Campaigning (and not setting a rate)

This chapter deals with the period 1984 to 1985 when left-wing councils fought together against the Tory government and refused to set their rates as a protest about caps on expenditure, which in some councils resulted in councillors being personally surcharged, sent to prison and being barred from future office. The first part deals with issues such as how the left-wingers in control were able to find ways to support the miners’ in their strike, and implement policies relating to anti-apartheid and peace. It also covers how the Council opposed the deportations due to changes in the immigration laws by Thatcher’s government and supported Viraj Mendis, amongst others, in their fight to stay in the country. There is a lot of detail about the complexity of voting at the time of setting the 1985/86 budget for the Council. That detail is a lesson in how every vote counts when you have a majority of only 1 and there are multiple factions who align at different points, so someone being sick, or about to have a baby, can be critical. Jump to Editor’s Comments

Opposing the Tory government
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Left of the Labour Party in Manchester was a loose coalition that included middle class professionals, working class trade unionists and so-called ‘Hard Left’ activists. It also included local government Trade Union officials who had negotiated a number of protectionist deals in the 1950s and were very influential in the Party. Their main aim was to maintain the status quo and so the ‘no cuts’ position of the Labour Left was useful to them. However, the left-wingers from the new socialist movements wanted to make radical changes to the status quo. None of the groupings could have won power without the others, so the alliance was useful to them all, but the lack of real coherence between them was to become problematic when the Left were in control of the Council administration after the local election on 3rd May 1984.

Having spent so many years struggling to defeat the right-wing in the Manchester Labour Party and gain enough seats to take control of the Council, the Left now faced a new set of challenges. The expectations for what could be achieved were huge and ambitious. Although a few people believed that councils controlled by the Left could be little Socialist islands, the majority saw the role of the Left in local government as one of campaigning against the Tories and building support for the return of a left-wing Labour government.

In an interview for Radio Manchester the day after the Labour Group AGM on 15th May 1984, Graham Stringer spelt out their determination to implement the Manifesto and make radical changes:

“…the city council, its services and the people of Manchester are under threat from this Conservative government. Rather than having the services improved, which is what is clearly needed in this city, the Conservative government want to lower the services and take the right away from local councillors to determine them. That will be our first priority – to build a campaign with other Labour authorities to defend those services and to say ‘no’ to the confrontation which the government is planning.”

The Labour Group and City Labour Party Relationship
In order to ensure that the new administration worked closely with, and remained accountable to, the City Party, it was agreed to set up a joint committee of representatives from the Group and the City Party – to be called the Joint Policy Committee (see Appendix 2A).

The City Party also reconstituted the policy working parties with the remit of monitoring the Council’s implementation of the Manifesto. At an early meeting of the Joint Policy Committee it was agreed that the Group whips (Val Dunn, Basil Curley and Marilyn Taylor) would interview the 28 right-wingers who had voted with the Tories and Liberals for a Tory Lord Mayor (see chapter 3). An ‘interview’ with the whips was the first stage of the Labour Group’s disciplinary process.

Campaign and Public Information Sub-committee
The first actions of the new administration were to establish new committees and new policy units within the Town Clerk’s department in order to implement the Manifesto. (The new committees structures set up are covered in more detail in chapter 4).

The first of these to be set up was the Campaign and Public Information Sub-committee (C&PI), reporting directly to the influential Policy Committee and with a brief for co-ordinating campaigns across the Council. Pat Karney was its Chair and Nick Harris the Deputy. According to John Nicholson, it had been agreed that the Secretary of the Labour Group would be responsible for co-ordinating all campaigns and Pat Karney had successfully lobbied hard to be elected Secretary, because he was very keen to be responsible for campaigns.

Each Council committee had to have a Campaign Working Party as a mechanism for ensuring that each department publicised what it was doing to implement the Manifesto and so that the workers in each department knew what the politicians were trying to achieve.

A Campaign and Public Information Unit was established (Pat pushed very hard for this) to work alongside the Public Relations Unit of the Town Clerk’s department, as it was felt to be important that it was located centrally. The Public Relations Unit really only consisted of one officer plus clerical support, and this was not disestablished because Graham Stringer considered the officer to be a ‘good bloke’ (or so it was thought). A budget of £100,000 was allocated to the unit (including the staffing costs) and on 11th July 1984, John Nicholson reported to the City Party that the staffing structure had been agreed, although the Head of the Unit wasn’t appointed until May 1985 and other posts weren’t appointed until November 1985[1].

Each committee chair was despatched to mass meetings of the workforce in each department to talk to employees about Labour’s manifesto and what the new administration was trying to do.

Marilyn Taylor remembers that the main concerns of the staff in the Recreation department were around sexuality. According to Marilyn, the workers in the Recreation department didn’t have a problem about gender equality because they believed men would always get the jobs, and they didn’t have a problem about race equality because they believed black people didn’t want to work in the department, but they did have a problem with gay equality. In society generally at that time, homophobia was rife, partly because homosexuality was equated with paedophilia.

The Manchester Magazine
The first task set by the C&PI Committee was to change the civic newspaper – The Mancunian Way – giving it a modern and commercial-looking format, but with a campaigning style. It was renamed the ‘Manchester Magazine’ with pictures and ‘human interest’ stories. The first edition came out in July 1984 and it was produced every two months until May 1986, when it was produced monthly[2].

The Tories were opposed to this publication and dubbed it ‘socialist propaganda on the rates’, but surprisingly, so were the Liberals. Although they might have supported the principle of such a publication, given their commitment to community involvement, they presumably also saw it as Labour propaganda.

Pat Karney was the driving force behind the Manchester Magazine, but when he had to take compassionate leave in October 1985 (because his mother and sister died within two weeks of each other), Nick Harris was left with the job of Chair, and he realised then that he hadn’t really thought much about the campaigning issues. However, it had been Nick and the Head of the Unit who came up with the campaign slogan ‘defending jobs, improving services’ in June 1985. This slogan was emblazoned on all council vehicles and small badges were produced for all council employees to wear.

Supporting the Miners
One of the first manifestations of the new approach to the administration of the Council was open support for the miners’ strike. Attempts were made to provide financial support for striking miners by waiving the £220 fee for hiring the Free Trade Hall for a rally and producing a Council poster in support of the miners, but these were deemed to be illegal by the Town Clerk (Jim Hetherington). The legal ruling obtained said that councils can “inform but not persuade, unless on such issues as smoking, etc”, so a motion was put through the Council to reduce the hiring fee to £10 and to provide a Christmas party in the Town Hall for miners’ children.

The relief of hardship, on the other hand, was deemed to be legal, so a donation of £12,500 was made towards the hardship fund for miners’ wives that had been set up by the Greater Manchester County Council. Other ways were sought to provide support, such as organising collections of money and food and encouraging the Council’s workforce to contribute. John Nicholson recalls that the wages that were saved when council workers went on strike were also paid into the hardship fund.

Naturally, the Tories opposed all these proposals and they tried to get the Free Trade Hall fee, and the full cost of the children’s party, to be charged to Graham Stringer personally, by putting a motion to the Council meeting. But this was easily defeated by the Labour Group.

As well as the work being done by Labour Party branches and individual members to support the striking miners (joining picket lines, running fund-raisers, etc), the City Party itself regularly took collections at meetings from October 1984 to January 1985.

The Party had also picked up rumours that coal was being imported to Britain from East Germany, thereby undermining the strike, and pressed the Labour Group to use its influence to prevent this happening. As the Council had links with the East German city of Karl-Marx-Stadt, Graham Stringer wrote to his opposite number in that city and received assurances that no such exports were happening.

Manchester the first UK Nuclear Free Zone
The link with Karl-Marx-Stadt (later re-named Chemnitz) had been established in 1983 and had come about because of the work within the peace movement of an individual councillor, Bill Risby, and the Nuclear Free Zone (NFZ) movement. Manchester was the first UK city to become a Nuclear Free Zone, which it did in October 1980 (see Appendix 2B)

Bill Risby was one of those who, prior to 1984, attacked the left-wingers in Labour Group meetings, but he had become increasingly uncomfortable at being part of the right-wing grouping, and had only remained with them because he was committed to following the whip. When the Left councillors had the whip restored and formed the new administration, he changed his allegiance. This made him very unpopular with the Right, but he maintained that majority rule is a paramount principle.

At the 1984 Council Annual Meeting in May, Arnold Spencer had been elected as the new Chair of the Council’s NFZ Committee (previously chaired by Bill), but he and Bill worked closely together and after a few years, Bill was back as the Chair. By this time, there were 170 members of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities.

In July 1984, the International NFZ movement held its first ever conference in Manchester, which raised the profile of both the movement and the city’s new administration. At this conference, the socialist-controlled city of Cordoba in Spain made its peace declaration and requested a friendship link with Manchester and at the policy committee on 29th August 1984, this friendship link was formally declared[3].

In Autumn 1984, Arnold Spencer attended as Manchester’s delegate to the 2nd International Peace Conference, which was hosted by Cordoba in Spain, and peace declarations between Cordoba and Manchester were exchanged. The 1984 Manifesto had listed ‘promoting peace’ as the 4th highest priority, but there was very little to explain what would be done or how.

The Manifesto stated:

“Labour will use its nuclear free zone policy to campaign for peace, opposing the expensive sham of Tory civil defence plans and supporting peace initiatives in schools.

“We shall continue the City Council’s policy of maintaining Manchester as a nuclear-free zone. We shall campaign against the manufacture here of such weapons or their components, and campaign for alternative employment. We oppose central government directions on Civil Defence. We will try to open up bunkers to public viewing and attempt to stop the transport of nuclear materials through the city. We shall give active support to peace groups in the city.”

Arnold Spencer was very committed to the peace movement and as part of his role as Chair of the Planning Committee he steered through the establishment of a ‘Peace Garden’ (including a statue of a woman with doves and a paved area for public gatherings) at the corner of Lloyd Street and Princess Street, which was opened in June 1986 and is still used as a focal point for peace campaigners.

Anti-Apartheid in South Africa
Very soon after the new administration took over, as a gesture of support for the fight against apartheid in South Africa, it was decided to cover up the South African coat of arms (painted on the ceiling of the Great Hall) with the ANC flag. However a mistake was made and the flag used was actually a SWAPO[4] one. The flag remained in place until the ANC won the South African elections in 1994.

In September 1984, the Policy Committee made a decision that the Council would boycott South African goods (as a further protest against the apartheid regime). However, at an anti-apartheid conference some time later, Hilary Knight (Graham Stringer’s personal assistant at the time) was horrified when she noticed that the oranges being served as part of the refreshments were from South Africa. It was clear that the council officers responsible for purchasing hadn’t realised the significance of the policy decision, or maybe the information hadn’t been transmitted down the line. This was a perfect example of the difficulty in effecting change in a large and complex organisation. An Anti-apartheid Sub-committee was later set up (yet another set of meetings!) to ensure co-ordination of this policy.

Friendship with Nicaragua
Also at the September 1984 Policy Committee meeting, it was decided to establish a friendship agreement with a town in Nicaragua (see Appendix 2C) – Puerto Cabezas. At the following Council meeting, 19 of the Labour Right voted against this, but the decision was carried. When the formal agreement with Puerto Cabezas was signed, Graham Stringer was quoted in the Manchester Magazine as follows:

“Our primary purpose is to show our support for the people of Nicaragua and to draw public attention to what is going on in that country. We want to discourage other states from interfering in the internal affairs of Nicaragua. We want Nicaragua to be free to make progress under its democratically-elected Sandinista government.”

A number of Labour Party activists became very involved with this ‘twinning’ arrangement by making visits to Puerto Cabezas and contributing to development projects (eg health provision). They also organised socials, concerts and festivals in Manchester, which not only raised money for the projects, but were also a lot of fun – proving that socialists also had a lighter, fun-loving side to them!

Anti-war agenda
Part of the agenda for promoting peace, meant opposing the armed forces, particularly in relation to recruitment displays (which were thought to ‘glamorise’ war) in the city, such as those at the Annual Manchester Show in Platt Fields Park.

Whilst not everyone on the Left was a pacifist, most were opposed to the armed forces recruiting working class ‘lads’ without other career prospects and then sending them off to get killed in ‘imperialist’ wars. Some of the left-wingers were actually hostile towards the soldiers themselves, because of the role played by the army in Northern Ireland, and the reports of brutality against Catholic families.

The commitment to end the involvement of the Armed Forces had been inadvertently omitted from the 1984 Manifesto, but had been in the 1982 policy document. The previous Council leadership had given a commitment to ending the displays, but had failed to carry it through. As Chair of the Recreation Committee, it fell to Val Stevens to implement this policy. At the start of the new administration in May 1984, it was too late to do anything about the show due in August 1984, but the City Party was keen to see their presence ended for the following year.

It was agreed by the Joint Policy Committee that anything the Council was not contractually committed to would be terminated and that the Group leadership should issue a press statement explaining the Council’s position, and encouraging peace groups to have a presence at the show. What then happened was that the military withdrew (breaking its contracts with the Council) and so there was no input from the armed forces at the 1985 show. A motion of censure[5] on Val Stevens was moved at Council (October 1984) for preventing discussion of this at the Recreation Committee – she was accused of ‘gagging’ Members.

The attitude of the Tories and the Labour right-wing towards the armed forces was very similar to their attitude towards the police – ie they were pillars of society and could do no wrong – so there was a lot of antagonism towards the Left on this issue.

Supporting asylum seekers
The controversy in relation to the miners, or the armed forces, or the police, was as nothing compared to the controversy around the issue of immigration, and one individual in particular – Viraj Mendis – whose campaign against deportation to Sri Lanka became a ‘cause célèbre’ in the city.

Individual councillors and Labour Party members had been involved in many anti-deportation campaigns (see Appendix 2D) and in the Summer of 1984, a Council Anti-deportation Working Party was established, followed by, in July 1985, a ‘Special Needs’ Charitable Trust to assist those threatened with deportation. The councillors weren’t allowed to use tax-payers money to help people in this way, but a few hundred thousands pounds was invested in a special high-interest bearing account, so that the interest generated could be used for giving out hardship grants. This was deemed by the City Solicitor to be perfectly legal, since the original sum of money wasn’t being spent. Hundreds of desperately poor people, who had no access to any other source of income, were helped, although the individual sums given out rarely amounted to more than a few pounds.

Labour Party support for Viraj Mendis (see Appendix 2E) began innocuously with a motion of support at the City Party (as with many other anti-deportation campaigns) but then it escalated to achieve national notoriety and a resolution of support for his campaign was passed at Labour’s National Annual Conference in the Autumn of 1987, even though he was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Group (publishers of ‘Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!’). The Party’s support for Viraj was cited as a major contributory factor in the loss of many Labour council seats in May 1987, although it was really only one of many factors that contributed to Labour’s unpopularity at the time (see chapter 11).

Fighting the Government by not setting a rate
Whilst all of the campaigns – in support of the miners, in support of Nicaragua, against apartheid, against deportations – were passionate and involved a lot of time and commitment, by far the most significant campaigning activity conducted by the new Left administration was aimed at removing the Conservative government.

For most of the Left activists, this was the main reason for their involvement in the Council. For others, removing the Conservative government was just a necessary step in the fight to defend public services. To achieve this aim, Manchester’s Labour Council joined forces with other left-controlled Labour councils and the campaigning strategy devised was to not ‘set a rate.

The level of domestic and business rates had to be set annually at a special Council meeting, at which the budget for the forthcoming year was agreed. This was (and is still) a legal requirement, and to refuse to set a rate would have carried financial sanctions against individual councillors. So the words used in the campaign had to be chosen very carefully.

The budget for 1984/85 had been set in March 1984, before the Left had a majority. Only 43 councillors (out of 99) had voted for it, with three against and the rest (including the Labour Left) abstaining. It was expected that 5% cuts would have to be made compared with the previous year’s budget in order to get the expenditure down to the target of £243.746 million set by the government.

At the Labour Group AGM on 23 May 1984, Frances Done had been elected as the Chair of the Finance Committee. She hadn’t really wanted this role, but was the obvious choice as she was at the time the Finance Manager for the Housing Corporation’s North West Region, and had the most knowledge and expertise in relation to public expenditure accounting.

In July 1984, the City Party had convened a conference to discuss the forthcoming budget, but also better ways of campaigning and keeping members informed. The conference speakers included the Leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, and the Leader of Greenwich Council, John Austin-Walker.

At this conference three options were discussed:

  1. setting an expansionist budget (and increasing the rates, despite the capping regime, to pay for the additional expenditure);
  2. setting a deficit budget (leaving a gap between the proposed expenditure and the means to pay for it – an illegal act); or,
  3. not levying a rate (a new idea).

There was no agreement nationally on which of theses strategies to pursue. Lambeth favoured not setting a rate, Liverpool was undecided, and some of Manchester’s Left councillors (but not a majority) were in favour of setting a deficit budget. Eventually, Manchester decided to go for the ‘not setting a rate’ strategy. ‘A Budget for Manchester’ was suggested as a campaign slogan, with a committee to co-ordinate the campaign.

The Joint Policy meeting on 28th August 1984 drew up a detailed plan of action which involved steps to try to get Trade Union support and support from other councils. The plan included:

  1. Offering speakers and model resolutions to every Trade Union branch.
  2. Graham Stringer eliciting support from the Council’s Trade Union Forum.
  3. Committee chairs and deputies establishing links with departmental Trade Unions and encouraging cross-departmental meetings of shop stewards.
  4. Sending a copy of the Manifesto to every Council employee with a covering letter from Graham Stringer (as Council Leader) explaining what had already been achieved.

A formal motion was carried at the Council meeting in September 1984 opposing the Rates Act (which introduced ‘capping’ the level of rates that could be set by councils) and expressing support for those councils opposing it. It was agreed that Manchester should be part of a delegation (with other councils) meeting government representatives. The City Treasurer had calculated that Manchester had lost £9 billion in Rate Support Grant (RSG) from the government since 1982 and in all future campaign leaflets and Council resolutions this figure was used and was referred to as having been ‘stolen’ from Manchester.

Learning about the budget
Having spent the summer months getting to grips with the administration and setting up new units, and increasing spending, the new leadership now had to get their heads round the basis for the revenue expenditure estimates as there was no consistency in the way Chief Officers reported on their departments’ expenditure. It was quickly recognised that there was a need to rationalise the committee base budgets[6].

Councillors also had to get to grips with the RSG penalty system that was both unfair and almost impossible for anyone to understand. In simplistic terms, it meant that the greater the expenditure above the level set by government, the greater was the penalty, on a sliding scale. But the mechanism for working it out was incomprehensible to all but the most competent of accountants, and very few members of the Labour Group understood it.

Early predictions were that there would be a gap of £26 million between the target expenditure set by government and what the estimated expenditure would actually be. Cutting this amount of money from the budget, or the impossibly high rate that would need to be set in order to cover that gap, were both unacceptable options.

The Petition for Manchester
A new campaign was launched – calling on residents to sign ‘The Petition for Manchester’. Council workers were encouraged to join councillors and party activists in collecting signatures (door to door and on street stalls, etc).

Nationally, work was being done to co-ordinate the campaign for councils collectively to ‘not set a rate’. The legal date for setting a rate was the end of March, but Manchester’s Labour Group was determined to hold to the nationally agreed strategy, whilst not refusing to set a rate or setting an unbalanced budget, which would have been illegal.

The threat of individual councillors being surcharged (ie having to pay the deficit as individuals) loomed large. Some councillors began exploring the possibilities of putting their homes in their partners’ names and there were serious worries about bankruptcies and even prison. In the light of the impact on people’s personal lives, it was clear (at least after the event) that there was little or no prospect of an illegal strategy achieving a majority at a Council meeting.

Sheffield, with David Blunkett as Leader, and Liverpool, with John Hamilton as Leader and Militant Tendency supporter, Derek Hatton, as Deputy were going through the same process. Graham Stringer had close links with David Blunkett and John Nicholson kept in touch with Hamilton and Hatton. The London boroughs of Islington, Greenwich and Lambeth were also key members of the campaign[7].

At the Council meeting on 6th February 1985 there was a long resolution passed about RSG and government policies. It was agreed that Graham Stringer, together with other Council Leaders, would lobby the government, calling for an end to targets and penalties and for the suspension of the Rates Act. Because of the illegality of not setting a rate, the form of words used in Council had to be chosen even more carefully than those used on Labour’s campaign literature.

The Manchester Petition (signed by over 100,000 Manchester residents) was delivered to the Secretary of State, Patrick Jenkins, by a delegation of the five Manchester MPs, Graham Stringer (as Council Leader), John Nicholson (as Deputy Leader), and representatives from the City Labour Party (including me as City Party Secretary). Jenkins refused to meet us and so we handed the petition in to number 10 Downing Street as a protest, ensuring that the press took photos of this. We also used the photos in our subsequent leaflets – to publicise the contempt with which the Tory government treated Manchester residents.

The detail of the budget and all the meetings
The opposition parties and the Labour Right were getting extremely agitated about the failure to set a rate and the imminence of surcharge and, in addition to the normal meeting on 13th March 1985, there were four extraordinary Council meetings called between then and the end of March.

The 13th March meeting was relatively short, but there were 12 amendments tabled opposing budget expenditure that had been agreed by the Policy and Resources Committee, none of which were carried. There was also an amendment from the Tories (supported by the Liberals) to delete the agreed support for the striking miners, but this was easily defeated in an interesting show of solidarity between the Labour Left and Right. Also, the following statement on the budget was agreed:

“This Council recognises the continued Conservative government attacks on living standards and re-iterates the Council’s policy on 23rd May 1984 of protecting jobs, improving services and freezing council house rents. Since 23rd May 1984, the evidence gained from representations and widespread consultation from all sections of the community in Manchester, reinforces the reasons for these policies.”

Prior to the Policy & Resources Committee on Monday 18th March, a meeting of all the Committee Chairs and Deputies was convened by Graham Stringer, and members of the City Party Executive Committee (EC) were invited to it (in effect, the Left Caucus). Graham Stringer reported on the national campaign:

“Basildon was the only one of the rate-capped councils to have broken away from the united position; The Secretary of State [Patrick Jenkin] had replied to David Blunkett that he wouldn’t discuss the basis of the Rates Act and he wouldn’t meet a delegation of council leaders; Manchester had received correspondence from the District Auditor to the effect that what they were planning might be in breach of the 1967 Rates Act and be illegal; Hackney might run out of money in a few days”.

Despite the bleak outlook, it was agreed that support for the national ‘no rate’ position must be maintained for as long as possible and that it would be tactically wrong to have a fall-back position (since that position would then be the one from which negotiation would start). Graham’s view was that if the Left were defeated in Council by the three opposition groupings[8] they would only be tied to the rate set and that the budget detail could be re-worked within that global amount. The Committee Chairs and Deputies were to meet on Wednesday 20th March (prior to the City Party EC in the evening) to go through the detail of the budget’s so-called ‘improvement bids’ (additional money required by each committee in order to implement the commitments in the Manifesto), and the EC would have to set some general principles for prioritising (rather than also going through the detail).

At the Policy and Resources Committee, the following resolution was passed:

“Having considered all the information submitted to us, both today and on 6th February, we consider that there has been no significant change to our circumstances since Council on 13th March and so recommend that Council re-affirm its previous decision that it will be impossible today to make a rate, bearing in mind the needs of the people and the interests of the ratepayers.”

On television over the weekend, Jack Cunningham, Labour’s shadow Secretary of State, publicly attacked the councils passing a ‘no rate’ position. This was a blow, but we took some comfort in the fact that his view was not official Labour Party policy as the National Executive Committee (NEC) Local Government Sub-committee had passed a resolution supporting the stand.

On 20th March, Graham Stringer gave an update on the national position to the City Party:

“Some of the councils will not be able to hold the line; the AMA[9] and the ACC[10] are to be asked to start negotiations with the government; Given Jack Cunningham’s stated position, nothing would be gained by asking Labour’s front bench to negotiate.”

He outlined the Manchester Labour Group leadership’s aim, which was to get the ‘waverers’ to stick with them – ie get through the ‘1st April barrier’ without fixing a rate. The tactics in the Council chamber would be to vote down Tory and Liberal budgets and then, if the ‘no rate’ position was lost, present the Left’s budget.

He and Frances then went through the key budget issues that had been discussed at the Chairs and Deputies meeting earlier in the day. The procedure they had adopted in going through all the improvement bids, was to delete anything which was contrary to the Manifesto, or was insufficiently worked out. At the end of the process, the total improvement bids left in the budget amounted to £28.5 million. If they had started with that amount to distribute, it would have been allocated differently, and this highlighted the problems with the process, which would need to be changed for future years.

After questions and discussion, Party members accepted most of the recommendations from the Chairs and Deputies Group, including the recognition that it wouldn’t be possible to draw up a comprehensive low pay strategy (one of the crucial Manifesto commitments) straight away, but only make a start on it. The basic principle of upgrading manual and clerical posts was paramount and a sum of £370,000 was to be put into the budget and negotiations started with the Trade Unions for its distribution. Also, an (unspecified) amount of money would be placed in the Equal Opportunities budget for employing staff, who would be allocated to service departments when they were properly able to utilise them. This was considered to be preferable to individual departments recruiting their own Equal Opportunities staff (see chapter 5).

There were disagreements with some of the recommendations around the Direct Works budget – the support for the craft workers being very strong within the Party. A sum of £230,000 had been deleted from the list of Direct Works improvement bids, but as this was for a contracts compliance unit (which was a Manifesto commitment) the money was re-instated. Money for housing maintenance had also been deleted and was put back in by the Party.

Having got an agreed Left budget (although not completely satisfactory) and agreed tactics for dealing with budget debates in the Council chamber, a lot of work went on behind the scenes to persuade the ‘waverers’ to hold firm. The numbers were extremely tight and Graham’s point about the ‘three opposition groupings’ was very pertinent.

The Three Opposition Groupings and a majority of 1
At the time, there were only 97 councillors in total, because of 2 vacancies[11]. The opposition groupings referred to were[12]:

  • the Tories – 14, including the Lord Mayor, Harold Tucker
  • the Liberals – 6
  • the Labour right-wingers – 28

This made a total opposition of 48. The Left had 49 members, so only a majority of only 1, but this included 8 people who were not seen as being as solidly committed to all the Left’s policies (‘Soft Left’ as opposed to ‘Hard Left’) and therefore likely to ‘waver’. These 8 were Keith Barnes, Tony Burns, Norman Finley, Jack Flanagan, Mike Harrison, Kevan Lim, Bill Risby and Winnie Smith.

The Labour Right were also meeting regularly and planning their budget strategy, with Alan Wood as, in effect, their ‘shadow’ finance spokesman. As a group, they were no more homogeneous in their politics than the Left, having their politically ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ individuals, although I’m sure they were confident that even their ‘soft’ members would not support the ‘no rate’ position. However, they were not at all unified or coherent in their voting at the March budget meetings as the following paragraphs show.

Over the next eight days there were four extraordinary Council meetings convened.

1st Extraordinary Meeting Friday 22nd March 1985
The first of these extraordinary meetings was called by the Liberals on Friday 22nd March 1985, at which they put forward an amendment to the statement from 18th March, attempting to set a general rate of 273p and a domestic rate of 254.5p and give detailed budgets to departments. Pat Karney was absent from this meeting, but so were two from the Labour Right (Reg Latham and Cliff Tomlinson), making just 94 councillors present to vote. This Liberal amendment was lost, with the voting being as follows:

  • For: 22 (16 Labour Right + 6 Liberals)
  • Against: 56 (9 Labour Right + 47 Labour Left)
  • Absentions: 16 (1 Labour Right + Bill Risby + 14 Tories)

So the Labour Right were split on the issue of whether or not to support the Liberal budget.

The Liberals then put forward a second amendment about the Council ‘intending to fix a rate before 1st April’. This was again lost, with the voting as follows:

  • For: 27 (6 Liberals + 14 Tories + 6 Labour Right + Norman Finley)
  • Against: 58 (47 Labour Left + Bill Risby + 11 Labour Right)
  • Abstentions: 9 (9 Labour Right)

The Right were still split, but voting differently from the first time.

2nd Extraordinary Meeting Monday 25th March 1985
The second extraordinary Council meeting was also called by the Liberals, on Monday 25th March at 7.30pm to put a budget motion. Pat Karney was absent again, and so was Nick Harris, but two from the Right were also absent (Cliff Tomlinson and Pat Paget), giving a total of 93 councillors present to vote. The Tories moved an amendment to it, but only they voted for it (apart from the Lord Mayor, who abstained), so it was lost. Alan Wood (Labour Right) abstained rather than voting against, which was surprising.

The Liberals’ motion was then put (proposing a higher rate than at their previous attempt), but was lost with the voting as follows:

  • For: 23 (6 Liberals + 17 Labour Right[13]).
  • Against: 52 (6 Labour Right + 48 Labour Left)
  • Abstentions: 18 (14 Tories + 3 Labour Right[14] + Bill Risby)

Very little of this drama was covered by the Manchester Evening News. On Wednesday 27th March there was a small article on the front page headed ‘Jenkins deaf to rate plea’. The article referred to 112,000 names on the petition, but there was no coverage of the two extraordinary Council meetings that week. The final edition had a bigger article headed ‘Maggie snubs city’s petition’ and did refer to a Council meeting due to be held on Sunday 31st March.

Two meetings on Sunday 31st March 1985
There were actually two Council meetings that had been called for Sunday 31st March. The first had been called by the Tories for 2.30pm, to put a motion on an intention to fix a rate, and the second called by the Labour Right.

This latter one was called for 3pm, or at the rise of the previous one, and was for Alan Wood’s budget proposal. The order paper requesting the meeting was signed by 21 of the 28 Labour right-wingers, plus Bill Risby. This scuppered the Left’s majority of one and gave the three opposition groups a majority of one (if they all voted together).

When it came to the day, Nilofar Siddiqi (one of the Labour Left) couldn’t attend, so the Labour Left had no majority and only had the possibility of 47 votes as a maximum.

At the first of the two meetings, the Labour Left moved an amendment to disapprove the Tory motion on the grounds that it was impossible to set a rate. But this was lost with 45 votes for and 51 against. Staying with the Left were Keith Barnes, Tony Burns, Jack Flanagan, Mike Harrison and Kevan Lim, but Norman Finley, Bill Risby and Winnie Smith voted with the Right against the Left’s amendment. For the Left to lose their amendment at this point was a blow, but not entirely unexpected.

Once the Labour Left amendment had been lost, the original (substantive) Tory motion on the intention to set a rate before 1st April 1985 was then put to the vote and was carried by 51 votes for, to 45 against, with no-one changing their position from the previous vote.

The Tories then put a second motion on the amount of rate to be set (an increase of 0.6%) and a package of cuts (including abolition of the five new units (£1million) and a rent increase). But this motion was lost. Only the Tories voted for it (14) with 78 voting against (including the Labour Right) and 5 abstentions (including Lee, Risby, Wood).

So, at this point the Council had an agreed position of intending to set a rate, but without an indication of what rate was to be set.

The Labour right-wing had obviously got their act together by this meeting and were very clear about their tactics. They had defeated the ‘not setting a rate’ position by voting with the Tories, but then defeated the Tory budget by voting with the Labour Left, leaving them free to put forward their own budget at the second meeting, which in the event started at 5.40pm.

At this meeting Alan Wood put forward a budget motion to make £35.4 million of cuts in order to reduce net city expenditure to £253.4 million (and thus avoid penalties). The general rate was to be increased by 4.5% and the domestic rate by 4.8%. The package of cuts he proposed, didn’t involve cutting all of the Left’s ‘sacred cows’, which was probably an attempt to woo over some of the Soft Left[15].

At 8.30pm an adjournment (for sandwiches) was agreed for an hour and a half and there was a Left Caucus during the break to discuss how to rescue the situation. People were worried about their personal circumstances and the possibility of surcharge. Over the previous weeks and months, Regional and National Labour Party officials had been leaning on everybody to capitulate. Some still wanted to make a stand, but there wasn’t a majority for continuing the fight.

At the reconvened Council meeting, John Nicholson proposed a motion to suspend Standing Order 18[16] (to enable reconsideration of decisions taken within the last six months). He spoke at length (pure filibustering as he admits now, although without any clear idea of what delaying would really achieve, other than to get past midnight and achieve the ‘not setting a rate’ by 31st March[17]). Pat Paget (councillor for Moss Side and one of the cleverer (and ‘soft’) right-wingers) guessed that was the intention and proposed a motion – “that Cllr Nicholson be not further heard”, but this was not carried (44 for, 47 against), and so John filibustered on. When the motion to suspend Standing Order 18 was finally put to the vote, it was lost (45 for, 51 against).

Then in a surprise move, an amendment to the Alan Wood motion was moved by Jack Flanagan and supported by Mike Harrison, Kevan Lim and Keith Barnes (without the permission of the Labour Group). It had a long preamble about protecting jobs and services and the impossibility of the situation, etc, but then proposed setting overall expenditure at £254 million with a General Rate increase of 5.5% and Domestic Rate increase of 6%. Detailed committee estimates were to be submitted in the first week of May. This amendment was eventually carried with only one vote against (Sam Darby), and 12 abstentions (all Tories). Even the Liberals voted for it. I’m not sure why the Labour Right supported this, but maybe they felt it was the best compromise possible and were happy to see some of the Soft Left apparently splitting off from the others.

At that point it was midnight and the meeting closed. Hilary Knight (Graham Stringer’s personal assistant) pointed out later that the Labour Group had actually failed to follow the correct Council procedure by moving a substantive motion after the amendment was carried. But everyone was too exhausted to think about those details and none of the council officials pointed it out at the time.

But despite all the drama and trauma experienced by both the Left and the Right, it was all belittled by the editor of the Manchester Evening News in his editorial on 1st April 1985.

“It was entirely appropriate that Manchester City Council should come to its senses on the eve of All Fool’s Day”!

He described the drama as “weeks of pointless huffing and puffing” and noted the irony of the budget being moved by a left-winger (even though Jack Flanagan wasn’t really considered to be so by the Left).

Behind the scenes there was a personal drama occurring alongside the political one. At that time, Frances Done was eight months pregnant with her second child and she was supposed to get as much rest as possible. At every opportunity she left the Council chamber to lie down on one of the couches in the members’ lounge, but there were serious concerns about the effect the stress would have on her pregnancy. Fortunately, neither she nor the baby suffered any ill effects.

It had also been agreed that as many members as possible of the City Party Executive Committee would attend the Council meeting as observers and be on hand for consultation (ie Left Caucus meetings) during adjournments, and, as Secretary of the City Party, I was expecting to attend. But, I had been planning a house move during March, and the legal completion date kept moving back until finally settling on Sunday 31st March. Having hired a van and recruited friends to help, I had no option but to miss the Council meeting. With no mobile phones in those days, it was very difficult trying to keep in touch with what was happening and so I missed all the excitement.

Considering disciplinary action against the Party Right
At the Joint Policy Committee meeting on 2nd April there was a discussion about taking action against those councillors who hadn’t followed the Party policy at the Council meetings, but there was a recognition that, without support from the NEC, it would be impossible to expel people from the Labour Group.

Graham Stringer took an uncompromising view of the climb-down and reported the events to the City Party on 10th April as follows:

“Our withdrawing from the National campaign is a real disgrace. There is now no support for other Labour councillors. We are not standing shoulder to shoulder with our comrades. However, we haven’t, and we won’t, cut services. The four acting against the agreed tactics will be disciplined (they have offered to resign from committees). There is a massive difference between those four and those who vote more often with the Tories than with the Labour Group. We must move to a position where the latter are less and less part of the administration. It is a mystery as to why some of them still keep the Labour Party label. They should be honest and join the Tory party. There are a variety of reasons for councillors’ voting patterns and every one must be looked at individually. If there is no support for Group policy, then they must be removed from committees. There is no question of withdrawing the whip because of agreements reached during the NEC enquiry last year. Apart from which, withdrawing the whip would not affect voting in the Council.

“A large number of amendments had been tabled, in order to specify particular things to be kept in the budget, but in the event, the first amendment to be taken was one put by Jack Flanagan, Mike Harrison, Kevan Lim and Keith Barnes (without the permission of the Labour Group), which put forward a 6% rate increase. At this stage, there was no option but for the majority Labour Group to support this, since the alternative would have been the lower rate increase (with cuts in services) put forward by Alan Wood.”

Although Graham was taking a tough and uncompromising stand, I suspect he recognised the inevitability of the final position. The Left didn’t have a majority, which made it fairly certain that a vote for anything legally risky would be lost.

In relation to the disciplinary action proposed by the Joint Policy Committee, it was agreed that the Labour Group whips should ‘interview’ the councillors who voted against party policy and that the City Party Secretary (ie me), should write to the wards with ‘recalcitrant’ councillors and offer to send a speaker (to explain the seriousness of the situation).

At this point it was felt that the political battle was over, but in fact there were to be years of further political struggles as service department Chief Officers and Committee Chairs struggled to make the necessary cuts to their budgets. According to John Nicholson – the Town Clerk, Peter Hetherington, and City Treasurer, Peter Short, didn’t appreciate the political significance of the cuts that would have to be made in service department budgets.

Back to the Campaigning
At the Campaign Working Party meeting on 19th April, many of the Party members showed no empathy for what the councillors had recently been through. They were angry that no councillors were present at the meeting and wrote a very strong letter to the Group officers. They also expressed anger and frustration at the way the campaign was being run, citing a lack of strategy and planning from the campaign unit and expressed disbelief and ‘disgust’ that rates bills had been sent out across the city with no political input to explain to residents what was going on. They wanted to persuade the Labour Group to pursue strategy of deficit budgeting and challenging the legal rulings, even though there was clearly no majority amongst the councillors for this strategy.

Although some of the Party activists seemed to think that the Labour Group officers were doing nothing, they were in fact working extremely hard, within a very short time-scale, to put together some budget options for the Left Caucus to discuss on 28th April. Frances Done was working against the clock due to the imminent birth of her second child. The opposition councillors were trying to push for early meetings to agree the detailed budget by moving amendments at the Council meeting on 24th April (all of which were lost).

At this meeting, the Liberals also moved an amendment condemning the government, but “regretting the inability of the leadership to grasp the opportunity to put Manchester’s case when invited to meet three government Ministers concerned with inner-city problems and deploring the refusal to meet and negotiate with Ministers a better deal for Manchester.” An example of their naivety in imagining that any concessions could be wrought from Tory ministers for a Labour Council.

The task facing the Labour Group at this point was enormous. The difference between the base budget (which included £30 million of service improvements) and the £254 million overall budget agreed on 31st March, was £31.9 million. One option of course would have been to forgo the £30 million improvements and then only minor cuts would be needed to achieve a balanced budget, but these improvements were all seen as crucial new policy initiatives and Manifesto commitments.

So, on Sunday 28th April, the Left Caucus met in the morning, followed by the City Party EC at 2pm, followed by the City Party meeting at 3pm.

The recommendation from the Left Caucus was as follows:

“…that the Labour Group recommend to the City Council a budget with the maximum amount of improvement bids (with a minimum of £4 million) together with a clear statement that the Labour Group will pursue the rest of the £30 million improvement bids previously considered by the City Party.

“The Labour Group should prioritise these improvement bids in consultation with the City Party and continue its campaign in defence of jobs and services by improving the current inadequate level of services.”

There was a vigorous debate at the Executive Committee meeting, with a motion being put that all the improvement bids should be included (ie a deficit budget be put forward), but this motion was not carried. Eventually it was agreed that the Chair should present the recommendation (above) to the City Party meeting with an explanation of how and why the decision had been arrived at (in an attempt to avoid a re-run of the same debate at the City Party meeting) and ask for the EC to be given delegated powers to agree the detail of the budget on 7th May.

However, at the subsequent City Party meeting, there was a re-run of the same debate, with the same motion about setting a deficit budget being put. But again, this was not carried. There was also a motion put that all the detailed departmental budgets be discussed at the City Party, rather than delegated to the EC, but this was also lost – the impracticability of dealing with so much financial detail (much of it confidential) in such a large forum was fortunately recognised by the majority of delegates.

A detailed budget (which included just £4 million of improvements/policy initiatives) was finally put forward at Policy & Resources Committee on 8th May 1985 (after being agreed by the City Party EC the day before). Graham Stringer argued that the extra £4 million could be justified because the Council traditionally under-spent its budget by about 1.5% each year. Alan Wood questioned the legality of making this assumption and including growth in the budget, but he didn’t pursue the argument. In the event, £5 million of growth was included. The P&R Committee also agreed the following statement:

“This Council will continue to campaign for financial justice for the people of Manchester. This would mean the return to Manchester of the millions of pounds of rate support grant and housing subsidy stolen from Manchester over the last six years.”

Support was also expressed for Lambeth’s continued stand against setting a rate.

When the budget came to the Council on 16th May 1985 for endorsement, the Tories moved amendments to refer it back and to oppose support for councils not yet setting a rate. These amendments were lost, with the Labour Right abstaining.

City Party involvement in budget setting
The proposed budget improvements became problematic in another way because the City Party wanted a say in how this money was spent. Consultation with the Party had been agreed, and there were continuing complaints that Chief Officers additional spending proposals were being agreed with no political consideration of them. The Trade Union representatives complained that committees were using different criteria for assessing these bids and that there was no TU consultation. Various attempts by the Party representatives to get involved in monitoring improvement expenditure were unsuccessful.

Towards the end of May 1985, David Black (a City Party officer at the time) put forward a detailed paper pointing out that the agreed process was flawed because the Party activists would inevitably be less well informed than the councillors who were chairs of major service committees, and the papers produced to back up the improvement bids were hard to reconcile with the policy statements. He recommended that the format for budget presentations should be altered with each proposal clearly stating the number (and type) of jobs affected, and how the proposal linked to the Party’s policies on Equal Opportunities, low pay, Neighbourhood Services or any other key policies. His paper made a number of other detailed proposals for improving the consultation process, but the EC deferred full consideration of the paper until its June meeting. In the event it wasn’t considered again and so the complaints and dissatisfaction festered and grew.

According to John Nicholson, there were agreed improvements in Housing that pre-dated the Council meeting, but they were reneged on by Graham Stringer and Frances Done and this led to a bitter fight. Ken Strath had a sudden bright idea[18] about caretaking in high-rise blocks and won support for an improvement bid for £100,000 for this idea. There were similar rearguard actions by individuals on the Left on other service committees, with Graham and Frances desperately trying to stop it all. The situation was chaotic and the Left split into two camps. Although Graham and Frances didn’t agree on everything, they were together in one camp, with John Nicholson, Val Stevens (Chair of the Labour Group at the time) and Sam Darby in the other.

Strategies for Defending Jobs and Services
In July, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) held a national conference in Manchester, discussing strategies for defending jobs and services. The opening plenary session was addressed by Margaret Hodge (Leader of Islington Council at the time) – reflecting on ‘the most difficult year of our lives in local government’.

Despite the failure to win concessions from the government, she suggested there had been gains from the campaign in that rate-capping had been a vote loser for the government and local authorities had been turned into 20th century campaigning organisations. She felt that despite the criticism over the last year’s campaign, it was important to recall that the only alternative was compliance. It was not the strategy of defending jobs and services which had failed, but rather the inability to build unity around a tactic.

John Shiers attended the workshops and plenaries and reported back on the discussion about the tactic of not fixing a rate.

“an important factor (in the failure of the tactic)… was a fear of the District Auditor’s intervention, bankruptcy and surcharging, combined with a feeling (in the wake of the defeat of the miners’ strike) that Labour Councils in the front line wouldn’t necessarily get the broad support they needed to confront the Tories. The legacy of bitterness and disarray was very evident from the London Labour Groups, combined with tiredness and a sense of hopelessness. Some comrades clearly felt that they had ‘sold out’ as Councils, but understood as the weeks went on… that it wasn’t a battle we could win.”

The LGIU conference also discussed what support could be given to the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors who had held out and not set a rate and who were individually surcharged[19]. But little came of this – only fund-raising and moral support – although some were critical of them for sticking out so long. There was more sympathy for Lambeth than for Liverpool (because of its dominance by the Militant Tendency).

The majority view at the LGIU conference seemed to be that confrontation with the government was not an option for the future. The experience of the ‘not setting a rate’ campaign had shown that challenging the government was not a battle that could be won, even with collective action by a large number of councils. Further confrontation would only create martyrs and wouldn’t shift the balance of forces in their favour. The result of this view seemed to be that councillors would ‘keep their heads down’, look for creative accounting measures to keep services, as much as possible, at current levels and wait for a change of government at the next general election.

Setting the budget for the 1986/87
As the preparations for the following year’s budget (1986/87) began, further government attacks were in the offing. At the Policy and Resources Committee on 28th August 1985 it was reported that the RSG goalposts had been moved yet again. Not only were the government proposing a reduction in grant nationally of £34 million, but the formula was being changed which would have a detrimental effect on cities as opposed to rural areas. This was condemned as having the effect of “increasing rates in the very areas where Local Authorities are accused of overburdening their ratepayers”. The changed formula was so complex that only three people on the Council were said to understand it (City Treasurer, Frances Done and Graham Stringer).

At the same meeting, the outcome of the Widdicombe Inquiry into Local Authorities’ use of public money for publicity – described as ‘campaigning against the government’ – was reported. In addition to the barring of political campaigning by councils, local government employees above a certain salary grade were debarred from taking part in any political activity (such as serving as councillors on neighbouring authorities) and not even allowed to have political posters displayed in their windows at election time. The inquiry had found no abuses of the legislation, but the Minister still made changes to councils’ powers.

On 15th December 1985, the City Party held a budget conference. Frances Done explained that keeping the current level of jobs and services would cost £350 million, which would mean no government grant. If the rates were put up only in line with inflation (as per Party policy) then cuts of £75 million would be needed.

John Shiers suggested considering the two possible strategies that had come from the LGIU – setting a deficit budget (including perhaps reneging on interest payments) or ‘mortgaging the future’ (borrowing from banks with deferred repayments). The latter strategy was used by Liverpool, but also, more quietly, by Sheffield and Islington.

Graham Stringer reported to the conference that, since May 1984, despite the budget problems, 2,000 new employees had been taken on, although this represented only about a third of those jobs that had been lost between 1979 and 1984.

Some of the conclusions from the conference were:

  • We need to get away from the mood of despondency which seems to have permeated the discussion in local government this year.
  • The government is not as strong as it may appear. A confrontation could have a profound effect. Liverpool delayed setting a rate last year and got extra money.
  • Needs should be discussed more openly. We are not in the business of simply doing the best we can, but of fighting for the funds necessary to expand services across the city.
  • Whatever strategy is adopted, we must be open about everything. Liverpool weren’t unpopular because they took on the government, but because they were secretive and manipulated the Trade Unions.
  • [repayments from] Any extra borrowing or mortgaging will have to be met in a few years.
  • Support of Trade Unions is crucial, but we should not depend on this initially – may have to persuade them.

Three main alternative strategies emerged, but without any decision on which one to pursue:

  1. Set a balanced budget, keeping some jobs and services at the present level and including some borrowing along the Sheffield model (so-called ‘creative accounting’).
  2. Set a deficit budget based on expanded spending, leading to confrontation with government.
  3. Don’t set budget till after the May elections and use them as a ‘local referendum’ to add weight to the campaign for increased financial support.

Frances Done set about exploring creative accounting options, such as ‘deferred purchase’, with the City Treasurer and Chief Executive, with the promise of a paper for the Party in February.

The Council budget was supposed to be set at the meeting on 12th March 1986, but the meeting was deferred to 19th March, to await the decision of the City Party meeting on the evening of 12th March. At that meeting, the City Party agreed the following budget resolution:

“The rates increase to be no more than 7.5% and the budget to be sufficient to protect the £17 million growth and improvements already agreed. Capital programme to include £70 million on housing with 500 council house starts in 1986/87 and an expansion of the modernisation programme. City Treasurer to be instructed to look for mechanisms for expanding the capital budget. A political campaign to be mounted to convince the TUs and others of the necessity of confronting the Tory government.”

This resolution was problematic for the Labour Group, but it was adhered to and the resolution put to the Council meeting on 19th March was for the general rate to be 296.7p (an increase of 7.5%) and the domestic rate to be 278.2p (an increase of 8.4%), with the schemes for inclusion in the ‘deferred purchase’ arrangements being delegated to the Strategy Sub-committee[20].

The Tories moved an amendment to cut £20.8 million of expenditure, but this was lost. The Liberals didn’t put an alternative budget, but moved an amendment condemning the Labour Group:

“City Council rejects the irresponsible, unreasonable and imprudent attitude of Labour Group towards the city’s finances. In particular, we reject and condemn the cavalier way the professional advice of the City Treasurer is ignored…”[21]

Only 8 councillors voted for this amendment, with 52 against and 19 abstentions (Labour Right). There is no record of the Tory vote on this amendment – perhaps they were out of the chamber in protest.

The Labour Right also tried an amendment, supported by the Liberals, but this only mustered a total of 32 votes with 49 against and no abstentions and again, there is no record of the Tory vote. The Tories then tried another amendment – to reduce the budget requirement of £335.4 million by £3.5 million by deleting 355 so-called ‘growth’ jobs, but the Labour Left and Right (and the Liberals) all united against this.

When the substantive motion was finally put to the vote, there were 53 for it and 26 against (including 9 of the Labour right).

May 1986 Local Elections
In the midst of all the financial despondency, preparations still had to be made for the local elections in May 1986. There had been no local elections in 1985 (it would have been the year for County Council elections, if the Tories hadn’t abolished the Metropolitan counties), so the Party had had some respite from electioneering.

The opposition parties came up with a device for ensuring some free election publicity by convening extraordinary Council meetings for Friday 2nd May. Council meetings were not allowed to be held during an election period, and although Friday 2nd May was the day after the local election, the calling notice had to be published five days beforehand, so this enabled the opposition parties to issue press releases and get some publicity that didn’t have to be declared as ‘election expenses’ (the amounts that could be spent being strictly controlled by statute).

The first one of these meetings was called by the Lib Dems for 8pm on Friday 2nd May – calling for the resignation of Kath Robinson from the Chair of Social Services Committee, because of the ‘Aranmore Scandal’ (see Appendix 2F).

The second meeting was called by the Tories for the same evening (and was held at 8.30pm, when the previous one had ended) – to debate the motion:

“This Council will stop funding political campaigns forthwith and will use the money instead to provide real direct services for Manchester citizens.”

At the meeting, they added

“As an example of party political use of council resources, we condemn the corrupt use of the internal mailing system in sending blatant election literature on behalf of the Labour Party candidates in Woodhouse Park and Benchill designed for NUPE staff in Education and Social Services departments. We instruct the Town Clerk to inform the District Auditor of this improper and illegal use of council resources and call for a full report from the Town Clerk to the next ordinary meeting of the Policy and Resources committee.”

Whether or not there was any evidence for this allegation, the motion was heavily defeated.

The third meeting was also called by the Tories, to start ‘at the rise of’ the previous meeting, which happened to be 9.13pm, to debate: “No confidence in the Chair of the Council”. This was an incredible motion, given that this was before the newly proposed position of ‘Chair of Council’ had been enacted (see chapter 3), and before anyone had been elected to the position, although it was known that Labour was going to propose Ken Strath. In the event, the proposer of the motion wasn’t present at the meeting, so the motion fell.

Despite all the local political and financial problems, Labour had done well in Manchester (as elsewhere), and gained 3 seats from the Tories making the composition of the Council 86 Labour (55 left-wingers)[22], 7 Tory and 6 Liberal. The City Party and the Labour Group decided to increase the number of deputy leaders to two (Val Dunn and John Nicholson) and have two deputies on the Housing and Social Services Committees.

A swing towards Labour across the country
Across the whole country, Labour had done spectacularly well in the local elections, leaving the Conservatives with control of only one of the 36 Metropolitan District Councils (Trafford). The Guardian (on Friday 9th May 1986) reported that

“The Conservatives were comprehensively trounced by Labour and the Alliance (Liberals and SDP) in the local elections yesterday, leaving them with only a shadow of their former dominance in the town halls”.

Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, was reported as saying that the results showed they were on course for a majority government. “It is clear that Labour is gaining support right across the nation,” he said.

Councillors seats gained and lost May 1986 (Source: Guardian 9th May 1986)

Con Lab L/SD Other
Seat Gains 54 412 281 30
Seat Losses 554 58 90 75

Even Liverpool stayed Labour, despite being controlled by Militant Tendency supporters and Derek Hatton was quoted as saying – “This must go down as a warning to Neil Kinnock. The support for us is here in Liverpool and he must think again over the expulsions” (see chapter 12).

Continued press assault, with just cause?
The Manchester Evening News continued to attack the Council for its so-called ‘loony’ policies, but, it has to be said with hindsight that, the Labour Group provided lots of ammunition.

One of these was the decision in July 1986 to receive a delegation from Sinn Fein and to offer Council hospitality to the visitors. As this was in the middle of the ‘civil war’ in Northern Ireland, the MEN had a field day. There were moves in the Labour Group and in Council to overturn the decision, but the Left had a sufficient majority to rebuff these moves. David Black (as a new councillor) absented himself from the Council chamber when the vote was taken. This was the first and only time he ever didn’t vote with the Left, but there was no way he could support this decision (being from a staunchly Protestant family).

Another PR gaffe was the decision (in October 1986) to move the Queen’s portrait from its pivotal position opposite the entrance to the Great Hall, to the relatively obscure spot up in the area of the Lord Mayor’s apartments. I don’t know who made that decision or why, but the MEN made great play of this ‘showing disrespect to the Monarch’.

Then in January 1987, it became clear that the budget for the following year (1987/88) was going to be as much of a nightmare as the previous year, with a potential gap between expected income and planned expenditure of £105 million.

Looking forward to the 1987 general election
Despite these continuing budget problems, the failure of the no-rate campaign, the increasing tensions within the Labour Group, and the attacks from the press, the Labour Group leadership stoically carried on, desperately hoping that the General Election in 1987 would usher in a Labour government and salvation.


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Editor’s Comments

This chapter has been the most work so far. It’s so long and such a detailed chapter. I have added sub headings as best I can to break up the text and try to indicate the content of the section that follows. I find the detail of all the voting so very difficult to keep up with. I have extracted into bullet points in some places to try to make it clearer. I don’t understand some parts, but have left them because it may be that it’s because I’m not involved in that political world and it may make more sense to those who are. This is the first chapter that I have put in the expanding sections from the sub-titles, trying to make it easier to navigate


[1] Andrew Kilburn was appointed Head of the Unit, Janet Heron as a campaign worker, and the Town Clerk appointed Laura Hawkins as the administrative assistant. The Group leadership were very suspicious of this, as she was a Communist Party member and married to the Secretary of the Trades Council, which was antagonistic towards the Labour Left. In March 1987 Jim Battle (currently Deputy Leader of the Council) was appointed as a third campaign worker.

[2] After December 1987, only a further seven copies were produced, sporadically, until its demise in July 1989.

[3] A lot of work was done behind the scenes on this by the City Administrator (Vernon Cressey) who was personally committed to the NFZ movement.

[4] South West African People’s Organisation, the national liberation party of Namibia.

[5] Editor’s note: perhaps this term needs explanation

[6] For each department of the Council, there was a Committee which had responsibility for its staffing and other expenditure and income, and Chief Officers had to provide ‘estimates’ of what they expected to spend in the year. The ‘base’ budget was supposed to be the ongoing, normal expenditure, with any additional expenditure required regarded as an ‘improvement’ bid and separately requested from the Finance Committee.

[7] John Nicholson also liaised with the leader of the Merseyside County Council, Keva Coombs. He was a strong ally and an antidote to the Militant Tendency approach in Liverpool.

[8] Explained more later.

[9] Association of Metropolitan Authorities

[10] Association of County Councils

[11] One of the ‘vacancies’ was Eddy Newman’s seat in Blackley and I think the other vacant seat was Levenshulme. Eddy had been elected as a Euro-MP in June 1984, but as his vote was needed, he didn’t resign from the Council until March 1985. Ken Barnes was elected in the Blackley by-election in May 1985.

[12] Editors note: this bit has been re-written to try to make it clearer to follow for the uninitiated.

[13] The 17 Right voting with the Liberals were – Hugh Barrett, Colin Brierley, Ken Collis, Pat & Gordon Conquest, Bill Egerton, David Ford, Alison & Leo Kelly, Reg Latham, Hugh Lee, Colin McClaren, Paul Murphy, Derek Shaw, Sid Silverman, Michael Taylor, Alan Wood. The 6 voting with the left were: John Broderick, Harold Brown, John Gilmore, Duncan Healey, Bill Jameson, Sally Shaw.

[14] Hall, Hamnett, Smith

[15] The package included 1% unspecified cuts across all budgets, use of £27.5 million special funds (building repairs etc), cuts to all the units (£5,000 from the Gay Centre grant, £19,400 from Lesbian link, £100,000 from the Neighbourhood Services budget (leaving £65,900), £120,000 from the Police Monitoring budget (leaving £18,700), £160,000 from the Campaign Unit (leaving £45,000)). But, his budget included £3 million for improvement bids to be considered by the Policy and Resources committee.

[16] Editor’s note: A Standing Order is a rule that the Council operates by. The nuance of this motion is lost on me, but leaving it in.

[17] Editor’s note: Which perhaps refers back to the Liberals’ motion to set a rate by 1st April, except that was defeated.

[18] Editor’s note: the language here is Kath’s and dismissive, but have left it in as it shows her view of the idea and how the budget was being allocated. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was true.

[19] P&R 13th January 1986 agreed £2,000 towards Lambeth and Liverpool councillors Legal Assistance Fund. At Council in February, the opposition tried to amend this and the Labour Right abstained. 47 Liverpool councillors were surcharged thousands of pounds each, and disqualified from office. The fund-raising necessary to prevent Lambeth councillors (including their leader – Ted Knight) from going to prison, went on for a long time, but they did eventually raise enough money to pay the surcharges.

[20] The Strategy Sub-committee was set up in November 1984 and was chaired by Graham Stringer. It consisted mostly of committee chairs and was the powerful, central body that controlled all the major decisions of the Council. It was preceded by a Strategy Working Party set up in October 1984.

[21] I’ve been unable to trace any written record of this so-called advice

[22] 12 new Labour members were elected, with 11 of them on the Left: Graham Ballance, David Black, Eric Bullows, Andrew Fender, Mark Hackett, Dave Lunts, Yomi Mambu, Shirley McCardell, Khan Moghal, Chris Morris and Ray Whyte. Howard Hatton (Lab Right). Also 1 new Tory & 2 new Liberals. 34 seats had been contested (2 in Rusholme). 3 Tories lost seats – Whetton, Kershaw, Aikman.

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