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Militant in Liverpool

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Liverpool City Council adopted policies largely inspired by those elected Councillors who were members of a left wing group known as the Militant-tendency through much of the 1980s, which led to being taken to court by the Government of Margaret Thatcher.

Policies of the Liverpool District Labour Party

In 1982, Liverpool District Labour Party adopted militant policies for the city. It adopted the slogan "Better to break the law than break the poor" which had been the slogan of the Poplar council in the East End of London in 1919-20 and was to appear on the Liverpool City Council's banner in 1984-5.[1]

The Labour Party claimed that cuts to the Rate Support Grant for the city were unfair and argued that £30 million had been "stolen" from Liverpool by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government. Prominent Liverpool Militant supporters such as Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn argued that the minority Labour Council of 1980 should have attempted to set an illegal "deficit budget", spending money on the needs of the people of Liverpool, even if it exceeded the council's income, and it should demand that central government return the "stolen" money to balance the books.[2][3]

Control of Liverpool City Council

In May 1983, in the face of sustained negative local and national press coverage, the newly Militant-led Labour Party gained 12 seats in the local elections and took control of the council from the 1979-1983 Tory-Liberal coalition. Now committed to an ambitious regeneration strategy, whilst refusing to make any above-inflation rent and rate rises, its new seats included the Tory leader of the council.[4] The new leader of the council, John Hamilton, was not a Militant member.[5]

Labour's local election vote in Liverpool increased by 40%, or 22,000 extra votes. In Broadgreen, Labour's vote increased by 50% and in the June 1983 elections, Militant supporter Terry Fields, standing on the slogan of "A workers' MP on a workers' wage", won the seat for Labour. The BBC had classed the seat as a marginal Tory seat in 1979. Militant reported that "it was the only Tory seat that was won by Labour".[6]

The Liverpool Labour Party's vote continued to rise, with Militant claiming: "In 1982 Labour got 54,000 votes in the city, in 1983 77,000 votes, and in 1984 this soared to over 90,000. In 33 of the 34 contested seats Labour's vote increased. Labour held all 14 seats it was defending and seven seats were won from the Tories." [7] However, no more than sixteen of the elected councillors were Militant members.[8]

Urban Regeneration Strategy

In 1984, Liverpool City Council launched its Urban Regeneration Strategy to build 5,000 houses, seven sports centres, new parks, six new nursery classes and other works, many of which were seen to completion. The 1,200 redundancies planned by the previous Liberal administration to balance the books were cancelled, and 1,000 new jobs were created. The office of Lord Mayor was abolished and the ceremonial horses sold.[9]

In 1985, the council joined the rate-capping rebellion in an alliance with left-led councils across Britain. Apart from Lambeth, the sixteen other councils which had followed a policy of not setting a rate had bowed to the rate-capping measures of the Conservative government, and set legal rates. The left leaderships of these councils favoured a strategy of delaying the setting of the budget, but one by one they found the means of setting a budget, leaving Liverpool and Lambeth to fight alone. The council declared "In the event of Tory threats of bankruptcy and possible arrests becoming a reality, all out strike action will take place".[10]

Illegal budget

On 14 June 1985, Liverpool City Council passed an illegal budget, in which spending exceeded income, demanding the deficit be made up by the government.[11] As bankruptcy loomed and plans for all-out strike action were finally discussed, they were narrowly lost, and not all unions balloted their members.[12][13]

Liverpool councillors were advised in late August 1985 by the District Auditor that the council was about to break its legal obligations and would not be able to pay wages to its staff by December of that year. In September 1985, rather than face immediate confrontation with the law, the Labour group on the council decided on the 'tactic' of issuing ninety-day notices to the 30,000 strong workforce to gain leeway to "campaign more vigorously than ever before".[14] A covering letter dated 19 September 1985 sent to council employees with the redundancy notice, signed by council leader John Hamilton and his deputy Derek Hatton, explains:

Obviously the steps we have had to take will cause concern and worry. However, this course of action provides the only way of providing wages and salaries until 18th December, 1985. Other steps would certainly result in the immediate cessation of payments and the cutting of services...Furthermore, this course of action gives the Government three months to negotiate with Labour representatives a just settlement to our financial crisis. If the Government recognises its responsibility then all notices will be withdrawn.[15]

In his autobiography, Deputy Council leader Derek Hatton acknowledged that taking this advice was an enormous mistake, from which the council never recovered.[16] Although the council did not actually intend to make anyone redundant,[17] many council staff felt the future of their jobs at the council were no longer guaranteed.[14][18] The 90-day notices were seen as three months notice of redundancy in all but name and treated as such by the media. Peter Taaffe, Militant's general secretary wrote that it was "a major tactical error."[19]

The Council balanced the books in November 1985 after gaining £30 million in loans. In an editorial, the Militant newspaper called the budget an "orderly retreat".[20]

In the meantime, the Urban Regeneration Strategy of the Liverpool City Council continued to provide jobs and build houses, schools and sports facilities. Lord Reg Underhill, since 1975 a long-standing opponent of Militant, wrote in a letter to The Guardian in September 1985:

I went to see the effects of Liverpool's regeneration strategy... The five year plan is to get rid of outdated and sub-standard housing, the crumbling tenements and soulless systems-built tower flats. Already 3,800 separate homes have been built, with their own private gardens and nearby off-street parking... improved street layouts, with tree-lined residential roads are planned. We saw the start of the 100-acre (0.40 km2) park at Everton and of the initial development of other local parks. There are to be seven sport centres; three have just been opened. The scheme will provide work for 12,000 with side effects producing further thousands of jobs. Without commenting on the rating situation, how much is being saved to the Treasury by this employment? [21]

1985 Labour Party Conference

Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made a speech to the Labour Party Conference at the Bournemouth International Centre on 1 October 1985 that attacked Militant and their record in controlling Liverpool City Council:[22]

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions; they are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-placed, outdated, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I tell you - and you'll listen - you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services.[23]

Labour MP Eric Heffer walked off the platform during the speech while Derek Hatton repeatedly shouted "lies" at Kinnock from the balcony, and later condemned "the rantings and ravings" contained in his speech.[22]

Disciplinary action against Militant

The NEC subsequently suspended Liverpool District Labour Party in November 1985, and began an inquiry into the council's conduct. A minority were opposed. Dennis Skinner, then an NEC member, thought it was a diversion from the Tories and the "class enemy". "They're going to spend a lot of time examining their own navel," he said.[24] Peter Kilfoyle was appointed as an organiser, with a specific remit to remove Militant supporters from the Labour Party.[clarification needed]

Terry Fields increased his majority in 1987 and Labour did particularly well in Liverpool, leading Militant to deny Neil Kinnock's claim that its policies were unpopular.[25] Militant's general secretary, Peter Taaffe, subsequently wrote:

Without the attack on the Liverpool Militant supporters, and a subsequent witch-hunt against others on the left, the right wing leadership would not have been able to carry through a massive revision in party policy in the period 1985-7. The attack on Liverpool paved the way for the defeat of Labour in the 1987 general election.

Derek Hatton was expelled from the Labour Party in June 1986.[26]

Rate capping defeat

In Liverpool, the district auditor had charged the Militant-led 49 Liverpool city councillors £106,000. Their appeal to the House of Lords was lost in 1987 and an additional charge of £242,000 was imposed. The money was raised from donations from the Labour and trade union movement.

Expulsion from the Labour Party

When Eric Heffer retired, Lesley Mahmood, a "Broad Left" councillor and a member of Militant, stood for the Labour nomination. Peter Kilfoyle, who had been the Labour Party organiser in the city since 1985, gained the nomination by a narrow margin; he had been involved in removing Militant influence from the Liverpool Labour Party.[27] Mahmood stood as a "Walton Real Labour" candidate in the subsequent byelection but only gained 6.5% of the vote.

Terry Fields was also criticised for his lack of support for Kilfoyle in a neighbouring seat as well as his militant approach to the community charge[28] and was expelled from the Labour Party in December 1991.[28] In the 1992 general election he stood as an independent against the Labour candidate, Jane Kennedy, but was defeated with only 14% of the vote.

In popular culture

The Alan Bleasdale-scripted television serial GBH (1991) was based on the period of Militant's control of Liverpool council.


  1. ^ Class Struggle and Social Welfare, edited by Michael Lavalette and Gerry Mooney, p. 116 (n.4)
  2. ^ Crick 1986, p. 224.
  3. ^ "In 1984-5 the total target figure in real terms for all English authorities was only 6 per cent lower than their expenditure in 1980-1, but Liverpool's target was 11 per cent lower than their spending in 1980-1. Liverpool's officials estimated that between 1978-9 and 1983-4, the city had lost between £26 million and £34 million in government grant as a direct result of penalties being imposed for spending over target. This was the £30 million that the council claimed the government had stolen." (Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p147-8)
  4. ^ Crick 1986, p. 225.
  5. ^ Jo Thomas, "Liverpool's Rebirth: Poverty is never far away", New York Times, 17 October 1985.
  6. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p82, p94
  7. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight, p. 136
  8. ^ Crick 1986, p. 299.
  9. ^ Crick 1986, p. 238.
  10. ^ Not the echo! Liverpool Labour News, 'Workers back the council', p2, signed by the leaders of the two biggest unions, Ian Lowes of the GMBATU and Peter Cresswell of NALGO.
  11. ^ Not the echo! Liverpool Labour News, (a newspaper published by the Labour Party in 1985), '6,0000 jobs threatened', p1. The article was written by Militant member Felicity Dowling.
  12. ^ Crick 1986, p. 261.
  13. ^ "The Militants wanted an all-out strike to put pressure on the Government to act, but not all the unions were supporting the action, because there was no guarantee of success." Graham Burgess, Liverpool City Council Senior shop steward of the white collar staff union Nalgo in 1985, speaking to the Daily Post, Tuesday, 1 May 2007
  14. ^ a b Crick 1986, p. 260.
  15. ^ Shennan, Paddy (11 May 2013). "Militant remembered: Forget Margaret Thatcher, Derek Hatton on how Neil Kinnock was his 'enemy within' (VIDEO)". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  16. ^ Hatton, Derek, Inside Left, p89ff
  17. ^ Hatton Inside Left, p. 101-2.
  18. ^ "They would say to us 'It's just a piece of paper, of course we'll re-employ everybody' but from a union point of view, we couldn't accept that because there was no guarantee." - Graham Burgess, Liverpool City Council Senior shop steward of the white collar staff union Nalgo in 1985, speaking to the Daily Post, Tuesday, 1 May 2007.
  19. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p281
  20. ^ Militant Editorial Board statement, 23 November 1985
  21. ^ The Guardian, 25 September 1985
  22. ^ a b James Naughtie, Labour in Bournemouth: Kinnock rounds on left's militants, Guardian Unlimited, 2 October 1985. Retrieved 25 March 2007.
  23. ^ Quoted in the abstract Archived 2004-07-20 at the Wayback Machine of Greg Rosen, ed., Old Labour to New: The Dreams that Inspired, the Battles that Divided, Politico's Press, ISBN 1-84275-045-3. Retrieved 25 March 2007.
  24. ^ "1985: Kinnock moves against Militant", BBC On This Day, 27 November
  25. ^ Militant, 19 June 1987, p2 (issue 853): "The argument that left-wing policies and candidates contributed to Labour's election defeat is resoundingly answered by the results from four constituencies where Marxist candidates fought on a clear socialist programme."
  26. ^ "1986: Labour expels Militant Hatton", BBC On This Day, 12 June
  27. ^ Andy McSmith Faces of Labour: The Inside Story, London: Verso, 1996, p.115
  28. ^ a b "1991: Anti-Poll Tax MP Jailed", BBC On this Day, 11 July

Further reading

This page was last edited on 1 April 2021, at 08:02
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