Red Wedge was a collective of musicians who attempted to engage young people with politics in general, and the policies of the Labour Party in particular, during the period leading up to the 1987 general election, in the hope of ousting the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.
Fronted by Billy Bragg (whose 1985 Jobs for Youth tour had been a prototype of sorts for Red Wedge), Paul Weller and The Communards lead singer Jimmy Somerville, they put on concert tours and appeared in the media, adding their support to the Labour Party campaign.
The group was launched on 21 November 1985, with Bragg, Weller, Strawberry Switchblade and Kirsty MacColl invited to a reception at the Palace of Westminster hosted by Labour MP Robin Cook. The collective took its name from a 1919 poster by Russian constructivist artist El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. Despite this echo of the Russian Civil War, Red Wedge was not a communist organisation; neither was it officially part of the Labour Party, but it did initially have office space at Labour's headquarters. The group's logo, also inspired by the Lissitzky poster, was designed by Neville Brody.
Red Wedge organised a number of major tours. The first, in January and February 1986, featured Bragg, Weller's band The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Lorna Gee and Jerry Dammers, and picked up guest appearances from Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Blow Monkeys and The Smiths along the way.
When the general election was called in 1987, Red Wedge also organised a comedy tour featuring Lenny Henry, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Charles, Phill Jupitus and Harry Enfield, and another tour by the main musical participants along with The The, Captain Sensible and the Blow Monkeys. The group also published an election pamphlet, Move On Up, with a foreword by Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
After the 1987 election produced a third consecutive Conservative victory, many of the musical collective drifted away. A few further gigs were arranged and the group's magazine Well Red continued, but funding eventually ran out and Red Wedge was formally disbanded in 1990.
Ironically, many of those in Red Wedge have since gone on to integrate themselves firmly within the right wing middle class establishment. This could obviously be part of Red Wedge's long-term strategic plan to create a crack division of "cultural sleepers" embedded within post-Thatcher society. However, it is probably just evidence of a Damascene conversion to market capitalism.
For example: - Paul Weller is currently playing picnic-concerts to middle class, middle England audiences at English Heritage venues such as Audley End [Sat 26th July, 2014.] and charging £40 per ticket. - Suggs was a key part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with Madness playing a set on the roof of Buckingham Palace.