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The Laz Word .....on that man Geoffrey Howe

Wouldn’t it be better to reflect on the secret words and look towards the future, not the past?,

Written by . Published on December 31st 2011.


The Laz Word .....on that man Geoffrey Howe

TORY big-wig Geoffrey Howe will go down in history as the man who dared to suggest Liverpool should be left to rot in the aftermath of the 1981 Toxteth riots.

He never actually used the word “rot” but that is how his note to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be interpreted.

Liverpool, on the face of it, has made great strides since 1981, but shouldn’t we have made even greater ones?

Howe, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, marked his note “SECRET” and it seems his purpose was to caution Margaret Thatcher about over-committing scare resources to Merseyside, “much the hardest nut to crack”.

It would be even more regrettable if some of the brighter ideas for renewing economic activity were to be sown only on the relatively stony grounds on the banks of the Mersey,” he wrote in that damning little letter on August 11, 1981.

Hezza In Liverpool In 1981Hezza In Liverpool In 1981Then came his killer sentence.... “I cannot help feeling that the option of managed decline, which the CPRS rejected in its study of Merseyside, is one which we should not forget altogether. We must not expend all our resources in trying to make water flow uphill.”

The concept of a managed decline for Liverpool had been voiced earlier by others, Howe was rekindling he issue in his letter to his then next door neighbour in Downing Street.

Yet in true Liverpool style, the reaction in Merseyside will be to cherry pick a few words, express outrage and then shoot the messenger.

Read the hundreds of communiques circulating like confetti around the corridors of power and a bleak picture of life on Merseyside is revealed.

Even the so-called hero of the day, Michael Heseltine was super critical of the way Liverpool was being governed.

Just two days after Howe’s now infamous memo, which he says he has trouble recalling, came a lengthy autopsy on Liverpool titled It Took a Riot and also stamped confidential.

As “Tarzan” swung through the depressing jungle that was Liverpool he didn’t pull his punches.

Merseyside had been suffering long term decline since at least World War I. Unemployment at the time in Merseyside – 129,000 (18 per cent) – was the highest rate in the country. Of the 55,000 out of work in Liverpool, 18,000 were in the core area, particularly Toxteth,

The Mersey is an open sewer, wrote Heseltine. Middle managers have abandoned the area and headed to better suburbs, major firms have pulled their headquarters out of the city.

Local Government – the Corpy – is remote and much of its housing indescribable... The city’s decision-making processes are emasculated, with six changes of control in seven years. The two tiers of local government make things worse with the County Council seeking to justify its existence by double-banking work that should be done at district (city council) level.

Young people expect to be unemployed and they are being brought up by parents who expect them to be unemployed.”

In Toxteth 45 per cent of 16 to 20-year-olds were jobless – even higher among the black community.

There was no prospect of effective leadership because of compartmentalised political structures.

It follows that the hard Left – and more extreme forces – are at work. They are now arguing ...’all the traditional methods have failed’, he wrote, unwittingly a curtain raiser for the emerging Militant rule in Liverpool.

Yet Heseltine spoke of Liverpool’s strengths – its architecture, culture, football clubs, university and port.

He wrote to Thatcher saying what he found convinced him the Government should abolish Merseyside County Council.

One idea mooted in the Cabinet papers was the appointment of a commissioner to run Liverpool. Heseltine suggested an alternative – himself acting as Minister for Merseyside.

There was even a suggestion of making dole payments for the young, conditional on them doing community work, cleaning up derelict sites. Shades of the Cameron Government there!

The Cabinet papers of 1981 will dominate the local political landscape in the coming weeks and months, with claims the city has for decades been short-changed, leading to demands for the return of the dosh on the basis ‘we wuz robbed’.

Yet wouldn’t it be better to reflect on the secret words of Howe, Heseltine and others and look towards the future, not the past?

The pity is we’ve had to wait for 30 years. Had these papers been published earlier we may have been able to decide what lessons, if any, we as a city needed to learn.

Liverpool, on the face of it, has made great strides since 1981, but shouldn’t we have made even greater ones? We have learned some lessons, but not all of them.

(Click here to add text)(Click here to add text)The recent report by Heseltine and ex-Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy paints a rosier picture of Liverpool, but still highlights the work still to be done, the risks to the city region of tribalism among them.

Thirty years on Hezza writes: “Internal competition has been very damaging, with electorates not necessarily aware of the economic costs they suffer if their local council wishes to 'go it alone'. Local leadership in the City Region is making efforts to be more collaborative, but the reality is piecemeal and slow.”

If the Thatcher government did indeed turn its back on Liverpool, the city decided two can play at that game, and very quickly gave marching orders to the remaining Conservative politicians.

Not since the 1990s has the party had a single councillor in Liverpool, a city once ruled by the Tories.

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AnonymousJanuary 3rd 2012.

The Tories don't like us now and this proves they didn't like us then. We are being punished because THEY have let Liverpool down. The Council should use this evidence to demand a refund for the years of being shortchanged.

AnonymousJanuary 16th 2012.

Liverpool's problems go back 50-60 years and both local government and Whitehall were involved. Examples are:-

Whitehall - in the 1930's Liverpool airport was one of,if not the most,advanced airports in the country, Ringway being not much more than a field which was used for training paras' during the war.. Following WW2, Whitehall policy was to hold back Speke, whilst the local councils in the Manchester region were able to take control, and develop Ringway unfettered.

As for the billions allocated to the Manchester Metro, whilst a tenth of it was refused for Liverpool, is all to familiar.

Local - Liverpool encouraged thousands of families to move out to Kirkby, Skem., Hindley Green, Winsford, Runcorn etc. thus leaving a city structure for 750,00 residents to be maintained (or not), by 3-400,00 ratepayers.

Liverpool's prosperity peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and has appeared to be unable to prevent the likes of Rotterdam,Antwerp and Felixstow from taking over her mantle as one of the greatest ports in the world.

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