Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/860/20932
When organised mass action defeated the Tories
Liverpool city council's historic victory over the Thatcher government
"Two unlovely black eyes" headlined the Daily Mail in July 1984 - castigating environment secretary Patrick Jenkin for his retreat over extra funding for Liverpool. It continued: "The Trotskyites and others of the hard left who run Liverpool have had the best of the fight with him in their threat to defy the law on that city's overspending."
That headline was just one of the reactions to the success of Liverpool city council, led by Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party), in securing £60 million of funding from the Thatcher government.
Socialist Party member Tony Mulhearn was one of the leaders of that epic struggle and one of the 47 councillors, who were later surcharged and disqualified from office in revenge for their humiliation of the Tories.
Writing in 2011 Tony describes how a mass movement in Liverpool defied Thatcher's Tories, an invaluable lesson in today's fight against Tory austerity.
The victory which secured the extra funding enabled the council to carry out its electoral programme. This included the building of 5,000 houses, opening six new sports centres, creating 2,000 jobs and refusing to carry out £10 million-worth of cuts.
These cuts had been the legacy of the Liberal/Tory alliance which had ruled Liverpool for the previous 20 years, with a short interregnum of Labour rule.
This victory was particularly significant as, like now, it occurred at a time of national and global capitalist upheaval.
The passage of time has not diminished the achievements of the 47, nor undermined the importance of the struggle.
In spite of the distortions of establishment spokespersons, aided and abetted by the lies of right wing parliamentarians and trade union leaders, the record of the 47 remains stubbornly intact.
The Liverpool struggle had as its background Thatcher's antipathy to locally provided public services, an outlook shared by the present millionaires' cabinet.
The Tories' programme, when elected in 1979, included using the device of the block grant system which penalised local authorities that exceeded government's prescribed spending limits; for every £1 breach of expenditure, £2 would be lost in rate support grant.
Initially, all Labour-controlled local authorities had agreed to support a campaign against this policy. Amongst the leaders of this campaign, it is incredible to recall, were David Blunkett and Ken Livingstone.
So, the government's policies meant that in order to balance the books a local authority would either have to increase the rates, sometimes massively, to compensate for Tory cuts, or savagely cut back on jobs and services. Again history repeats itself, now on a more savage level.
The Liverpool District Labour Party's policy was to reject both of these options and instead to carry out its electoral promises.
In the elections of 1983 a key component of the party's electoral programme was: "No rate or rent increases to compensate for Tory cuts."
The massive financial crisis which the 47 inherited was seen as a reason for the implementation of the electoral programme rather than, as is usually the case in British politics, a reason to retreat.
But the victory was not achieved merely by slick negotiation between the councillors and Patrick Jenkin. He was conscious of the magnificent electoral support, as well as the physical support, shown by the great demonstrations that marched through the city in support of the council's policies.
The demonstration on budget day in March 1984, when a one-day strike took place, was supported by 30,000 local authority workers. 50,000 marched through the city in support of the council's proposed 'deficit budget' (see box).
The support for the council was based on concrete changes, for the better, to people's lives. In the three years from April 1983 to May 1985 it was estimated that 6,489 jobs had been generated in the private sector as a result of the house-building programme.
Also, the Liverpool 47 attracted the City's highest Labour vote, even though the population had declined from 700,000 in 1945 to 460,000 in 1983. And 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%.
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.
In spite of its unparalleled record of achievement, Liverpool's socialist council was left exposed by the capitulation of virtually every other Labour-run authority that had initially declared opposition to the Thatcher government. In those circumstances the power of the state eventually prevailed.
Thatcher's district auditor, supported by the House of Lords, removed the 47 from office, cheered on by the Labour leaders. [These legal powers against councillors have now been rescinded.]
Neil Kinnock, then Labour leader, and his lieutenant, 'witchfinder general' Peter Kilfolye, finished the job on behalf of the capitalist state by expelling the majority of the 47 from the Labour Party.
Since then many gallons of ink and newsprint, and speeches by right-wing charlatans have attempted to denigrate the 47's period of office. But the record has been written in concrete and stands as a monument to the socialist achievements of the Liverpool city council of 1983-87.
What is a 'needs budget'?
A "deficit budget" or "needs budget" strategy, which Liverpool city council carried out is, the way local councils should fight today. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) local election programme describes it as:
"We will support councils which in the first instance use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid making cuts. But we argue that the best way to mobilise the mass campaign that is necessary to defeat the dismantling of council services is to set a budget that meets the needs of the local community and demands that government funding makes up the shortfall."
TUSC is the left electoral alliance established in 2010 and includes the RMT transport union, the Socialist Party, and other left groups and individuals
Liverpool - A city that dared to fight
by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn
Only £12.50 including p&p
Available from Left Books,
PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD
020 8988 8789
In The Socialist 17 June 2015:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party comments and reviews