Steele (1980)
"I thought that the Universal Declaration of Independence was when I was Social Secretary, which would have made it 1979/80, although I've been wrong about these things before! Indeed, 'support was not unanimous' - but then, nothing ever was, was it? The moan of 'what to do about the apathy of the students' was a common refrain from those of us who involved ourselves in Union activity of one sort or another. In fact, the Young Conservatives (what were they called, FCS perhaps) seemed a pretty scary bunch at the time and went as far as to organise a 'No to UDI' demo, complete with Union Jack flag-waving." Chris Parkins (1981)
"Keele UDI (or at least one of them) was in 1979-80. I remember it and I graduated in 1980, I wasn't there in 1981. There was indeed a passport control on the road from Hawthorns. I used to spend a lot of time out at Madeley, and coming back in the wee small hours I was often stopped and asked for my passport, which I usually didn't have, but I knew many of the people on the checkpoints, so used to stop for a natter. I'm sure I've got a picture of a late night stop somewhere, with Dick Beckett manning the barricades but I'm blowed if I know where." Tim Cotsford (1980)
“Independence was declared a second time in academic year 1984/85 if memory serves - I still have my "Keele passport" around somewhere.” Simone-Davis (1988)
“There was another attempt at the free republic whilst I was there (1985-1988). I can't for the life of me remember why this time, but I believe it was written on the FRK passport, which I still have somewhere. A fairly uneventful protest other than from the Keele underground movement, which mostly involved us doing sneak raids on passport control and hurling flour bombs." Mark Stamps (1988)
"That would have been one of SU President Tony Bell's many attempts to get jolly cross at something or other, but failing because he was simply too nice." Alistair Dabbs (1986)
"Passports were re-issued in 1987 (well, somewhere between late 1985 and 1988), when Maggie Thatcher suggested Keele should amalgamate with North Staffs Polytechnic. No one wanted to do a joint subject with classes in Keele and down in Stoke as logistically it would have been a nightmare. Not sure what the Poly students thought though! So there are second issue passports out there somewhere." Sarah Dack (1988)
“I have several recollections of the 1991 declaration of independence. Quite a few of us spent the day dressed in army fatigues, carrying mock weapons, guarding the entrances and exits of the campus, stopping all vehicles to check for passports. The passport was simply a RAG magazine and if you didn't have one you could get one on entry to campus by making a donation to the RAG appeal. We didn't stop the buses but we did get permission from Potteries Motor Transport to board the buses as they entered campus and attempt to sell RAG mags to the other passengers as long as we got off the bus again when it left campus. I also recall, when stopping vehicles, that one car came onto campus via the Barnes Hall entrance and, on seeing our checkpoint, immediately reversed out again. He then approached again very slowly and cautiously. I put down my black-painted AK47 water pistol and approached the car 'unarmed' to talk to the driver. It turned out that he was a serving member of the armed forces who had recently returned from a tour in Northern Ireland. Apparently our checkpoint manned by guerrilla soldiers was just a little too real looking. Some of us spent part of the day travelling around campus in, or hanging off the sides of Steve Hall's Fiat Strada from which he had removed the doors. The Staffordshire Sentinel published a photo of several of us on or around Steve's car.” Simon Fox (1993)
"I was at Keele in 1991 when students declared independence, led by members of KLAS (Keele Live Action Society). I don't remember any passports being issued at that time, but I did hold on to a letter of recognition from the then Governor of Gibraltar. Time and two emigrations mean I can't place it at the moment, although I am sure I never destroyed it. Interesting to know we weren't the first, shame it hasn't become a regular occurrence." Rachel Hall (1994)
A DISTANT PRECURSOR
A student protest group called "Action for a Free University" was formed in June 1968 to deliver "an attack on the existing power structure of the University"... and this may have also stimulated the nominal creation of the "Free University of Keele".
"Arguably, the forerunner of the Free Republic was the Free University of Keele in 1968. The grounding concept of FUK was the notion of a community of scholars without distinctions of rank which made its rules together rather than imposing them on the majority (the students). Ground down by arbitrary regulations, such as the one forbidding members of the opposite sex from spending the night in halls of residence, the students rose up with a mighty cry of ‘Freedom!’ and occupied the Administration Block." Martin Yarnit (1968)
"In 1967 or 68 we had a border guard at the entrances. My parents were visiting, so they gave the guard a clenched fist salute (they were Lefties from way back) and so were admitted." Michael Sager (1969)
AND FOR THE COMPLETISTS...
Let us not forget the earliest premonition of secession in "Beyond", a review presented by the finalists of 1962. This featured in Part II - "Over the Wall, or the Independent State of Keele: A Musical".
Did you enjoy this? Why not read more stories from the Keele Oral History Project?