Between May, 1986 and May, 1987 Neil Kinnock and his advisers were obsessed with the need to “root out” the Liverpool Militants. Kinnock’s preoccupation with Liverpool dominated developments within the labor movement nationally. All else was to be subordinated to this question. Prime Minister’s Question Time was missed on two occasions by Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley. Opportunities to attack the government in the House of Commons were neglected. The mobilization of the resources of the Labour Party for the expected general election was virtually forgotten, but the expulsion of Militant supporters was vital!
However, the Liverpool working class again and again revealed an embarrassing “tendency” to support the Militants. The solid achievements in the field of housing, education, sports Centers, etc. had deepened support for Labour Party for the expected general election was virtually forgotten, but the expulsion of Militant supporters was vital!However, the Liverpool working class again and again revealed an embarrassing “tendency” to support the Militants. The solid achievements in the field of housing, education, sports Centers, etc. had deepened support for Labour, and particularly for the most militant, fighting elements like Tony Mulhearn, Derek Hatton, for Militant supporters in general and for those close to them like Tony Byrne.
Flying in the face of all the evidence, Kinnock and Hattersley believed that they would climb to power over the “whitened bones” of Scargill, Mulhearn and Hatton! But the moguls of Fleet Street who were urging Kinnock on in his “war against the left” had no intention of supporting Labour as an alternative to the Thatcher government. They merely used the expulsions to demand “more” and portray Labour as a divided party.
The bourgeois in Britain hope to convert the Labour Party into a version of the American Democratic Party. In vain! The Labour Party came into being as the political outgrowth of the trade unions. Even with the drift to the right of the labor and trade-union leadership, the dream of the capitalists, frequently echoed by the right wing of the movement, to separate the unions from the Labour Party, will be stillborn.
The worsening of the economic and social situation in Britain will radicalize the unions, which in turn will be compelled to transform the Labour Party. The movement of the working class back into the Labour Party will develop in waves, over months and years, transforming it from top to bottom not once but many times. Nevertheless, Kinnock’s assault on Militant in Liverpool temporarily had a disastrous effect on the labor movement nationally. Combined with the jettisoning of left policies, the witch-hunt disheartened many active workers within the movement, who fell into inactivity or were elbowed aside by Kinnock’s new “whizz kids” who controlled the public presentation of Labour’s policies. Falsely basing themselves upon the experience of “personal elections” in America, Kinnock and his entourage developed the notion that it was possible to supplant a mass party by television campaigns.
An essential element in the plans of the right wing to discredit the Liverpool Militants, was to secure the electoral defeat of Labour in the city, proving the “unelectability” of Labour with the “Militant” tag. But all the carefully constructed plans of the national leadership of the Labour Party were to go awry in the May 1986 local government elections, which once again confirmed the colossal and deep-rooted support which existed for Labour and the ideas of Militant in Liverpool.
Even those unions, like NUPE, which had stood aside from the struggle, knew what was at stake. The NUPE journal (4, 1986) outlined the record of the Liberals in slashing jobs and services. In calling for support for Labour it also quoted Heseltine who in 1981 had declared: “the private sector cannot play the prime role. Only public funds can buy out the accumulated legacy of decay and dereliction.” Incredibly it also recorded the fact that in 1984 the city council had forced the government to retreat; “the government stepped in and bailed the council out with money through the back door”. It then outlined the tremendous record of the council: “Despite the government’s financial rents and kept rates down. Opened new nursery classes. Built four new sports Centers.” It called for mass support for Labour.
NUPE was singing a different song in these elections, with the Tory and Liberal enemy at the gate, than in the previous two years. Not so the political opponents of Militant within the Labour Party. Phil Kelly, local government correspondent for Tribune, derisively wrote about the “mess in Liverpool”. An Islington councilor and a refugee from the Young Liberals with his LCC mentor Peter Hain, Kelly had denigrated Militant in the columns of Tribune for more than a year, echoing criticisms of Liverpool’s decision to borrow from the Swiss banks. Yet three months after his article Islington council borrowed £200 million from city banks! In the May elections in 1986, the Labour Party in Islington unfortunately lost 13 seats including Kelly’s to the SDP-Liberal Alliance. Not a word of “explanation” of the Islington disaster was to be forthcoming in Kelly’s future columns in Tribune.
In the run-up to the May 1986 local elections, Cunningham once more distanced himself from Liverpool and Lambeth, saying derisively that they represented less than one percent of Labour councilors and were “atypical. They are not and never will be the norm for us.” (Morning Star 19 April 1986). Buoyed up by the attacks of the Labour right, a Liberal leaflet shrieked: “Remember all Labour candidates have been approved by Mulhearn and Hatton. They all support Militant’s council policy. Votes for them put all jobs at risk.” Sir Trevor Jones’ confidence was unbounded: “By any assessment, Labour’s days are numbered. This is a chance at last, make or break for the city.”
Like a gramophone needle that was stuck, this was the constant refrain of Jones from 1983 right up to 1987. Labour canvassers, in contrast, encountered on the doorstep the deep-seated support for Labour and its leading Militant figures. Once canvasser met a middle-aged woman who asked if he supported Derek Hatton. Given the vicious personal diatribes against Derek Hatton, the canvasser was just a little cautious but explained that Derek Hatton carried out local and national Labour Party policy, so he did support him. The woman replied that if he did not support Derek Hatton, she would not be voting Labour! Another old man told a canvasser: “I am not voting Labour if they’re getting rid of Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn.” After discussion he was convinced that the candidate was not a witch-hunter and supported the city council. Another unemployed man said, “It’s militants that have won all that the working class have at the moment.”
The Liberals produced 100,000 leaflets with a headline from the Echo: “Gangsters run our town hall.” It also featured Roy Hattersley’s infamous comments about “corruption”. Labour conducted a vigorous counter-attack, exposing the record of the Liberal-Tory coalition council in Hammersmith where the Liberals had voted 300 times with the Tories and only once with Labour. In four years no council houses had been built, purpose-built accommodation built under Labour had been sold off, and the direct labor building organization had been cut from 516 in 1982 to 183 in 1986.
Any frivolous point was seized on in order to attack Labour in the city. The Daily Express (22 April) asserted that: “Soccer stars snub Hatton” after Liverpool Football Club had refused to participate in a joint civic reception for Liverpool and Everton, who were competing in the FA Cup Final. Not for the first or last time Liberal councilor Rosemary Cooper declared, “By the time the final is played on May 10, Mr. Hatton knows he will be out of office – so he has organized this last ditch effort to win votes.”
The Daily Telegraph (5 May) predicted, “Militant at crossroads in Liverpool.” The widely expected defeat in Liverpool was linked to the final push against Militant supporters: “such a defeat would break the Militant stranglehold on the city and add impetus to Mr. Kinnock’s campaign to rid the party of the Trotskyist Tendency.” The day before the elections the Echo called for a massive vote against Labour:
Militant, masquerading under the banner of Labour, have taken the city to the brink of bankruptcy, saddled it with an impossible debt burden, damaged its education service, left its streets dirty, its dustbins unemptied and given it an international image of industrial anarchy. And that takes no account of the jobs for the boys scandals, or the intimidation of council officers, of the revenge on those who dared step out of line and of the anxiety inflicted on thousands of families who for months never knew for certain whether they would be paid.
In the interests of “balance”, local government editor Peter Phelps interviewed leading figures from the three main parties in the city. Trevor Jones declared:
We will switch the housing program to cooperative housing and that should release capital which can be used to remedy the deficit. We have always had cooperation from the workforce in the past and have no reason to doubt we will get it in the future.
This breathtaking example of the Liberal’s political amnesia left out of account the numerous industrial battles of the council workforce against the Tory-Liberal coalition prior to 1983, such as the typists’ strike and the one-day federal strike of the council workforce against the threat of privatization. Tony Mulhearn, speaking for Labour, clearly enunciated the reasons for Labour’s success in the city:
I believe the people of Liverpool have seen through the diatribe of distortion and downright lies which has been hurled at Labour and certain individuals. What the Tories, the press and the right wing of the NEC cannot do is fantasize away the major problems which continue to affect the city of Liverpool.
Asked by Phelps why people should vote Labour when most of the councilors were expected to be thrown out of office within months, if not weeks, Tony Mulhearn replied:
The voters will cast their votes on the basis of policies, not individuals. They will see, cutting through all of the propaganda, that we have a Labour council which, come hell or high water, has attempted to stick to the promise it made in 1983 and 1984. The fact that people may be removed at a later date – and that is not a foregone conclusion – will not weigh heavily at all.When you challenge those responsible and their enormous power, then that becomes a very controversial situation. When people realized we were serious, that we were not just going through the motions, they began to worry because nothing is hated more by the establishment. Once the people in the establishment believe that certain individuals are leading a force which threatens their wealth and privileges, they will mobilize all their forces against anyone who threatens them.
Phelps resorted to sarcasm: “So councilor Mulhearn is saying the Liverpool Labour Party is the most misunderstood Labour Party organization in Britain.” Tony Mulhearn simply replied: “Yes – by its enemies.” Phelps tried another ploy: “Could not the party share some blame for its own predicament, could it be they are unable to explain themselves properly.” Tony Mulhearn replied “No it is the media. A lie is half way round the world before the truth has got tome to put its boots on.”
A real demonstration of Militant’s support in the city was given at a magnificent rally held by the paper in the week prior to the elections, attended by 1000 Labour Party members and trade unionists. A standing ovation was given to Labour councilors threatened with disqualification from office and for the twelve Militant supporters threatened with expulsion by the Labour Party leadership. Alongside Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton were Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant and a speaker from the long-running Addenbrooke’s Hospital strike. A collection raised £100 from Ricky Tomlinson who plays Bobby Grant in the Channel 4 television serial Brookside – and was one of the two Shrewsbury building workers jailed in 1974.
“A Confounding Victory”
Labour held on to its gains of the previous three years, winning a seat in Breckfield from the Liberals and losing one in Dingle. In the atmosphere of the council’s financial difficulties, the witch-hunt in the Labour Party, and the surcharge case against the councilors it was a stunning victory for Labour. All the experts had been confidently expecting a rout. In an editorial headed “A confounding Militant victory” the Echo declared:
However experts may analyze the votes, there is not a shadow of doubt that Liverpool’s town hall election results were a success for Militant… nowhere else were the local issues more sharply defined and more important than in Liverpool… no scouser could have been under any illusion that a vote for Labour in this city yesterday was a vote for Militant.
The Echo had to say this. It had made the issue of “Militant” the dominant theme of the election by its vicious diatribes during the campaign. It went on:
The scope of Militant’s victory still confounded all the experts. Independent experts say Liverpool is the worst run city in Britain and no one who went to the polls yesterday did so in ignorance of the price Liverpool would have to pay for endorsing Militant misrule.
The “independent experts” were sitting in the editorial chairs of the Echo! Moreover, the Liverpool working class through their own experience had seen that it was far from being the “worst run city in Britain”. Tony Mulhearn triumphantly declared, “We said we would be judged on jobs, services and houses. The courage shown by councilors was not lost on the people of the city.”
The council elections were an absolute disaster for the Tories. Their vote was halved. Six of the seven seats they were defending were won by the Liberals who have become the new Tory party in Liverpool. The only Tory to hold his seat, the leader Chris Hallows, saw his majority slashed to about 300. Thatcherism as a political creed had been well nigh obliterated in Liverpool. The only Labour seat lost to the Liberals was in Dingle, by 31 votes – with the “Communist” party taking 44 votes!
The Times, reflecting the consternation of the bourgeois and Labour leaders, declared:
The results were welcomed by Mr. Derek Hatton, the council’s Deputy Leader, but will not help Mr. Kinnock, the Labour Leader, in his campaign to rid the local party of its Militant influence. Mr. Hatton said “The District Auditor and the Courts may have rejected us, but the people have supported us.”
Labour had done well in other parts of the country, but according to the Daily Telegraph (10 May) “Labour’s elation at the local election results was tempered by the continued success in Liverpool of the Militants.” Even the doubting Thomases in the Morning Stardeclared “Liverpool beats smear campaign.” David Butler in The Times (10 May) summed up the attitude of the Labour right: “Indeed, it might have preferred a worse result in Liverpool – it may even look forward to one later this year if the Appeal Court ousts their surcharged councilors.” One of the most remarkable results was the re-election of Felicity Dowling, secretary of the disbanded DLP and one of the eleven facing expulsion from the Labour Party. She said: “Everyone knew exactly who I was and that I face expulsion from the party. I got 71 percent of the vote. What more need I say? We would have won more if the DLP had not been suspended and I had been able to do my job” (Financial Times 10 May).
Incredibly, Kinnock commented to the Guardian (6 May): “With the absence of the Militant element I think our strength will be even greater.” His acolyte, Kilfoyle, spent most of his time in subsequent weeks dedicating himself to rubbishing Labour’s splendid victory.Tribune (16 May) carried a long article from him which claimed to show in detail that Labour’s Liverpool performance was dismal. The same arguments were repeated in theNew Statesman (16 May). They all drew the conclusion that in a general election Labour MPs in Liverpool would be vulnerable to the Alliance.
It was true that the Labour vote had gone down from 90,187 (46.2 percent) in 1984 to 73,617 (41.7 percent) in 1986. But the main explanation for this, as the Echo had conceded, was the large drop in turnout, from 195,000 (50.1 percent) to come out to vote, which is not unusual in council elections. Over the same period the Alliance vote rose from 67,204 (33.4 percent) to 78,571 (44.6 percent). This was largely due to the collapse of the Tory vote from 37,023 (19 percent) to 21,118 (12.5 percent). To see the real progress Labour had made, the 73,000 vote should be compared with the six years before they controlled the council. In 1982, in exactly the same seats as in the 1986 election, Labour polled 54,780 (38.8 percent), and in 1978 when the Labour vote was only 46,488 (33.4 percent). It was impossible therefore to maintain that there had been a serious erosion of Labour’s vote.
Labour’s vote in the 1986 council elections, as Militant (16 May) pointed out, was “little short of marvelous”. Kilfoyle was answered in detail by Tony Mulhearn in a letter toTribune and Labour Weekly.
It was considered not worthwhile replying to the New Statesman, which was the home of those petit-bourgeois cynics who no longer believed in the socialist aspirations of the labor movement. He wrote:
Peter Kilfoyle picks out Speke Ward, and its candidate, Felicity Dowling, as doing particularly badly. This is no doubt an attempt to justify support for their expulsion from the party. Unfortunately, Peter’s figures are incorrect. For example, Labour’s percentage share of the poll in two other wards dropped by a larger margin than the ten percent in Speke.Any serious analysis of the results would have highlighted five factors:
i) the collapse of the Tory vote into the hands of the Alliance;
ii) the Labour vote in marginal wards held up: the percentage turn-out was higher in these wards;
iii) the areas of massive Labour support – Dovecot, Abercromby, Netherly, Speke, Valley, Vauxhall, etc., all suffered large decreases in Labour’s vote compared to 1984, though still maintaining massive majorities. This was due to the drop in turn-out in these areas to a pre-1984 level. This was attributable in some wards to the outflow of people rehoused under the council’s urban regeneration policies;
iv) the effect of the Liberal propaganda in prominently headlining outrageous statements of Roy Hattersley (“There has been political corruption and literal corruption”) and Neil Kinnock’s “Liverpool councilors need psychiatric treatment”;
v) the continual problems with the refuse collection and housing repairs service. We explained the problems of the refuse service and housing repairs and we displayed a united party determined to oppose all cuts in jobs and services and for the advancement of socialist policies as opposed to some “light gray” version of social democracy…
Peter Kilfoyle has already shown the party membership in Liverpool that he is a dab hand at ripping telephones from walls, removing typewriters to “safe places” and closing down party offices, that have been in existence for years. We only hope his next “analysis” is more factual and constructive than his performance so far.
Militant Gains Elsewhere
“Anti-Militant” candidates in other parts of the country did badly. In Gateshead, Ken Bukingham, a “rent and rate payer” on Gateshead Council for 19 years was defeated by 27-year-old Militant supporter Neil Waite, standing for the first time. In a 43 percent poll (very high for council elections thanks to the Labour campaign), Neil Waite polled 1936, the second highest Labour vote ever, to Buckingham’s 1153. Buckingham had gone out of his way to stress that his opponent was a Marxist: “If you vote for Labour, you are voting for the Militant.” In North Tyneside, seven of thirteen right-wing councilors who were expelled from the Labour Party and called themselves “Labour against Militant” were thoroughly trashed. Amongst the Labour victors, with substantial majorities, were twoMilitant supporters.
In Glasgow the outstanding result for Labour was the victory of Margaret Dick “a self-confessed Militant supporter”. The local press, the Tories and Liberals joined in denouncing her and the Glasgow Evening Times believed it would be a “political shock” if she was returned. In the event, she turned a Tory majority of 1612 into a 643 Labour majority. Pollock’s parliamentary candidate described it as by far the best result of the night. Also in Scotland, in Musselburgh, where Militant support Keith Simpson was standing for Lothian Regional Council, the Alliance struck a deal with the Tories who did not stand a candidate for the first time in decades. Despite this and a hostile local press, Keith Simpson increased his majority over the Alliance candidate, former Musselburgh Labour Party Chair, Andrew Coulson, from 700 to nearly 1700. Militant supporters were also elected in Hackney, Shouthward, Greenwich and Tower Hamlets.
Black Caucus Candidate Defeated
One of the most important results was the victory for Labour in the Granby ward in Liverpool, where more than half the city’s black population live. The Black Caucus stood an independent candidate. It was admitted by leading Black Caucus member Liz Drysdale, who became a Labour councilor after the disqualification of the 47, that the independent candidate was selected to stand against Labour, not the Liberals of the Tories. They hoped this would split the Labour vote and let the Liberals in, as part of their contribution to what they imagined would have been an overall Liberal victory in Liverpool. The main plank of their platform was “the sacking of Sam Bond”. But in the event Labour increased its majority to 938, more than twice that of the vote of 427 for the independent black candidate. The campaign had been characterized by vicious attacks on LPYS members who had been flyposting the area. The attackers emerged from the Independent candidate’s campaign van, resulting in one LPYS member being slashed above the eye with a Stanley knife.
The victory for Labour in Liverpool, the other council victories for Labour, and the collapse of the Tories’ vote, together with the Tories’ Parliamentary by-election loss of Ryedale and near loss of West Derbyshire, could have become a platform for a campaign to defeat the Tory government. But the Labour leadership were to squander the opportunity.
Some sections of the bourgeois press like the Daily Mail (10 May) began to recognize that:
The extremist scare just did not work. Labour held on in Derek Hatton’s Liverpool, gained seats in Ted Knight’s Lambeth. And even Bernie Grant increased his majority. People are looking for something more today than a political slanging match. What we saw on Thursday was a much more politically sophisticated electorate than Mr. Tebbit or Mrs. Thatcher seem to credit. Protest politics has come of age.
Despite this, the Labour leadership continued their war against Militant in Liverpool. The bourgeois also understood the necessity of “crushing Liverpool” because of what it represented. Environment Minister Kenneth Baker was reduced to saying that the vote was “a sad day for democracy”, a remark reminiscent of the East German Stalinists who, in the wake of the East Berlin uprising in 1953, declared that they had “lost confidence in the people”. Bertold Brecht’s riposte could just as well be applied to Kenneth Baker: “Why don’t you just dissolve the people?”
Meanwhile, the Liverpool Liberals were in turmoil. The lure of the council feedbag once more being in their hands induced the Alliance partners in Liverpool, the SDP and Liberals, to sink their differences over the division of seats. But this outbreak of chumminess, both between the Alliance partners and within their respective parties, did not last long.
In the autumn a ferocious struggle broke out among the general election. At their constituency Annual General Meeting, Richard Pine, the candidate for the seat 1983, was punched in the face and kicked in the backside by the leisure services spokesperson, John Jones! Jones’ supporters claimed that fellow councilor Pine and his supporters had packed the meeting! There were of course no banner headlines in the Echo or the Post about “Liberal thugs and gangsters” wanting to run “out town hall.”
Notwithstanding Liverpool’s striking victory, the right wing pursued its vendetta against Militant supporters to the end. While wrestling with the enormous problems of the city, Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn and others also had to fight against the expulsions and prepare their defense in the capitalist courts against disqualification and banning from office. Even after the expulsions in October 1986, the Labour Party national officials, Larry Whitty, the General Secretary, and Joyce Gould, Director of Organization, were more preoccupied with the drive against Militant than in preparing Labour for the forthcoming general election. Their attention was particularly concentrated in ejecting Tony Mulhearn, Derek Hatton and others from the Labour group.
Kinnock also linked this with a drive against the left in Knowsley North, promising “direct and effective action”. The by-election result there was hailed as a great victory, despite Labour losing over eight percent of its 1983 vote. Immediately after the result was known regional officials declared that the Knowsley North Labour Party would be disbanded. On the basis of inside information, the Sunday Times (16 November) declared: “It will be reconstituted when Militant supporters have been flushed out.” According to this journal, “around a dozen expulsions are likely after allegations made in a sworn affidavit by Tony Glover, a former ward secretary who has broken with Militant and gone into hiding in Leicester”. Glover’s lurid tale of alleged “Trotskyite plotters” was splashed across theToday newspaper. Glover’s subsequent claims that he had been beaten up, led to Dave Kerr, vice-chair and press officer of Knowsley North Labour Party being interviewed by the police and charged although the charges were later dropped. The character of the main witnesses against him, Glover, is indicated by the fact that he had been convicted of stealing £200 from a moneybox belonging to the housing charity Shelter.
Glover’s testimony was just another “five minute wonder”, another tale of a “former extremist” which the Liverpool working class had become habituated to. However, it was to provide the excuse for the National Executive Committee on November 26 to set up an inquiry, adding Knowsley North to the three other constituencies on Merseyside (Broadgreen and the two St Helens seats) already suspended by the NEC.
In the midst of this turmoil Roy Hattersley dashed the hopes of those “left” council leaders who had gone along with the expulsions as the price they were prepared to pay for a Labour government. They confidently expected that a Labour government would cancel the massive debts which most councils had accumulated during the Thatcher years. Hattersley declared, however, on November 19: “We are not in the business of bailing any councils out, whether they be Labour-led or hung councils like Hampshire, which have very similar problems. What we are interested in is providing funding for councils that come to us with job creation packages.” Hattersley promised a maximum of £1 billion to these councils. Yet the total debt of councils amounted to more than £2 billion. His statement indicated that a right-wing dominated Labour government would not meet the needs of councils for more resources.
Tony Byrne Elected Group Leader
Meanwhile in Liverpool, Larry Whitty and Joyce Gould sallied forth once more, like some leaky battleship, to do battle with the Labour group. According to the Echo, “Labour’s national rulers are fuelling up for more action in Liverpool following a night of Militant chaos.” This followed a Labour group meeting from which Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton absented themselves, where the inept handling of the meeting by Whitty resulted in Tony Byrne replacing John Hamilton as leader of the Labour group. The majority of the group wished Tony Byrne to chair the meeting. They were not sure that John Hamilton would be tactically adroit in the face of maneuvers from the national Labour Party officials. In contravention of all normal procedure, Whitty insisted that only the leader of the Labour group could take the chair. After much wrangling, Tony Byrne was then nominated for this position and was subsequently elected.
The capitalists immediately set up a hue and cry in defense of John Hamilton who they had previously vilified, as had the supporters of Neil Kinnock, for not “standing up to Militant”. The Echo said, “Derek Hatton’s supporters ran rings around Labour’s General Secretary Larry Whitty last night as he tried to complete his purge of Militant.” In reality, while John Hamilton was respected for his stance in defense of the record of the council, he had angered many by siding with the right-wing cabal who were collaborating with the national Labour Party officials in seeking to have Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton, together with other Militant supporters, evicted from the Labour group.
Once more, Neil Kinnock was faced with screeching headlines from “Liverpool’s Left outflank Kinnock” (Daily Mail), to “Liverpool Militants beat Labour ban” (Financial Times). The Echo summed it up as “a night of disaster”.
Nor was Kinnock having it all his own way in assembling the machinery to carry through “democratic” expulsions. Alan Quinn, a left winger nominated by the Transport and General Workers Union, despite frantic efforts by Kinnock aides to prevent this, was elected with other union’s backing onto the National Constitutional Committee, the body established after the 1986 Labour Party Conference to deal with disciplinary matters – expulsions – without troubling the whole NEC.
It soon became clear that Labour’s frenzied right wing were prepared to strike out in all directions if they were thwarted in their ambition to chop off “Militant’s head.” They were, if necessary, prepared to wreck the Labour group and the labor movement on Merseyside. Therefore it was necessary, concluded the Marxists, once more to beat an orderly retreat. While the Labour group of November 20 had in effect continued to recognize those expelled councilors, not making any moves to replace Derek Hatton as Deputy Leader, he now formally resigned his position. Tony Mulhearn explained: “In no circumstances were we prepared to allow other councilors to be expelled from the party for continuing to be loyal to us.” Derek Hatton summed up his feelings with the words:
Proud, sad and bitter. Proud that we have achieved so much in the city. Sad to be leaving a position which I’ve held for three-and-a-half years. Bitter that our own Labour group has been split by the National Executive of our own party. Even the Tories, the Courts, the media and the District Auditor could not do that… We will be around when Kinnock moves faster towards the right than MacDonald did in the 1930s.
The national press could proclaim this as a great victory, but the Echo was not so sure:
Another coup for Militant… On the face of it, councilor Hatton’s resignation is a bloody blow to Militant and a triumph for Labour leader Neil Kinnock. But Mr. Hatton is going because it best serves the cause of Militant that he should step down. For the first and perhaps the last time the interests of Militant and the Labour Party coincide… it is a further demonstration, if any were needed, that while Mr. Kinnock may be publicly defied, when Militant say “jump” it is time to go without argument.
The editorial creatures who write this kind of material imagine that a Marxist tendency operates the same way as big business and capitalist journals. An editor says “jump” and bourgeois journalists dip their pens in poisoned ink to malign the labor movement. Derek Hatton’s conduct in stepping down from his position as Deputy leader, also that of Tony Mulhearn and Felicity Dowling, was an indication that they placed the interests of the labor movement and the working class of Liverpool before any personal ambition. It was devotion to the cause of working people, to raise them out of the dirt into which capitalism had thrust them, that had generated the struggle in Liverpool and hoisted Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn and Felicity Dowling to positions of power in the Labour council. In stepping down they remained faithful to the cause for which they came into politics in the first place. It was this inflexibility and intransigence in the face of the venom and the hostility of the capitalists, together with adroit tactics, which so enraged the bourgeois and their props within the labor movement.
Their formal resignation from the council leadership positions in no way diminished the colossal support which they and Marxism had built up in the city. The Independent could use Derek Hatton’s resignation as an indication of the alleged “decline and fall of Militant”. Yet the resilience of Marxism in Liverpool was to convince the Independent that Kinnock had scored merely a Pyrrhic victory in Liverpool. Anthony Bevins, its political editor was to write, “He [Kinnock] has not broken the Trotskyists and never will.” Like the bourgeois, the Labour leadership secretly looked towards the House of Lords to do the job for them: “The unspoken hope in the Labour leadership that [through] a House of Lords ruling in January that most of the party’s Liverpool councilors should be barred from office… could render further expulsions unnecessary” (Daily Telegraph 27 November).
The attack on the left was connected with the political drive towards the right of the leadership. Thus at the quarterly meeting of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, Jack Cunningham said that 1987 would be an election year, and the local leaders should think very carefully about statements that they made, “or commitments entered into by Labour councils in advance of the next Labour government”.
While the press was full of the Labour leadership’s denunciations of Militant, sometimes as we have seen in the most vitriolic terms, Militant supporters concentrated their attention in the main on the Tory and Liberal-SDP enemy. In its comments on the Knowsley North by-election, the Independent was constrained to remark: “It [Militant] differs perhaps most sharply from other ultra-left journals in reserving the major thrust of its venom, in print at least, for Conservative rather than Labour policies and leadership.”
Despite the blows which rained down on their heads, the Marxists in the Merseyside area continued to score remarkable victories. At the North-West Labour Party Women’s Conference, two-thirds of the delegates voted in favor of Marxist ideas. An emergency delegates voted in favor of Marxist ideas. An emergency resolution from Liverpool Women’s Council was passed, which reaffirmed support for the 47 surcharged Liverpool councilors. The enormous progress of Marxism in the student sector was reflected in the election of Cheryl Varley on to the Further Education sector National Committee of the National Union of Students. This was achieved despite her recent expulsion from the Labour Party. The convener of 72,000 Merseyside students, she received the highest vote ever recorded, with 83 first preference votes out of 199 cast, double the number of her nearest rival.
In Liverpool, despite the boycott of a handful of party members, 300 people from Liverpool, Knowsley and St Helens attended a rally to mark the anniversary of the suspension of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP). Despite the constitutional bickering of the NEC and the bureaucratic maneuvers of Kilfoyle, the colossal authority of the city councilors, and particularly the Marxists, remained undiminished amongst the mass of party workers and working people on Merseyside. Paul Astbury, who had been investigated by Labour’s NEC as a suspected Militant sympathizer, was elected as the Deputy Leader of the Council. Harry Smith replaced Derek Hatton as Industrial and Public Relations Committee Chair and Tony Jennings replaced Felicity Dowling as Deputy Chair of the Education Committee. Moreover, the expected “moderate backlash” against the election of Tony Byrne for Leader of the council group evaporated. On December 8 he was confirmed as Leader by 27 votes to 21. These actions infuriated the right on the NEC.
Kinnock was determined to pursue his vendetta against the Liverpool Militants, even if this extended to a “non-Militant” such as Tony Byrne. By 21 votes to 6, he forced a decision through the NEC to refer Tony Byrne to the incoming National Constitutional Committee. Once more he reserved his passion for members of his own party: “Let us not forget what was done to John Hamilton. That has not been forgotten or forgiven in Liverpool. It is demoralizing for people in Liverpool to see that John Hamilton has been kicked out because there is a little clique who, for one reason or another, want to keep Derek Hatton in the public eye.” But to have Kinnock acting as his latter day attorney only served to undermine John Hamilton’s position in the eyes of the advanced workers. There was, however, genuine regret when Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn stepped down from their positions at a special council meeting called on December 10.
John Hamilton’s rather pathetic campaign to “humanize the machine of local government in Liverpool” fell on deaf ears, particularly as his main advocate now Peter Kilfoyle who, in a letter to the Echo, accused Militant supporters of using “fascist methods”. He ignored the fact that Militant supporters had recently been hospitalized as a result of confrontation with fascist groups in the city: Kilfoyle himself had never once organized any anti-racist activity in Liverpool in his capacity as a Labour Party official. But even out of office, Derek Hatton still managed to proselytize on behalf of Marxism. Much to the chagrin of the Echo and its TV column, he appeared before an audience of 15 million people on the Wogan show.
Within the limits of a light-hearted, not to say frivolous show, he managed a partial explanation both of the social conditions from which Militant sprang and some of the ideas of Marxism. The Echo believed that it had buried Derek Hatton and his ilk. But here he was, rising from the dead to haunt them and Neil Kinnock. They devoted a whole editorial to the subject of “Wogan and Hatton”, entitled “Hatton help for Tories”. But the Echo’sreaders did not agree. One wrote from West Kirby: “Neil Kinnock is finding that a Taffy is no match for a Scouser in the battle of wits.” The Daily Mail carried a letter from a somewhat confused opponent of Militant:
Derek Hatton and his fanatics are using today’s problems to gain power. They must be stopped, but – God help me – I had to agree with him as I watched the Wogan interview. He is right. In Liverpool. Which I have seen change from a thriving city to a dead end town, apathy bounds. The likes of Hatton must not be allowed to dupe us, but for once he did make sense.
Having hounded Derek Hatton from office, and out of his job, the bourgeois press at the same time attacked him for attempting to set up a business to earn a living. Yet here the sound instinct of the Liverpool workers was displayed in a letter to the Echo:
Traveling through this city, everywhere you look there are new council houses either completed or being built, new sports Centers, housing offices, landscaped areas etc. In order to achieve these for the city of Liverpool, Derek Hatton and other Labour councilors have put their livelihoods at risk. Because Derek has been the focus for the attack, which has resulted in him being expelled from the Labour Party and losing his job in Knowsley, he will probably be debarred from office and is unlikely to be find suitable employment in the future. I am sure the media would love to see him miserable and on the dole, but instead he had made the most of one of the few avenues left open to him. I am sure he’ll do well in the future and will always have the backing of the rank and file.
Alongside the attacks on the Marxists, the Liverpool press was compelled to feature the terrible social conditions which had nurtured Marxism and which sustained it. During the bitterly cold winter of 1986-7 the Echo reported:
Hundreds of families on Cantril Farm are risking prison just to keep their children warm. And they don’t care. In the words of one desperate mum of five, fighting to keep her family from freezing: “They can throw us in jail – at least it will be warm in there.” Welfare workers reckon as many as half the estate’s households are running up huge debts by buying warm clothes for their children which they cannot afford.
An Unemployed Resource Center worker commented: “It is simply a matter of life or death to them… if they don’t run up these debts, they don’t keep warm – and in this weather, that is an almost certain way to die.”
This worker summed up the widespread feeling in Liverpool at this stage:
It is disgraceful that families have to live like this. The ideal solution to these terrible problems is to bring work to the area – but that doesn’t seem very likely. The government must start to pay out adequate allowances so that people can live in dignity and comfort. It is not right to punish the poor in this cruel and heartless way.
In early 1987 a wave of strikes swept through the area. In the British Telecom dispute, Merseyside was one of the most solid areas. A whole series of strikes broke out in small factories.
To add to the widespread grievances in the city, bus deregulation in December 1986 resulted in massive fare increases, some as high as 90 percent. It also resulted in a lowering of the working day for bus crews. The simmering discontent of the busworkers resulted in strikes every weekend. The disaffected mood spread to the Crosville Bus workers where the management provocatively closed a whole depot.
Given the central importance of the local council workforce in the city, this mini-strike wave was bound to affect them as well. A sense of insecurity pervaded the workforce, given the expected eviction of the Labour council from office by the House of Lords. Some union leaders, who had been implacably hostile to the Labour council from its inception, attempted to exploit this mood. They wished to embarrass the Labour council in its last days, and thereby Militant, and at the same time extract concessions from Labour which they believed the Liberals, if they came to power, would be forced to maintain. The Marxists pointed out that this was a chimera. Some of the council leaders were enraged by this attitude. They had sacrificed everything in defense of jobs of council workers and the services provided to the workers of Liverpool. Now, it seemed that they were being rewarded with an approach which would cast them in the worst possible light, putting them on a par with right-wing Labour councilors who were prepared to carry through cuts and sit out strikes of their own workforce.
A series of disputes broke out amongst NALGO members, working in the housing benefit offices, bin drivers, gritters and social workers. Teachers also came out on strike, over the issue of “cover”, even though NUT Branch Secretary Ferguson had agreed and accepted a recommendation of ACAS on the issue. All enemies of the council, from the right to “left” sought to exploit this situation. The Communist Party journal the Morning Star proclaimed “Liverpool set for strikes.” It went on: “Troubles are piling up for Militant-led Liverpool council as more industrial action is threatened by key groups of workers in a protest over council policies.” It confidently predicted that 1000 GMBATU workers would march out on indefinite strike action. It also looked towards the 6500 NALGO members taking industrial action.
The Echo for once came out in favor of strikes! They supported council security guards, organized in the mobile force, who were allegedly fighting in opposition to being merged with the dreaded “Hatton’s army”, the static security force. The Echo even carried photographs of two horses used by the mobile security, under the headline “Rebels told their horse must go.” The tear-jerking impression was given that the horses were about to be turned into dogmeat! Trevor Jones was wheeled in to declare “It was just an act of vindictiveness.” No such decision had been taken by the council. The philosophy of the council’s opponents was to use anything and everything considered to be even remotely damaging to Labour. George Knibb, with tremendous energy and patience used great skill as a conciliator between councilors and the unions in settling a number of disputes. He was a veteran of the Croxteth Comprehensive School battle who was subsequently employed in the Central Support Unit of the council. A combination of firmness and a preparedness to grant reasonable claims resulted in most of the disputes being resolved before the House of Lords decision.
During the dispute between British Telecom and the National Communications Union (NCU), the fear of bold socialist ideas was revealed in an incident in the House of Commons. At the request of NCU members in Liverpool, Terry Fields took the initiative of drawing up a motion which condemned British Telecom and supported the union. This was supported by 21 Labour MPs. But to his astonishment an amendment, in the name of NCU-sponsored Labour MPs, right wingers Roger Stott and John McWilliam, added at the end “but notes that our union, the NCU, sees this totally as an industrial dispute and not a political matter and does not with the Tory government to intervene in any way whatsoever.” This was followed up by a letter from Deputy Chief Whip, Norman Hogg, to Terry Fields, advising him that sponsored MPs from the NCU had protested about the motion. The letter stated: “It is the view of the union… that no parliamentary initiative of any kind should be taken at this time in their dispute.” But the very reason why the unions formed the Labour Party at the turn of the century was in order that they could have a political and a parliamentary voice. Terry Fields was showing precisely how Parliament could be used as a platform in defense of basic rights and conditions of workers in struggle. The action of the NCU caused outrage amongst the union’s members, and won enormous support for Terry Fields.
But it was not just the traditional opponents of Militant on the right, but former allies in the GMBATU who began to distance themselves and attack Militant supporters. Most prominent was Peter Lennard, convener of Branch 80 of GMBATU, responsible for education. He now collaborated with the NEC’s inquiry into the DLP and was an ally of the right-wing opponents of Militant. Afraid that his union branch, which he ruled with an iron fist and an undemocratic hand, would be broken up by the GMBATU local full-time officials, he did a 180 degrees turn and began to collaborate with them. Early in 1987 he recommended the expulsion from the union of Militant supporter, Mick Hogan, for the crime of writing an article in the Mersey Militant. The article protested at the split, at Lennard’s initiative, of Branch 80 shop stewards from the Joint Shop Stewards Committee, without even consulting members of the branch. Much Hogan was compelled to take legal action, with the courts finding in his favor and preventing his expulsion.
The general discontent, simmering just below the surface, was reflected in the strike wave at the beginning of 1987. Conscious of the way the wind was blowing, the Liverpool Bishops once more launched a “one nation” pre-election campaign to heal what they saw as “divisions caused by political extremism”. Facing both ways they attacked both the government’s dismissal of the North-South divide and “Militant-inspired policies of confrontation pursued by Liverpool City Council.” David Sheppard once more condemned the “rule of a political group committed to confrontation with the government of the day”. At the same time he praised “the council’s fine program of building council houses”. Attempting to square the circle, he regretted that this had been achieved as a great cost by “taking resources from other important services in the city, ignoring the wishes of local people, trying to block the way for other good forms of housing development”. Sheppard also let slip the real reasons for Militant’s support within the city: “Comfortable Britain need to ask why ordinary people vote for Militant. If pragmatic and cooperative councils have their resources so reduced that they can no longer achieve anything but cuts in services and jobs, voters turn to those who make bigger promises.” The Liverpool City Council didn’t just make “bigger promises” but carried them out! That was the “secret” of the enduring support for Militant in Liverpool, and the reason why these stinging attacks on Militant’s policies were not to be heeded by the Bishops’ flock in the elections in May 1987. Because they desperately attempted to straddle the class divide, the Bishops were neither capable of understanding this, nor the political outlook of the workers of Liverpool.
The Bishops were joined in their assault on t he council by the leaders of NALGO. Graham Burgess accused the council of reducing its workforce by 744. He ran to the Guardian to declare: “This exposes the council’s claim to be defending jobs and services; they are shown to be making cuts of massive proportions.” While Burgess was making his completely unfounded claims, “left-wing” Hackney council had over 1000 vacancies. What Burgess did not say was that at any one time two percent of posts, about 600 jobs, are always vacant because of the movement in the workforce. Nor did the NALGO leaders mention that two vacancy sub-committees, which had been held recently, filled 300 posts, or that the council was committed to filling the rest.
Within a matter of days the council was able to give the lie to these claims, with the introduction of an early budget. This budget, which fundamentally protected jobs and services for the next year and involved a small rate increase of five percent, was an incredible testimony to the stand of the Labour councilors. A number of windfalls accrued to the city through the abolition of the Merseyside County Council. Monies which went formerly to the boards in transport, fire service and police were divided amongst the different Merseyside authorities.
But the main reason why Labour was in this position was because of its fighting stance and its refusal to carry through the cuts outlined in the Stonefrost package preferred by the Labour and trade-union leadership a year previously. Many of those councils who had abandoned the struggle were now in financial difficulties, such as Sheffield, Manchester and many London boroughs. Others, faced with savage cutbacks in the rate support grant, resorted to huge rate increases to maintain council workers’ jobs and services.
In the borough where Neil Kinnock lives, Ealing, the rates were increased by 60 percent. Waltham Forest, where Labour had regained a majority in may 1986, increased rates by a colossal 62 percent. Whipped up by local businessmen, demonstrations of 5000 and 10,000, the biggest in the history of the borough, besieged the Town Hall. The leader of the Labour group, Neil Gerrard, had his house attacked with a fire bomb. The Asian Mayor received death threats. The size of this demonstration in this borough dwarfed the puny attempts of Labour Against Militant who had organized in Liverpool in 1985. Yet not one word of criticism of these two Labour boroughs was forthcoming from the national leadership before the 1987 election. Both Ealing and Waltham Forest had increased their rates in one year by more than Liverpool had in a period of four years! There was not even a hint of praise for the magnificent achievements of the Labour council in defending the past gains of the council or keeping rates down to five percent. Nevertheless this achievement did not go unnoticed amongst the workers in the city and was recognized in the incredible victory of Labour in the May elections.
Once more the bourgeois press attempted to deflect attention from the achievements of the council. First the Echo and then the Sunday Times attempted to resurrect the “Asda Affair”. Both suggested falsely – the Echo in another “exclusive” – that the police were conducting fresh investigations into Derek Hatton’s alleged links with Asda. Derek Hatton Completely denied these allegations and threatened to sue the Echo. But the attempts to muddy the waters was to no avail. The “new” allegations against Derek Hatton were dropped as quickly as they were raised. The mass of the population were now inured to such “shock horror” tales in the local press.
Despite their imminent eviction from office by the House of Lords, Labour councilors still took the gospel of Liverpool far and wide. Tony Mulhearn spoke to meetings throughout the length and breadth of Britain and took the message to the international plane as well.
As well as meetings in Spain, in early February 1987 he visited Amsterdam to speak to a very successful meeting of members of the Dutch Labour Party and workers employed by the Amsterdam council. The international significance of Liverpool was emphasized by the attendance at the meeting by Ernst Van Damme, who represented the joint shop stewards’ committee for council services (the ABVAKABO – the civil servants’ union, and the biggest union in Holland). They were experiencing similar problems to their British counterparts. The “socialists” in the Amsterdam council were carrying out a cuts policy. Cuts in council services and the consequent redundancies amongst many council workers went hand in hand with the waste of money on prestige projects such as trying to become the venue for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Ernst Van Damme commented:
We want to establish a form of cooperation with Liverpool, to learn from each other in order to fight the policy of Libbers [the Dutch Prime Minister] and Thatcher. We ask the council to support the population, support the services and ensure that they acquire more money from the state for Amsterdam, instead of increasingly little. This will have to happen in cooperation between the unions, the council and the people of Amsterdam. The PvdA (Labour Party) is, as far as I am concerned, still the party of the workers and has to become again the party that supports the workers. We can learn an awful lot from Liverpool.
Meanwhile, even Brookside, a Liverpool-based television serial, finally mentioned Militant and the struggle of the city council. Throughout the previous years, the producers of the program had studiously avoided any mention of these issues. Ricky Tomlinson, as mentioned earlier, had remained extremely friendly and sympathetic to the struggle. Now, in one incident, playing the character of trade-union official Bobby Grant, he was asked if he was “a member of Militant”. He replied,
What if I am? What have they ever done to you? All they have done is build houses. Anyone with the bottle to stand up is branded as a Militant. I’m not talking about the tendency, I’m talking about ordinary people with heart and guts to say we’re not begging for jobs, we’re demanding them, but not at any price. We want good jobs, good wages and good conditions. If that’s a Militant, count me in.
Militant commented, “That’s a militant and a Militant 100. Become a Militant supporter!” And this is precisely what workers in Liverpool continued to do, particularly after the Liberal-Tory junta was installed in the Town Hall by the decision of the House of Lords on March 12.
Liberal Junta Takes Power
Jones and his acolytes immediately set in train their expected “counter revolution”. They assured the workforce that all jobs were “safe” with them: all jobs except those of Sam Bond and Beryl Molyneux! These two were immediately given their marching orders. But no sooner were the Liberals installed in power than the storm clouds began to gather.
A ballot of Liverpool branch NALGO members voted by 3 to 1 in favor of non-cooperation with an unelected Liberal-Tory administration. This was a show across the bows of the Liberal junta. The Liberals went ahead with the restoration of the mayor’s office with the wife of Liberal Leader, Trevor Jones, Lady Doreen Jones, receiving the chain of office. Ribald jokes about “jobs for the family” were widespread in the city. The Marxists christened her “Doreen the brief”. Her reign was the shortest since Lady Jane gray (queen for 9 days in 1553). At a parade organized by the Liberals in St George’s Hall, to re-emphasize the pageantry and splendor of the mayor’s office, replete with horses etc., the hymn “Abide With Me” was played. One working-class woman asked her friend why they were playing such “miserable music”. Her friend replied: “It is because she (Lady Doreen) is about to lose her job!”
Despite what the pundits and experts might say, the mass of working-class Labour voters were determined to see a Labour council once more restored to office. The Timescorrespondent, Peter Davenport, wrote on March 18: “Lord Mayor helps to bury Liverpool’s Militant era.” Exactly the opposite was to happen in the council elections less than a month later. The more discerning commentators, such a Michael Parkinson, understood the individuals choices facing the government and their local agents: “Cuts in the council workforce would increase unemployment in a city with 60,000 already out of work. Any kind of concessions to Liverpool would infuriate other labor cities.”
It was not just the government and the local Liverpool Tories and Liberals who were determined to prevent the return of Militant, so also were the right wing of the labor Party. Completely neglecting, and indeed sabotaging, the campaign for the local elections, the time of Peter Kilfoyle was spent in attempting to “weed out” Militant supporters as council candidates and also imposing right-wing candidates on some wards in the city. He was reacting to the goading and the jeering of the Echo and the Liberals and Tories. On March 18 theEcho declared “City’s Trots on march again.” Extreme right-wing members of the Vauxhall Labour Party, such as John Livingston, wrote to the national leadership of the Labour Party, “We are told Militant is only a splinter, but in Liverpool it’s more like a log.” The Labour Party national leadership responded to this by barring Josie Aitman and Richard Knights from the panel of councilors. Others were eliminated on technical grounds by Kilfoyle. And shamefully in Anfield and Gilmoss, notorious right wingers Malcolm Kennedy and Eddie Roderick were imposed on the wards.
And yet even in the midst of all these maneuvers, the Echo was forced to carry letters indicating the depth of support which the previous Labour council had built up. One was from a Liverpool worker now based in Sheffield, who commented:
After a number of years of being unemployed I was forced last year to take up work in Sheffield and leave Liverpool. On my regular trips I am always amazed at the new achievements that I see. Only last week I saw for the first time the new sports Center at Millbank. There are always more new houses going up and more slums like Gerrard Gardens coming down. These achievements are a result of the principles, commitment and hard work of the Labour councilors who have now been undemocratically removed from office by three Tory judges. As an ex-Liverpool Labour Party member I am bursting with pride to count some of those 49 men and women as my friends.
Vote Against Labour
While the national leadership continued the campaign of persecution against Militantsupporters, Frank Field, right-wing Labour MP for Birkenhead was allowed to get away with murder. In the Catholic Herald (9 January) he had revealed that “ever since 1983, I thought that the smart money should be on a hat trick for the Tories”. He gave an explanation for the success of the Tories “The Falklands apart, trade-union reforms and council house sales are probably the two most important. I regret not voting for them.” Asked why he did not vote for the Tory measures, he declared: “Perhaps simple cowardice accounts for why I didn’t. I prefer, however, to believe that, being already locked in a brutal struggle with my local party, I would have totally demoralized those people who are fighting to retain me as their MP by opening up another front where I was out of step with the national party.” He didn’t reveal his real political position in order to save his skin! He then went further in violation of the Party Constitution and urged Labour voters not to support labor candidates who supported Militant in the May elections. But Field did not receive even so much as a limp slap on the wrist.
In their short tenure of power, the Liberals gave just a glimpse of what they would do if they were installed in office for any lengthy period of time. They immediately withdrew the financing of the trade-union Center which was vital for the unemployed in the city. The Urban Regeneration Strategy was threatened by Jones. NALGO came out in opposition to this and other measures of the Liberals. Cleansing workers and security guards were involved in strike action or the threat of strike action. At the same time, the Liberals unashamedly used council property to put up posters with in implied anti-Labour bias. In their party colors of gold, huge slogans such as “stop rubbishing our city” plastered the city.
Attempting to cash in on some of the problems which the bins service had experienced under Labour, the Liberals conducted a “clean-up campaign”. This sometimes took the most ludicrous forms. On April 24 the Echo reported “Sir Trevor blows his top in loony bin war.” It went on to report, “Mountains of rubbish were carted into Liverpool city Center and scattered over shopping streets to sabotage the Spring clean campaign, Liberal leader Sir Trevor Jones claimed today.” He conjured up the vision of Militants secretly stealing into the city Center with bags of rubbish over their backs intent on discrediting him! He commented to the Echo, “In Paradise Street, there were mounds of fast food cartons, which you don’t usually get there. I am convinced it was deliberate, but it won’t happen again. We’ll ask the police to keep an eye on the situation. There is no doubt that this was a deliberate act of sabotage.”
Liberal hopes were raised by the defeat of the Labour candidate in the St Mary’s ward by-election on April 9. Despite an effective campaign, Ian Rogers lost with the fourth highest vote that Labour had ever got in this marginal seat. Labour’s setback was accounted for by two factors. One the one side, the Tory vote had collapsed from 1283 in 1980 to 276. But also many Labour workers who had indicated solid support for Labour thought that Labour was home and dry and therefore didn’t bother to turn out and vote. But in the meantime, the Liberals and the capitalist press, seizing on the St Mary’s result, began to celebrate their “inevitable” victory in the forthcoming council elections. The task in the council elections was made enormously difficult by the “stand” of the national leadership of the Labour Party. They made no attempt to concentrate on the Tory “raving right” who were savaging jobs and the living standards of workers up and down the country. Instead, the labor leadership attempted to mollify the press and its campaign against the “loony left”. But this only led to demands for further action. Tory Minister Nicholas Ridley said: “They like to pretend that expelling a few Militants on Merseyside has rid them of this cancer in their own party. When are they going to expel the labor members of Brent, Haringey, Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark, Manchester, Bristol, because they are just as bad?”
In Liverpool, the “loony left” tag would not stick. The council had consistently concentrated on those issues close to the working people of the city: jobs, local council services, education, and the marvelous housebuilding program. The real question in the May 7 elections was: Would Labour be vindicated for its historic stand in the city? All bourgeois commentators, without exception, were convinced that Labour was heading for a resounding defeat. Even those on the “left” expected dismal results. Thus the Morning Starproclaimed: “Labour faces uphill battle in Liverpool elections.” Cunningham, according toThe Times, “declined to predict whether Labour would regain control of Liverpool, where the national party has been fighting a running battle to expel local Militants”. He further commented to the Financial Times: “We are determined to reconstruct a genuine Labour Party in Liverpool. That process is going on and we are determined to see it through and to see Militant off. That makes it difficult electorally.” Decoded this meant that the Labour leadership were quite prepared to countenance a Labour defeat in the city as the cost of driving Militant out of the Labour movement. In the Guardian he “did admit that Liverpool City Council was a very hard result to predict.”
Trevor Jones, desperate to cling to power, denounced Labour’s “scaremongering tactics”. He wrote to all council employees “assuring them that there is no intention to have redundancies, and that the Liberals are totally opposed to privatization of council services”. This is true only in words. It represented a complete volte-face of the Liberals in comparison to the past. In reality, they had cancelled the Urban Regeneration Strategy, which was worth £25.2 million. They also carried through retrospective cancellation of other URS programs worth £14 million. They had cancelled vehicle replacement, about half of it involving cleansing wagons worth £2 million in total. They cancelled the Education Capital Program and improvements to school buildings, which was worth an additional £1.6 million.
Tony Byrne calculated that they had frozen around £50 million of projects, which would probably affect 4000 jobs directly, and indirectly many construction jobs. He commented: “All this has been decided by a body with absolutely no mandate from the people of Liverpool.”
Labour workers, with Militant supporters prominent, threw themselves into the campaign, and the result on May 7 was a magnificent victory for Labour, in some respects eclipsing Labour’s victories in the previous four years. In some wards the turnout was 59 percent and 60 percent, something which was unique to Liverpool in council elections. While there was gloom in many Labour committee rooms throughout the country, there was euphoria and celebrations late into the night in the Labour Clubs of Merseyside. Against all the odds, Labour emerged with a majority on the council. The Labour vote increased in every single ward in the city.
The most spectacular results for Labour were in those wards in which well-known Militant supporters were candidates. Moreover, a significant body of workers had consciously differentiated not only between Labour and the Liberals and Tories, but between right-wing Labour and those who stood on the left. It was not uncommon on the doorstep for Labour councilors to be met with the statement “I am Labour, but I am Militant Labour.” Others demanded to know where the Labour candidate stood on the issue of the defense of the debarred 47 councilors. Many commented that they were reluctant to vote for imposed candidates such as Malcolm Kennedy, husband of Jane Kennedy.
When the votes were counted on May 7, there was a mixture of bewilderment and gloom amongst Liverpool Labour’s opponents. On television, Professor Anthony King could only mumble that the Liverpool results were an indication that “the city had declared political UDI”. Cunningham attempted to claim the results ad a “victory for moderate Labour” in the city. Neither the Liverpool Echo nor the Post could share his delusion. Moreover, a close examination of the figures revealed that those who stood on the left, and particularly those who supported Militant had done spectacularly well. In Anfield, Militant supporter Jackie Smith was victorious over the Liberals. Unfortunately, in the same ward Malcolm Kennedy, the imposed candidate, was defeated! In Kensington, Militant supporter John Blackhall cancelled out an 800 Liberal majority to score a spectacular Labour success. The other Labour candidate was not successful. In St Mary’s, Labour took the seat lost in the by-election back from the Liberals. Trotsky once said, “Revolution sometimes needs the whip of counter-revolution.” The “Liberal counter-revolution” had lasted for a matter of six weeks in Liverpool. That was enough! The workers of St Mary’s and the rest of the city turned out to put a Labour council back in power. The right wing of the Labour Party, such as Cunningham and Kinnock, may have suffered from the delusion that Militant had nothing to do with this splendid victory, but not so the bourgeois. The Economist commented:
Liverpool produced the most paradoxical result. The Alliance had a lead of 0.1 percent over Labour, but labor regained control of the city council by a majority of three seats. The three point rise in Labour’s share of the votes since last year suggests that most of Liverpool’s working-class voters have accepted Militant’s explanation of Liverpool’s financial crisis. The continuing collapse of the Tory vote – only 9.5 percent of Liverpudians now vote Tory – shows that the government’s version has been rejected by Liverpool’s middle-class too. Liverpool’s present bewildering local mood deserved much more attention than it has received. It cannot comfort Mr. Kinnock.
The Times (8 May) also reported: “Sir Trevor Jones, Liberal Group Leader of the city council, said he was astonished by the results which he contended had been directed by Militant supporters.” He also commented, “The only way to end Militant rule in Liverpool is to abolish the labor Party in this city.” Undoubtedly some of the right wing were prepared to entertain such a prospect, but they were checked by the pressure of the rank and file of the labor and trade-union movement. And the looming general election stayed their hand.