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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 April 2005

The following article by Socialist Party member Tony Mulhearn appeared in the Liverpool Daily Post on 24 March commemorating the struggle 20 years ago of socialists in the leadership of the Liverpool Labour Party against the Thatcher government.

Militant turned socialism into reality

Former president of Liverpool District Labour Party Tony Mulhearn responds to the Daily Post's series on the Militant legacy of the 1980s.

LARRY NEILD'S welcome series on the legacy of the 47 surcharged councillors unlike some of the lurid and distorted coverage of the past, has attempted to provide a balance in assessing the events of 20 years ago. But like all such assessments, it is like the curate's egg: good in parts. It gives a picture of those great events, but not a fully accurate one.

When asked by Henry Kissinger in 1972 what he thought the historical impact of the 1789 French Revolution was, Chou En Lai, the Chinese Premier and second to Mao Zedong, answered: "It's too soon to tell."

However, we don't have to wait that long for a considered assessment of the achievements of that much-maligned city council of 1983-87 because, fortunately, the achievements are still with us. The houses, the sports centres, the parks, the nursery schools, the record of the money clawed back from the Thatcher government, remains.

Liverpool Labour's years of impotence are a consequence of the witch-hunt of socialists conducted by Kilfoyle, Kinnock and their acolytes.

Transforming Labour's share of the vote in Liverpool from the highest in history in 1983-87 to its lowest now is the legacy provided by New Labour. We look forward with interest to see if the newly formed District Labour Party is as representative, dynamic and democratic as the Party they destroyed

To describe the 47's achievements as a "Militant Blight" compared to the wrecking policies of right-wing Labour and the Neo-Liberals is to make nonsense of the English language.

The positive features of Larry Neild's piece do recognise that the 49 (reduced to 47 as a result of the deaths of Peter Lloyd and Bill Lafferty) inherited an appalling social and economic situation.

With a Liberal/Tory alliance ruling the city and a Thatcher government ruling the country, 100,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost on Merseyside in the four years prior to 1983.

The level of private investment had sunk to an all-time low. In addition, assisted by the fiscal policies of the local Liberal/Tory alliance, Thatcher had stolen 300 million from the city in rate support grants and housing finance.

This nightmare scenario inherited by Labour makes nonsense of Michael Parkinson's (professor of European Institute of Urban Affairs at Liverpool JMU, who wrote the 1985 book Liverpool On The Brink) hopelessly misguided and lofty assertion that Militant had scared off investors.

Equally his notion that "it all started at the tail end of the 1970s" fails to understand the history of Labour in Liverpool, which is a history of struggle reaching back to the 19th century. The struggle against casual labour, against unemployment, against sectarianism, against atrocious housing conditions is part and parcel of life for those of us who were born and bred in this great city.

The ideas of socialism, that were made concrete reality by the 47, had been Labour Party policy for decades. But unlike previous council leaders, the 47, reflecting the aspirations of the Labour and trade union movement and the needs of the city's working people, translated that policy into action.

The reality is that the campaign initiated by the Liverpool 47 arrested the decline. For example, major construction companies and banks placed ads in financial publications congratulating the council on its campaign of achievement.

Michael Parkinson, echoing the rarefied corridors of academia, buttressed by the propaganda of the Liberal council, then suggests that, whilst there was an enemy in the 1980s (Thatcher's government), now there isn't. Perhaps he hasn't noticed that one-third of all children on Merseyside live in poverty, that Granby and Everton wards are top of the poverty league, that the city still has the highest unemployment level in the region, and that atrocious housing is still the norm for thousands.

The much-vaunted "revival" of Liverpool has benefited those who can afford to spend a couple hundred of thousand on one of the ubiquitous penthouses that now colonise the city centre. But half the city still suffers the same problems that have been a feature of Liverpool life for decades.

Your series quoted Roy Gladden, one of the 47, as saying: "We felt like the German people who woke up to find a storm trooper at the end of the bed with a rifle in his hand".

To draw an analogy between our campaign and the Nazi coup in Germany is a monstrous slur on all the brave men and women who had nothing personal to gain from their efforts.

He insults the 47 further by describing them as voting fodder. Doesn't he recall that he had every opportunity to voice his disagreement with the DLP policy and to propose alternative policies?

Liverpool's current appearance of opulence owed to a substantial degree to Euro funding attracted by its Objective 1 status. A feature of our campaign was its international character. Liverpool's problems were highlighted and occupied the centre of the world political stage. We initiated the sitting up of a Merseyside European Committee. It was that campaigning activity which was a vital factor in securing Objective 1 status and allowing the city to tap into the billions that are available from Europe.

It is important now to nail the distortion that Labour in Liverpool was hijacked by a small splinter group.

Militant supporters, who had many years of Labour party membership between them and were an important part of the movement, are proud to have been part of that leadership.

But that campaign was in preparation for decades with people like Eric Heffer, Eddie Loyden, Pat Wall and others campaigning for the same policies.

It enjoyed popular support, not only shown by mass meetings in St George's Hall and demonstrations through the streets of Liverpool, but also in the ballot box when Labour received the highest vote ever recorded for local elections.

Militant supporters, with huge majorities, won and retained, for example, Netherley, Valley, Speke, and St Mary's. Under the stewardship of New Labour clones, these wards all fell to the Liberals. When we were surcharged, every candidate who followed us stood on the programme of the 47. It was printed on all the election material. The result - Labour was returned with an overwhelming majority - a majority subsequently squandered by New Labour.

To suggest that a small extreme group can hijack a popular movement does stretch the boundaries of reality, although the New Labour clique seems to have managed it quite effectively.

Finally, to those who argue that we fought the right cause in the wrong way, it is incumbent on them to propose alternative policies that did not include massive rate rises, rent rises, the sacking of council workers and cuts in services.

For our part, we remain proud of our achievements and, faced with the same situation, would make the same stand again

TONY MULHEARN'S article has been endorsed by a number of the 47 including Paul Astbury, Jimmy Dillon, Alan Fogg, Jimmy Hackett, Frank Mills, Tony Rimmer and Harry Smith. They revisit the issues on their website:

Read the definitive study of the 1983-87 struggle: Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight by Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe. Buy it by clicking here.

Election pages

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In The Socialist 7 April 2005:

Bosses low pay racket exposed

Rich are getting richer...

General election - main parties ignore real issues

A socialist alternative for women

BNP - not a 'radical alternative' to New Labour

Militant turned socialism into reality

Zimbabwe election: "The greatest fraud of 2005"

Join the G8 protests

Pakistan - a powder keg ready to explode

Stop the BBC jobs slaughter

Big business sharks circle Rover jobs

Pensions: No concessions by 'negotiation'


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