TWENTY YEARS ago, at the 1985 Labour party conference, the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock (now Baron Kinnock) made an infamous attack on Liverpool city council’s left-wing leaders.
The Liverpool Echo recently interviewed Kinnock about that speech. One of the 47 councillors, TONY MULHEARN, replies.
The 47 Liverpool councillors had been fighting Thatcher’s Tory government since retaking office in 1983. They conducted a campaign amongst council workers and local people in the unemployment-ravaged city to get more money after the previous Liberal administration had left the city grossly under-funded.
The battle led to tremendous achievements – new houses, sports centres, parks, nursery schools and money grabbed back from Thatcher’s government from 1983 to 1987.
The interview shows a man consumed with bile at the success of Liverpool’s policies and the key role played by Militant (now Socialist Party) supporters. Also, following months of hysterical media denunciation of the council, it shows a man determined to show Britain’s press that he could be tough with those they called ‘extremists.’
Kinnock seized on Liverpool council’s tactic of issuing letters to the workforce which explained that, as Thatcher had slashing Liverpool’s Rate Support Grant, the council would soon run out of money. These were the so-called ‘redundancy notices’ that Kinnock spoke of, describing the action as ‘grotesque chaos’ and unleashing the most far-reaching witch-hunt in Labour’s history.
The press barons drooled at the spectacle of a Labour leader attacking a Labour council for implementing socialist policies. Right-winger Dennis Healey was quoted as telling Kinnock: “By that speech, Neil, you’ve won us the next general election.” At the next election, Labour went down to its second-worst defeat since 1931!
The interview reveals Kinnock’s very selective memory. He says: ‘If it was a tactic, it had not been communicated to the workers.’ He knew (and the trade union leaders who backed Kinnock knew) the workforce had been fully consulted.
Kinnock made no mention of the fact that no worker had actually been made redundant. He didn’t mention the houses built, jobs created, services expanded or the 47’s courageous campaign that had mass support among both local authority workers and the electorate.
Kinnock is besotted with his role in rooting out the left. When he heard about the ‘redundancy notices’ he told Charles Clarke “I’ve got ’em.” No empathy with a council, financially crippled by Thatcher’s henchmen, entered his mind. He used football euphemisms to emphasise his ‘triumph.’ He told the Echo’s interviewer Paddy Shennan, ‘I was in the six yard box, and it was just a matter of putting the ball in the net.’
The following week Kinnock kept totally silent as a right-wing council in Wales issued real redundancy notices to firefighters.
MEMBERS OF the 47 were scathing about the speech and the interview: Eddie Burke (non-Militant); “What was grotesque was that the Labour Party should attack Labour councillors because they were doing their duty at a time when the party in Liverpool was so vibrant.”
Roy Gladden (non-Militant): “We never made any worker redundant. There were 31,000 workers then. Now there are about 19,000.” Alan Fogg: “We were looking at ways of improving people’s lives. We built houses and created jobs. What did Kinnock do? He insulted us then sent Peter Kilfoyle round to witch-hunt all the socialists out of the Party.”
Terry Fields (Militant MP for Broadgreen): “Kinnock had been a young firebrand with socialism spewing out of every orifice, but he finished up with something else spewing out of every orifice.” Derek Hatton (deputy leader) ‘Kinnock went to get battered. He was a total failure.’
Paul Astbury said: “What we created in this city was debate. There was a council meeting taking place in every pub in Liverpool.”
When Paddy Shennan asked him whether the attack on Liverpool was his finest hour, Kinnock said he got even more satisfaction from the speech attacking the National Union of Mineworkers after their titanic struggle to defend their jobs and communities from the ravages of Thatcher!
The 47’s legacy is houses, jobs and services – together with campaigning activity: supported by the biggest demos seen in Liverpool and the highest Labour votes ever recorded in local council elections.
Baron Kinnock’s legacy is denunciation of socialist councillors; unleashing a witch-hunt resulting in the abolition of Clause 4 (Labour’s socialist clause), destruction of Labour’s internal democracy, expulsion of socialists and socialism; neo-liberalism and indirectly the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.
Kinnock is well qualified to join Labour’s role of dishonour, along with the likes of Ramsey MacDonald, who joined the Tories in a national government in 1931. The future builders of a new mass party of the working class need to learn the lessons of Liverpool’s titanic struggle.