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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 28th 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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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousApril 26th 2010.

Jobs and services. I saw somewhere the other day that Liverpool is a "political city". Not any more unfortunately.

Non combatantApril 26th 2010.

Did the whole collection survive or did they just rescue what they could?

scrittipolittiApril 26th 2010.

The beginning of New Labour can be traced to the witch hunt for Militant. Kinnock managed to turn militancy in a so called left wing party into a dirty word. Now we have a party which has little ideologically distinct from the other two parties and voters who rarely participate in everyday politics, or organise collectively for any cause....Along with the miners' strike it was the beginning of the end of resistance to Thatcherism, and capitalism more broadly.More locally it should be remembered that Militant's elected power was a radical response to the reactionary, Liberal-Conservative council led by "Liberal" Trevor Jones who has been a lifelong capitalist and apologist for Thatcherite policies and local government corruption. And his faithful deputy, Mike Storey has continued in his tradition. It makes me laugh when the right smears Militant with tales of corruption after Sir Trevor's years of toadying to the ruling classes...

Non combatantApril 26th 2010.

Flowerpower maybe one of these Militant supporters, who are still living the lost battles of thirty years ago, will be able to quote chapter and verse on what happened when the gardeners who curated one of the oldest and most important orchid collections in the world upset the righteous leadership.

sam parr a proud supporter of militantApril 26th 2010.

i remember those days as if it was yesterday i was 15 a member of lpys , liverpool was sick of tory rule and thatcher!!the tories where robbing the poor, kinnock was weak and should of spent more time fighting thatcher than in house fighting, i marched the streets in protest with militant and was proud to fight for our right, derek hatton tony mulhern and john hamilton where and still are good men who where fighting for justice and making the city a better place for liverpool people!scum press brainwashing people in thinking derek hatton was a bad guy was a disgrace!! better to break the law than break the poor!! happy memories and would do it all agan only if we had better support from our fellow brothers!! only thing wrong about degsy is hes an evertonian!!

UpTheWorkersApril 26th 2010.

Lovely stroll down memory lane. Those were the days, when we had the guts to stand up and be counted. It's amazing to think council-house building came to an end when the so-called Militant council came to an end. Compare the tens of thousands of us who marched through the streets to the trickle we have in 2010 politics.

JonApril 26th 2010.

I was also proud of Liverpool during that period when more council houses were built than since the war. If only Kinnock had had more courage, there could have been a major uprising against Thatcherism. Hatton, like many municipal politicians, was unable to control himself when the power kick took hold. Unfortunately I also remember the Liverpool Echo under Chris Oakley having a real vendetta against the 47 which made me despise it rather than them. That would never happen now, they would be too worried about upsetting the advertising department.

FlowerPowerApril 26th 2010.

I'd like to hear more about the orchids. I did hear a tale since about Caldies, the park, and the destruction of the greenhouses for spite. Does any one know the facts ?

Bill'n'BenApril 26th 2010.

The Harthill Six refused to join a strike because the treasured orchids would have perished. Harthill gardens was closed and demolished and the orchid collection moved to a council site in Garston (not open to the public) where they continue to thrive whilst in exile. Various attempts have been made to rebuild the Glasshouses, one scheme was proposed at Calderstones Park and another at Botanic Road. There had also been a suggestion of using a pavillion at Chavasse Park to house the collection. As things stand there is no ongoing scheme to provide a new public home for the orchids. The Harthill Six were regarded as heroes for their stand by many.

scrittipolittiApril 26th 2010.

Proletarian, do i sense a bit of envy . . . . for the "neo-tory lifestyle"? Or is being a proletarian an end in itself...?

Non combatantApril 26th 2010.

I'll can't forgive them for destroying the orchids, an act of pure spite.

Mitch PooleApril 26th 2010.

I was a Committee Clerk during those heady days helping service the Policy and Finance Committee. In fairness to that administration they were elected in on a pledge and actually carried out what they said that they would do - unlike most politicians.Tony Byrne was the financial head and brains within that administration a low key but dedicated figure with compassion and belief. Hatton was only the frontman and PR guy.

MerseymikeApril 26th 2010.

I wouldn't have been a Militant supporter. However, in the Bootle constituency, I can;t vote for my labour MP because of his views on gay rights and abortion, and the LibDems and Tories are far too pro-market for me. No Green candidate. So that leaves only the far right - or the TUSC candidate, a member of the Socialist Party, which used to be Militant.

Fight4HopeApril 26th 2010.

Liverpool had fire in its belly in those days. Now we whimper our way through life, force fed spin of the Lib Dems and told how marvellous things are. Its as though we have all given up and don't to how to stand up and be counted anymore.

ProletarianApril 26th 2010.

Nice to see ex-Comrade Hatton enjoying his neo-Tory lifestyle with his millions in Cyprus.

Kronstadt1921April 26th 2010.

Party politics is a pretty grotesque business, but at least the Militant can be admired for actually carrying out what they said they would and putting the working-class first, instead of selling out to big business and the wealthy like New Labour. Ultimately they were were destroyed by the grandeur of their own ambitions, the treachery of the power-hungry Labour Party and the anti-socialist vendetta of Mrs Thatcher.

Power to the peopleApril 26th 2010.

They never were Militants, that was a convenient bit of spin for Kinnock because he knew his party was out of control and it would have been even more disastrous to admit that these were rank and file members taking action and doing what they believed to be right. This was when the city and its people had some bollocks left. Now they are just forced to listen to bollocks.

Trade UnionistApril 26th 2010.

Well the story at the time was that this eminent orchid collection, one of the best in the world and a jewel in Liverpool’s increasingly looted crown was maintained by four or five gardeners who were fully paid-up members of the GMB union.The Militant Council demanded that they change their allegiance to a particular branch of the GMB that was controlled by Militant.The gardeners refused, the greenhouses were demolished and the priceless orchid collection was destroyed simply to make a few men redundant because they wouldn’t toe Militant’s line.

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