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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 October 2012

Liverpool 1983-87

Better to break the law than break the poor

Tony Mulhearn, former Liverpool councillor and the then District Labour Party president
Tony Mulhearn in front of one of the house built by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, photo Harry Smith

Tony Mulhearn in front of one of the house built by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, photo Harry Smith   (Click to enlarge)

As a lifelong Liverpool football supporter, I was delighted to read recently that Liverpool were top of the league.

I thought I had misunderstood Liverpool's dropped points in their first six games. Then reality hit me: Liverpool was top of the league for the deepest cuts in council expenditure. That explained why Mayor Joe Anderson had received the MBE.

Yet Liverpool's socialist-led council of 1983 to 1987 showed that things could be so different. In the two years before the 49 Labour councillors (reduced to 47 by the death of Bill Lafferty and Peter Lloyd) were elected in May 1983, not a single house for rent had been built by the Liberal/Tory alliance which controlled the council.

Council rents were the highest in the UK outside London. 5,000 council jobs had vanished. Youth unemployment in some areas of the city was in excess of 50%.

The defeated Liberal/Tory alliance had left behind a financial gap of 10 million of unallocated cuts, and 30 million had been slashed from Liverpool's budget by Tory minister Michael Heseltine.

This was the nightmare inherited by the newly elected council in which Militant (predecessor of the Socialist) supporters played a prominent role.

Unlike Liverpool's New Labour neoliberals led by Joe Anderson, we did not use that scenario as an excuse for implementing draconian cuts but as a reason for carrying out the 47's election promises.

Adopting the slogan "better to break the law than to break the poor", we launched a programme of action that included building houses, creating jobs, expanding services and freezing rents.

This was backed up by a mass campaign involving huge protests by public and private sector trade unions, community organisations, youth organisations, party constituencies and party branches, led by the Liverpool District Labour Party and the 47 councillors.


This campaign aimed to resist any further cuts and to claw back the funds that Thatcher had slashed from the city's budget.

The result was a resounding success, and if the other Labour councils had emulated that struggle Thatcher would have been forced to retreat.

This lesson is completely lost on the current Labour crop. They bleat that they have no choice but to cut public services that provide support for those in greatest need, including disabled youngsters and Sure Start facilities for young children.

Anderson cries that if he does not make the cuts, the government will send in commissioners. The reality is that he is the government's de facto commissioner.

He brags that he is in daily touch with Con-Dem ministers, no doubt to receive his instructions. He plays this role while being paid some 60,000 a year by Liverpool's hard-pressed council tax payers.

Liverpool's labour movement - before it was emasculated by the then Labour leader Kinnock's lieutenant Peter Kilfoyle - knew that collaboration with the Tory government, as advocated by both these gentlemen, would lead to disaster.

And with the ascendancy of the neoliberal right, disaster followed disaster. Privatisation, job losses and no more council housing, with local authority trade union leadership ready to comply with every reactionary demand of the council.

When the 47 were undemocratically removed from office by Thatcher's district auditor 30,000 workers were employed by the Liverpool city council.

Today there are less than 10,000. Yet Liverpool council in 2010 was faced with a budget deficit of 120 million, even before the current round of Con-Dem cuts.

The 47 recognised that there was no guarantee of victory when you fight, but if you do not fight defeat is assured.

Elections showed backing

The Liverpool 47 attracted the highest Labour vote in history; higher than any election since the war, even though the city's population had declined from 700,000 in 1945 to 460,000 in 1983.

While the turnout for local elections in previous years had ranged from 11% to 20%, the turnout between 1983 and 1987 was 45% to 55%.

This was a clear message that if policies which correspond to the needs and aspirations of the working class are implemented, then the support will be forthcoming.

The city that fought

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In The Socialist 17 October 2012:

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