Liberals versus Militant in Liverpool – 1980s

Up until 1983, a Liberal-Conservative coalition ran Liverpool City Council. But in that year, Labour took power with a strong Militant presence throughout the local party at all levels and the trade unions.

The Liberals were very much the main opposition party with the Tories the junior partner, even though their party under Margaret Thatcher was running the country. The Liberal leader was a crafty local political operator, Sir Trevor Jones, known none too affectionately as “Jones the Vote”.

Liberals versus Militant in Liverpool Broadgreen

I canvassed in the Broadgreen ward of the city in 1983 for a Labour council candidate called Eric Smith. The Liberal candidate was called Geoffrey Smith. So, one line of attack from the Liberals was that Labour had deliberately selected a candidate called ‘Smith’ – that very rare surname.

But the main line of fire from the Liberals was directed, as ever, at the Militant. These were the years immediately after the Toxteth area of the city had been rocked by rioting in 1981 and the Liberals exploited fears that ‘reds’ were out to foment chaos. In truth, the Militant hadn’t endorsed the inchoate rage that engulfed the streets of Toxteth in 1981 – though obviously understood the underlying causes of racism and mass youth unemployment.

DISCOVER: The Portuguese revolution of 1974

Interestingly, this leaflet directs particular ire at Militant’s demand to pay trainee typists a living wage. This was at a time when jobless rates among young people were stratospheric in the city and the only alternative to the dole were borderline useless training schemes.

Today, I think it looks incredibly heartless to boast about slashing the pay of teenagers but those were different times and the Liberals were facing defeat. This was a crude appeal to ‘ratepayers’ at a time when only property owners paid rates (pre-council tax) and the choice Thatcher put before local authorities was to cut spending or hike up rates massively. The Liberals were reassuring ratepayers they would go for the former.

Categories: History

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