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The Laz Word....on the Degsy days

Come the revolution, Militant were driven of the Town Hall, guns blazing. Now the story is almost over as their two frontline foes bow out of the political picture

Published on April 26th 2010.

The Laz Word....on the Degsy days

A SHORT time ago, I asked a group of “meeja” students a question: who has heard of Derek Hatton? None of them had a clue who Degsy was, let alone what he represented in the political history of Liverpool.

Tony Mulhearn is a taxi driver in Liverpool, always willing to defend the actions of the council in the 1980s. Derek Hatton never returned to politics after his five years of expulsion. He is now a wealthy businessman, after-dinner speaker and media celebrity

It meant, I thought, that the Militant era of mid 1980s Liverpool had finally been put to rest. Well almost.

Twenty-five years on, we are about to witness the closure of another chapter in that particular political story which once captured the attention of people across the nation.

The Militant era carved out the careers of two crucial participants in what was an almighty battle fought in the time the city could rightly call itself The People’s Republic of Liverpool.

Two Labour Party opponents were propelled into national political prominence as a direct result – Peter Kilfoyle and Jane Kennedy.

Both are quitting politics at this General Election, standing down as MPs for Walton and Wavertree respectively.

Peter Kilfoyle, one of 14 children from a Liverpool Irish family, arrived in the city as a kind of latter-day Deputy to Sheriff Neil Kinnock. His mission was to run the Militants out of town. The media referred to Kilfoyle as Labour’s ‘Witchfinder General’. The Militant called him Kinnock’s Political Policeman.

Jane Kennedy, an ex-nurse and leader of NUPE in Liverpool, was in the front line too.

Things came to a head in 1985, the year the Labour-controlled city council passed its illegal budget. Around 50,000 people had marched through the city in protest at rate-capping and government cuts in spending.

The council, by agreeing a nine percent rate rise, had effectively passed a deficit budget – setting the city on a collision course with Thatcher’s Tory government.Later that year, at Labour’s national conference, Neil Kinnock was to make that famous speech talking of the grotesque spectacle of taxis scurrying around the city handing out redundancy notices to council workers.

By the year’s end , the Labour Party had established an inquiry into Militant and its influence in Liverpool Labour Party. A number of members were expelled from the party, including Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn, Felicity Dowling, Ian Lowes, Tony Aitman, Richard Venton, Roger Bannister, Terry Harrison and Cheryl Varley.

The 47 councillors who set the deficit budget were surcharged and expelled from office for five years.

On the day of this year’s General Election, the local elections will also take place and seeking re-election in Liverpool will be John McIntosh, the last remaining councillor still on the city council from the 47. Most had never sought re-election after serving their time in the political wilderness. McIntosh returned as councillor for Everton and is seeking re-election.

Tony Mulhearn is a taxi driver in Liverpool, always willing to defend the actions of the council in the 1980s. Derek Hatton never returned to politics after his five years of expulsion. He is now a wealthy businessman, after-dinner speaker and media celebrity.

Although much has been written about the Militant era in Liverpool, little has been done to explain the growth of that militancy. It incubated over the post-War years, but was born out of the wish to fight the de-industrialisation of Liverpool and Merseyside in the 1970s and early 1980s when tens of thousands of its citizens were chucked on the scrapheap in wave after wave of factory closures.

If Liverpool hands the reins of council control to Labour on May 6 it will be a very different Labour Party to that which, 25 years ago, ruled a mini-republic.

Larry Neild

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