Workers' Liberty 2, July 1985. Illusions of Power: the local government left

Ratecapping: What went wrong?

Published on: Mon, 10/11/2008 - 12:55

Hilda Kean

Hilda Kean, who resigned as leader of Hackney council when the council decided to knuckle under to the Tories, analyses the ratecapping battle.

A recall Labour Party local government conference was held in Sheffield last summer before it was known which councils would be rate capped, and we discussed a national policy there.

A very good policy was passed at the Labour Party conference last autumn.

It emphasised non-compliance with the Rates Act and the need to defeat it in its first year.

The problem was not the policy but how it was implemented.

There was just no support from Neil Kinnock for

Illusions of Power: The Labour Left, Local Government, and the Challenge of Thatcherism: part 1

Published on: Sun, 09/11/2008 - 13:26

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

“Having shown first that everyone is a philosopher, though in his own way and unconsciously, since even in the slightest manifestation of any intellectual activity whatever... there is contained a specific conception of the world, one then moves onto the second level, which is that of awareness and criticism.

That is to say, one proceeds to the question-is it better to 'think’ without having a critical awareness, in a disjointed and episodic way? In other words, is it better to take part in a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external environment ... ?

Or, on the other hand,

Illusions of Power part 2: Promise and retreat

Published on: Sat, 08/11/2008 - 14:18

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

Something of a local government left had begun to emerge in the early '70s, talking about 'participation' and 'the community'.

In Socialist Organiser of March 1979, Mike Ward (now Ken Livingstone's deputy at the GLC) reflected on the experience of one of these Wandsworth. It had fallen to the Tories in the 1978 elections.

"The Labour Group rejected all cuts. Building programmes were maintained, no staff were sacked no posts frozen, no social service charges increased - in fact, many were reduced or abolished, and all means tests went, too.

"Wandsworth was short of facilities for the mentally

Illusions of Power part 3: Why did they fail?

Published on: Fri, 07/11/2008 - 14:51

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

Why did all the promises and good intentions of the new left come to naught in this way?

Some were duped by (or even went in for} left-faking: resounding campaigns for general militant action which left crucial practical conclusions undefined and thus collapsed when it came to the decisive moment.

The continual round of meetings and discussions on the administration of the council - with permanent officials, with other councillors, and with council trade union leaders - provided a norm, a routine, which destroyed an overview. It led many into "pragmatic realism" - "getting something done" in

Illusions of Power part 4: The new municipal socialism

Published on: Thu, 06/11/2008 - 14:57

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

In moving from the half-revolutionary politics they started off with, the new local government left have not arrived back at traditional Labour reformism, unmodified.

A new 'municipal socialism' has been developed, argued most coherently by Sheffield City Council leader David Blunkett.

One of the new left's most telling arguments against the old - guard councils was that they rested on and were governed by the council bureaucracy, There was no accountability and access. to council politics was restricted to a few interest groups, usually the leaders of the council trade unions.

In the run-up

Illusions of Power part 5: January 1982 to July 1985

Published on: Wed, 05/11/2008 - 16:25

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

January 1982 to July 1985

The GLC's capitulation over cheap fares in spring 1982 was a watershed. As the Falklands war, and then the Tories' big election victory of May 1983, followed, confrontation became a very remote item on the local government left's agenda.

In May 1982 however, the left scored sizeable victories in the London borough elections. People round Briefing had been following up their 1980-1 campaign to get leftists into GLC seats with a drive to secure left borough councils. They were fairly successful - most so in Islington hailed in Briefing of June 1982 as 'Fortress

Illusions of Power part 6: Labour councils and their workers

Published on: Tue, 04/11/2008 - 16:40

Mick O'Sullivan and Martin Thomas

Local authority workers have not traditionally been as militant and organised as in major manufacturing industries. The method of payment the nature of the job, and the general lack of economic power all held them back.

But in 1969 a 'revolt of the low paid' began which involved local authority workers. London dustmen for example, used flying pickets.

This revolt from below was to continue through the early '70s. Trade union organisation began to be built - but also to become bureaucratised.

A whole negotiating structure and industrial relations procedures were built up, quite distant from the

Illusions of Power part 7: Stay in the fight!

Published on: Mon, 03/11/2008 - 18:07

John O'Mahony

The bitter experience of Labour in government in 1964-70 and in 1974-9 pushed many activists away from reformism and towards revolutionary socialism.

Now the experience of taking responsibility for the local government left 'in power' has pushed and sucked activists back to reformism, binding any former leftists to the new Labour establishment around Neil Kinnock.

That is a setback for the left and indeed a tragedy, which SO has fought for the last six years to avert or minimise.

The debacle of the local government left also contains the seeds of a subsidiary tragedy. It may propel a new wave

Illusions of Power part 8: Class Struggle or collaboration? A record of the dispute

Published on: Sun, 02/11/2008 - 19:21


The recent political collapse of much of the local government left in face of the Tory offensive was not inevitable. Other and better things were possible.

If, after the Tories won the general election of June 1979, Labour councillors had refused to carry through any of the cuts that the Tories were decreeing, and instead had used the council chamber as a platform to rouse and organise the local working class into active opposition and defiance of the class-war Tory government, then there was a good chance that they would have made 8ritain ungovernable. They could have inspired at least

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