Splits on the Left

As the title suggests, this chapter mostly covers the conflict, splits and deals between different parts of the Labour Group on the Council and the City Labour Party in the period 1988 to 1992. This covers clashes with and intimidation from the Militant Tendency. Police were called to council meetings because of fear of violent clashes, with protests about cuts being made and the approach taken seen as capitulating to the Tory government. There was a strike in June 1988 in Cleansing Services. Ten councillors led by Sam Derby were expelled by the Party for consistently voting against the whip. The Left ended up doing a deal with the Right of the Labour Group in order to keep control of the important committees and overall keep Labour in control of the Council and reducing the influence of the rebels in the middle.
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Militant Disruption in the Council Chamber
Although only a small minority of the Left in Manchester could be said to be supporters of the Militant Tendency (they always denied they were a membership organisation), many of the Left bought their newspaper and regarded the ‘Millies’ as comrades. Others felt that the existence of a ‘party within a party’ was unsustainable, but that it would take action at a national level to force change. Where there was a number of Militants within a ward, other members often felt they needed to ensure a good attendance at their ward meetings in order to make sure that Militant motions were not carried, rather than attending in order to make a positive contribution to policy development.

Neil Kinnock’s denunciation at Annual Conference in October 1986 had marked the beginning of the end for them and hostility had flared up within Labour Party branches across the country. Even in Manchester feelings became very bitter and open hostility and aggression had begun to show after the General Election defeat in June 1987.

At a Christmas social event in the Old Moat ward on 11th December 1987, Graham Stringer and those he was with, were subjected to a lot of verbal abuse and, reportedly, a near assault, because of the Labour Group’s switch in tactics in relation to making cuts (see chapter 11). He believed this physical intimidation and abuse was part of a centrally directed policy by the Militant leadership rather than the actions of a few drunken local Militant supporters. He wrote a very strong and detailed letter to the press about it, which was published in Tribune and in the Manchester Evening News (see Appendix 12A for full text of the letter). However, there were nine people who wrote to the MEN refuting Graham’s account of the evening and saying the intimidation had come from him.

On 16th December 1987 there was a demonstration at the Town Hall by council workers and FE[1] students, against cuts in jobs and services. In the view of the Council leadership this was whipped up by Militant and was becoming nasty, so the police were called. The Tactical Aid Group arrived in riot gear and with dogs to disperse the demonstration. Withington CLP sent a resolution to the City Party condemning the use of the police, but this wasn’t dealt with until February, when it was defeated.

The Council meeting on 28th January 1988 was continually interrupted by protestors shouting and heckling from the visitors’ gallery, and it became impossible to carry on the business. A recess was agreed and a Left Caucus meeting was held to decide whether or not to bring in the police. In view of the Left’s normally hostile attitude towards the police, this situation could have been very fraught and traumatic, but in fact there was a relatively calm and constructive debate about the need to carry on Council business and not give in to intimidation.

So the call was made to GM Police, who no doubt grasped this golden opportunity with glee. They sent a massive police battalion in full riot gear accompanied by vicious dogs held at full stretch on their leads to clear the Council chamber. The councillors then had to ‘run the gauntlet’ through the middle of two lines of police, who appeared to be enjoying the experience of their arch critics requiring their assistance.

A flurry of emergency motions was sent to the City Party about the use of the police, two of them specifically about the Council meeting. One from NUPE Housing condemned the decision to bring in the police (implying that the decision to do so had been planned beforehand) and contained a list of demands in relation to their future use. Although more people voted for this than against it, it didn’t have a two thirds majority (as needed by emergency motions), so it wasn’t carried. However, at the subsequent Joint Policy Committee meeting (24th January), guidelines were drawn up for the future use of police in such situations.

The second motion from Wythenshawe CLP (below) condemned the Labour Party members causing the disruption, but this was defeated. Despite the threats and violence, no-one wanted Party members to be disciplined or expelled.

“This CLP views with deep concern the disgraceful scenes that took place at the Council Chamber today and is alarmed that Labour Party members were actively involved in trying to stop the democratic process. We are very concerned that in recent weeks threats of physical violence against Labour Councillors and [Party] members have entered into Manchester Labour Party politics. This CLP totally deplores this very sinister development in Manchester politics and we call for disciplinary action to be taken against any Party member found to be actively involved in this organised physical violence.”

The following Council meeting on 9th March 1988 was also disrupted by protesters. One of the issues on the Housing Committee minutes was the consideration of a site for emergency housing for single young people at Hillier Street in the Lightbowne ward. This issue was said to be the trigger for the breakaway group of Left Councillors (see later). Disturbances in the visitors’ gallery again caused an adjournment, but then after the meeting was reconvened, further disturbances occurred, so the meeting was adjourned again. After the second adjournment the disturbances continued so the business was finally adjourned until the budget Council meeting on 23rd March.

The City Party meeting that evening was the AGM and three new officers were elected (Marilyn Taylor – Chair, Duncan Edwards – Vice-chair and Roger Done – Secretary) because the incumbents (Cath Potter, Basil Curley and I) had decided to stand down. Basil and I were anticipating being elected to the Council in May. Despite the considerably traumatic events going on in the Party, only formal AGM business was conducted – the Labour Party, as ever, being constrained by its rules.

The budget-setting Council meeting took place on 23rd March and the expenditure set was actually less than the government-dictated GRE (Grant Related Expenditure) enabling the domestic rate to be set at 8% less than the previous year. A package of measures[2] enabled the previously estimated budget requirement of £333.4 million to be reduced to £316.6 million.

It was reported that the new departmental structures were in place; that in the future, new children’s centres and neighbourhood offices would be established in converted buildings, rather than new-build; that the Police Monitoring Unit would be disestablished and replaced by seven Community Safety posts within the Neighbourhood Services Unit.

David Black was appointed as a third deputy of the Social Services Committee with the specific responsibility for implementing the new structure in the department. This was necessitated because the Chair (Rhona Graham) was on maternity leave and one of the deputies (Kath Robinson) was recuperating from a spell in hospital. Margaret Ainsworth was the second deputy, but felt to be too inexperienced to see through the complexities of the restructuring.

The business that had been deferred from the 9th March Council meeting was also dealt with and it was noted that the electoral register for 1988 was 2.4% down on the previous year, despite a 20% increase in reminders and personal canvassing. This obviously had implications for the level of rates to be set in future years since, under the poll tax, the rate would be levied on each individual person, rather than the household. A significant number of people were choosing to forego their rights to vote in order to save money.

Alongside the political difficulties, the management arrangements within the Chief Executive’s Department were causing concern. In January 1988, the imminent departure of the Town Clerk and Chief Executive, Roger Taylor, for the equivalent post in Birmingham had meant that interim management arrangements had to be put in place until a new Chief Executive could be appointed. I don’t know why it wasn’t possible to appoint someone during the normal notice period, but perhaps this was recognition of the Council’s poor reputation in the Local Government world and that they would be unlikely to attract high calibre candidates.

The Deputy Chief Executive (Peter Short – who was also the City Treasurer) was to be the Acting Chief Executive, with a team of three people as Acting Assistant Chief Executives – Vernon Cressey (Assistant Town Clerk) to do general management of the Town Clerk’s Department; Roy Ingham (Assistant Town Clerk – Legal) to be acting City Solicitor; and Howard Bernstein (Assistant Clerk to the Passenger Transport Authority) to do everything else.

But then in March 1988, the management arrangements were revised again, giving the new acting Chief Executive (Peter Short) four assistants, rather than three. These were confirmed at the Council meeting as – City Administrator and Departmental Manager (Vernon Cressey); City Solicitor (Roy Ingham); Assistant Chief Executive -Transport (Howard Bernstein); and a new post of Assistant Chief Executive – Corporate Affairs – (to be recruited)[3]. The selection panel for the Chief Executive was to be 6 members of the Policy and Resources (P&R) Committee (4 Labour and the 2 leaders of the opposition parties). It was also agreed that for all future appointments of Chief Officers, the selection panel would consist of 6 members of the employing committee plus the Chair of Personnel and the Chair of P&R. Previously there had been a variety of arrangements for selection panels.

1988 Local Elections
In early April 1988 the City Party Manifesto for the local elections in May was launched by the new Chair of the City Party, Marilyn Taylor, and the press release – headed ‘No surrender’ (extract below, full text in Appendix 12B) – made it clear that forthcoming Tory legislation was about to make things even tougher for Manchester resident.

“The government is railroading legislation through Parliament to restrict local democracy even further. The Education Bill will take schools out of local control, the poll tax unfairly penalises large families; The gross injustice of the Social Security Act will come into force on 11th April. This will force local authorities to reduce housing benefit and take away council’s discretion to provide free school meals, and force LEAs to charge for school milk.”

During the election campaign, the Tories issued a leaflet giving seven examples of so-called ‘left-wing madness’ (see below), which, apart from 1 and 7, were such gross exaggerations that the City Party had to quickly produce briefing packs with full information and rebuttals for all Labour canvassers to use on the doorstep.

  • Viraj Mendis appointed to a £10,000 a year job.
  • Lesbian sex films on the rates.
  • Money to Nicaragua.
  • Support for the IRA.
  • All the Council does is bash the police.
  • Stripping the Queen’s picture from the Town Hall walls.
  • Abolition of the Lord Mayor and replacing by a Chair of the Council.

Despite the virulence of the Tories’ campaign, the outcome of the election for Labour was better than expected. Although one seat was lost to the Tories in Brooklands, two seats were gained from them (in Chorlton and in Whalley Range[4]) and one was gained from the Liberal Democrats (in Gorton South), making a net gain of two seats. The composition of the Council at this point was Labour 77, Tory – 13 and LD – 9. There were a lot of changes in the left-wing[5] grouping, but only a net gain of 4, making their voting strength up to 57 as it had been in 1986.

Although most of the new Labour councillors were considered to be on the Left, those who hadn’t been part of the Left/Right struggle in the early 1980s found the perpetuation of the conflict tiresome. One of them, Rhys Vaughan, described it rather contemptuously as “boys at play in their gangs”.

In June 1988 the GMB Trade Union called a dispute in the cleansing department. This was a serious blow for the administration as the GMB Trade Union president, Dick Pickering, had until then been a solid political supporter of Graham Stringer’s. The dispute was because of the department’s attempt to introduce more flexible working for the dustbin collection teams and end the so-called ‘task and finish’ regime. The current practice was for the teams to have specific household bins to empty and when they had done them, they would park up in the van (or go back to the depot) until it was time for their shift to officially end. This was patently inefficient, but because the job of manually emptying metal dustbins was physically arduous, it was seen as a legitimate regime. The union claimed the main reason for the dispute was over the possible introduction of wheelie bins (to which they were opposed as it would reduce the workforce). The Chair of the Environmental Health Committee, which had responsibility for the Cleansing Department, was Neil Warren and he found it personally very difficult to be on the opposite side of the table from Party comrades. Eventually the dispute was settled by the Labour Group agreeing not to introduce wheelie bins and the GMB agreeing to end the ‘task and finish’ regime.

Another area of difficulty, but in which agreement couldn’t be reached, was the proposed re-structuring of the Equal Opportunities Unit. Although it was only a small team of people and the savings would have been minimal, it took up a huge amount of time and energy because it was a policy area close to the hearts of the Left. Detailed position papers were written by John Clegg and Val Edwards (Chair and Deputy of the Equal Opportunities Committee) and there were long debates in the City Party and the Labour Group before a satisfactory compromise was reached (see chapter 15).

Because of all the tensions and arguments and pressures of trying to oversee the budget cuts and management reorganisations it was felt that the Labour Group needed to get together, away from the Town Hall, to review progress, talk through some of the really difficult issues, and plan the next steps. So Graham Stringer organised an ‘away day’. This was originally Nick Harris’s idea and not Graham’s normal style of operation, but he eventually became converted to the benefits of getting people away from the Town Hall and ‘away days’ became a regular feature of Labour Group organisation from then on.

The Orangery at Heaton Park was chosen as the venue, with a nice lunch offered as an incentive to attend. Each Chief Officer had produced comprehensive written reports and Peter Short and the new Chief Executive, Gordon Hainsworth[6] gave an introduction from the officers’ perspective and then left us to our political discussions. Only 39 members of the Labour Group (just over 50%) attended, which surprised me in view of the seriousness of the issues to be discussed, with only Bill Egerton and Gordon Conquest representing the right-wing grouping. As I was a newly elected councillor, I attended and was keen to get to grips with the issues that I had until then only been aware of from the relative distance of the City Party Executive Committee. Despite the low numbers, a very productive debate took place and it seemed to me that everyone felt a greater sense of solidarity and clarity about the issues (at least I did).

Resignation of Ten Rebels
Throughout the autumn there were big debates at all levels of the Party about the forthcoming Poll Tax (see chapter 13), but then in December 1988, an explosive debate took place in the Labour Group over the siting of a shared house for homeless young people in Hillier Street, Lightbowne (proposed by the Housing Committee). The proposal was defeated – Graham Stringer strongly opposed it – and Sam Darby resigned as the Chair of the Housing Committee, because he considered it as a vote of no confidence in himself. Nine other Labour Group members resigned from their positions of responsibility in support of Sam. Only later did this group of ten[7] suggest there were other reasons for their resignations – citing lack of democracy and over-centralisation within the Labour Group.

According to Richard Leese (in a paper for Blackley CLP) the group of ten had its origins in a slightly larger group of councillors who began meeting in autumn 1987, at the time the cuts package was being compiled, to lobby for preferential treatment in relation to the budget for Housing repairs (and as a consequence, the Direct Works department). Although this lobby had had some limited success, the core of its members were not satisfied and continued to meet on a regular basis, and in May 1988, they had put up a slate of candidates for all Group leadership positions, except the leader.

Richard described the political characteristics of the ten as being reminiscent of 1960s-style municipal socialism; the sort of Labour Mafiosi that he believed still existed in parts of Yorkshire and the North East.

“Having a preference for housing and direct works (so-called ‘hard’ issues), they give low priority to devolution and equal opportunities (so-called ‘soft’ issues). They are predominantly male and see themselves as protectors of the class struggle. They are centralist, authoritarian, anti-intellectual, and prone to dogmatism. Their attitude to the soft services is tempered by welfarism (reflecting a somewhat patronising view of people in need) and in outlook they probably have more in common with the Labour right than with the rest of the left.”

Whilst this may have been a reasonably accurate assessment of many of that group of 10, it was certainly not true of John Clegg, John Byrne or Peter Morrison.

In Richard Leese’s view, the basic division was no longer Left or Right, but ‘dictatorial or democratic’, with the Hard Left (and the most reactionary members of the Right) falling into the ‘dictatorial’ group.

At the City Party meeting on 14th December 1988, after Graham Stringer had reported on the ten resignations from chair and deputy positions, it was agreed that there should be ‘caretaker’ appointments for four weeks and then nominations for the vacated positions of responsibility should be sought from the Party. Meanwhile it was agreed that the Party officers and the Group officers should formally meet with the ten to try to resolve the differences.

That meeting took place on 29th December and the officers reported to the EC on 6th January that the ten had expressed four concerns:

  • The non-implementation of the decision 12 months previously to increase the housing repair budget by £4 million.
  • Police watch had not been incorporated into Manchester Magazine as had been agreed.
  • The decision to build a hostel for the homeless in Hillier Street had been overturned,
  • There had been an increase in centralisation of decision-making in the Group.

Later, the ten added to the list their opposition to the ‘change in direction’, but (according to John Byrne) they had all voted for the cuts of £110 million in July.

The Party officers agreed with the 4th point and felt that steps should be taken to de-centralise decision-making, but they felt that the ten should have brought the other matters to the attention of the Party earlier.

After a long discussion at the EC about the Party officers’ report, it was agreed that recommendations should be made for the positions of responsibility vacated by the ten. Names were put forward for each position (including the ten) and, after a secret exhaustive ballot, the recommendations were that most of them should be re-instated (see Appendix 12C for the votes), apart from Tony McCardell and Ray Whyte.

Around this time, David Black happened to be in the same local pub as some of the ten ‘rebels’ and joined them for a drink. They were discussing the offer from the EC to be re-instated and Tony McCardell was obviously prepared to accept the offer, even though he personally was not being supported by the EC. Apparently Shirley gave him a rocketing and said “For God’s sake, Tony, it’s a matter of principle. We’re not reneging!”

At the Joint Policy meeting on 10th January 1989, there was no discussion about these traumatic events, just the dire budget situation (see chapter 13). A special City Party meeting was planned for 1st March to discuss the budget, together with the implications of the reduced Capital budget for the Housing and Direct Works departments.

The City Party meeting the following day was very heated. A letter from the ‘rebels’ was read out, together with the EC’s proposal that elections should be held for the vacated positions, and the list of recommendations of people for those positions. Two amendments were moved to this proposal – the 1st was to defer the decision and leave the acting chairs in position until May (but after debate this was lost by 33 votes to 60). The second amendment was:

“This GMC agrees that there are differences [of view] regarding the centralisation of decision making within the Labour Group and we also agree that this issue should be resolved as quickly as possible. To that end we believe that the Party should actively be involved in establishing a structure which would result in broadening decision making within the Labour Group. This would ensure a greater number of Labour councillors being involved in the implementation of Party policy. In order to achieve this we agree that the EC establish a sub-committee which can investigate, through consultation with members of the Labour Group, proposals for changes. This sub-committee should report back to the City Party within the next three months with its conclusions and recommendations. We agree that because the issue of centralisation is going to be actively addressed by the Party, those councillors who resigned from positions of responsibility should be re-instated”.

But this was also lost (31 votes to 61) and the EC recommendation to proceed to make nominations for the vacated positions was then carried by 69 votes to 10. The ‘rebels’ refused to accept nominations on the grounds that the issues they felt strongly about hadn’t been resolved, so the City Party went ahead to consider other names for recommending to the Labour Group and the following were agreed:

  • Housing: Chair – Dave Lunts; Deputy – Alan Tomlinson;
  • Environment: Chair – Val Dunn; Deputy – Ronni Myers;
  • Equal Opps: Chair – Val Edwards; Deputy – no nomination;
  • Airport: Chair – Jack Flanagan;
  • Deputy Leader – Kath Robinson;
  • Personnel: Chair – no nomination; Deputy – no nomination;
  • Social Services: Deputy – Yomi Mambu;
  • Planning: Deputy – Eileen Kelly;
  • Direct Works: Deputy – no nomination;
  • Art Galleries: Deputy – no nomination;

Resolutions on the capital budget were debated and the following was agreed:

“… to set the 1989/90 capital programme at the highest level possible, but not less than £99 million. We also call on the Labour Group to find ways of ensuring that this does not lead to compulsory redundancies. The capital programme must reflect the party’s political priorities.”

A controversial paper had been written by the Director of Housing (Bob Young) about the future of council housing in the city but the EC agreed that this paper was not to form the basis for discussion at the special meeting on 1st March and the new Chair of Housing (Dave Lunts) should make a statement to the Manchester Evening News to that effect (see chapter 13).

Left Short With Not Enough People
The Left administration was now in a difficult position with not enough people to fill all the Chair and Deputy positions. A (selective) Left Caucus meeting was held on 29th January to try to come up with names to fill the vacant positions. The most difficult of these being the Chair of the Personnel sub-committee from which Shirley McCardell had resigned. After much to-ing and fro-ing, Graham Stringer finally looked at me and said, “What about you, Kath?” Having only been a councillor for eight months, and not even being on the Personnel Sub-committee, I was horror struck. But, as I could see that all the other possible people already had been allocated to positions, I reluctantly agreed, with the proviso that I was given strong support. That was provided in the form of David Black as Deputy[8] . An extra place had to be created on the sub-committee for me and the official appointments went through the Council meeting on 1st February.

Being the Chair of Personnel turned out to be the most difficult job I’ve ever done on the Council, partly because it was central to all the re-structuring and re-grading work that was going on in the departments and I was still very new to council procedures, but also because the Director (Roger Matthews), who had a lot of respect for Shirley McCardell, made it very clear that he thought I was a mere upstart who wouldn’t be able to cope with the pressures. I think he was offended that Graham Stringer had foisted someone on him that he thought would make his job more difficult. I went through a very steep learning curve in the following weeks, and a ‘baptism of fire’ with the trade union shop stewards (see chapter 13).

The Labour Group report to the February City Party meeting held further gloom about the budget. Graham said that the predictions were for a rate rise of 45%, but he didn’t believe the City Treasurer’s figures were accurate and a detailed examination of base budgets was to be carried out. He reported that the police had carried out a raid on the Viraj Mendis Defence Campaign sanctuary, and that four[9] of the Council’s five representatives on the Police Authority had been removed from committees for repeatedly breaking the whip.

Graham Stringer also reported that the issue about whether Selman Rushdie’s book ‘The Satanic Verses’ should be removed from Manchester’s Libraries (as had been requested by members of the Muslim community) had been discussed in the Labour Group and it had been agreed that it should be treated exactly the same as other books. On a lighter note, Mike Harrison, reported that when he was the Chair of the Leisure Services Committee, he had had the ‘unenviable’ task of reading the Satanic Verses before it was decided to leave the decision to the professional librarians. He described this as one of the most boring experiences of his life!

Amongst other motions at the February City meeting, one from the Womens’ Council (dominated by Militant Tendency supporters) was debated, after having been ‘on the table’ for months because of lack of time. This motion condemned witch hunts, deplored Graham’s call for the expulsion of Militants from the Labour Party, and accused him of creating a smokescreen of allegations of violence and intimidation to discredit opponents of his policies. Surprisingly, this resolution was carried by 26 votes to 18, but, since it didn’t include any recommended action, it was perhaps felt to be a ‘safe’ way of indicating frustration with Graham’s leadership style.

The Labour Group meeting that month discussed the problem with the Director of Housing (see chapter 13) and also the issue of increasing council house rents. Sam Darby felt that the debate was handled unfairly (and improperly) by the Chair of the Group (Brian Harrison) and wrote a long letter of complaint about the procedures. However, no subsequent action was taken on his complaint.

The ‘rebels’ continued to cause problems on committee Labour Groups and by voting against the whip in Council. One of the issues on which they had broken the whip was the raising of charges for the meals-on-wheels service for elderly people. This was raised at the City Party EC on 31st March, because the rises hadn’t been discussed with the Party as part of budget proposals, so the City Party Chair (Marilyn Taylor) proposed that no disciplinary action should be taken against any Labour Group members for voting against this in Council. Concerns were also expressed at the EC about the uncertainties around the restructuring in the Housing Department and the leadership responded by reporting that since the housing options report by the Director of Housing had been rejected (see chapter 13), a new report was being prepared by the Housing and Direct Works Working Party.

The City Party AGM that was due to be held in March had to be postponed because of a problem with trade union nominations – ie the GMB had put forward too many delegates. It was suspected that Dick Pickering was trying to pack the AGM with supporters for Graham Stringer. Meetings had to be held with the Labour Party’s North West Regional Officer to resolve the issue, but this delayed the AGM until the autumn and in the interim, the existing delegates had to continue in place.

1989 Leadership Challenge
In April 1989, the City Party EC met to consider its recommendations to the City Party for positions of responsibility on the Council. This meeting would normally have taken place in May, following the local elections, but as there were no council elections in 1989, there were no constraints on when it could be held that year. The group of ‘rebels’ had put forward a slate of candidates, including proposing Sam Darby for Council Leader. The outcome of the vote at the EC on the Leader position was a shock, with Sam Darby getting 19 votes and Graham Stringer getting only 9.

At Blackley CLP on 4th May this was debated for about an hour. In Richard Leese’s judgement, Sam Darby’s supporters failed to give any credible reasons for the leadership challenge. Significantly, ordinary ward Party members wanted to know what the hell the councillors were playing at, and why, if things were so bad, nothing had been reported about it to ward branches, or why no resolutions had been put forward criticising the leadership before.

A group of 31 councillors (including me) signed a letter that had been drafted by Graham Stringer and it was circulated to all City Party delegates spelling out the ‘crisis’ and the stark choice faced by members:

“Do we want to recognise the real achievements of the last five years of accountable Labour administration in Manchester and try to defend them, or do we wreck those achievements and deny the possibility of future progress by effectively passing a ‘no confidence’ resolution in that administration and replacing it with an unworkable alternative?..”

The paper reminded delegates of the years of struggle prior to 1984 and the almost unique success of the Left administration in managing the crisis following the 1987 general election defeat without collapsing (unlike many other Left administrations that were destroyed – with devastating cuts and redundancies as a consequence). It went on to point out that there was no political basis for the rebels ‘secret’ caucus or their ‘slate’ and that they had not even tried to claim a political basis for it. The paper concluded:

“Months of division, rumour and gesture politics has already made [our] task more difficult. The City Party needs to decide whether it wants an effective administration based on trust, competence and politics, or what is already going to be difficult, will become impossible.”

At the City Party meeting on 10th May about 140 delegates attended, many of whom had never been seen before by regular attendees. These were delegates from the previous year as the AGM (with new delegates) had still not been held. In addition to the letter above, a paper had been prepared by the ‘rebels’, but neither of these was considered to clarify the politics of the situation, and the debate was cut down to 30 minutes.

Twenty five positions were contested, including leader of the Council, which was the first vote taken. Graham Stringer won the leadership ballot with 76 votes to Sam Darby’s 62. Nominations were taken from the floor and most of the positions had to go to a second ballot to be decided (those with the lowest votes on the first round dropping out). As the night progressed, it became clear how the vote was dividing – the sectarians, plus non-regular trade union delegates and the right-wing councillors, supporting the Darby/McCardell group, and the rest (including the majority of CLP delegates and the GMB delegates, who were out in force) supporting Graham Stringer and the existing administration. Richard Leese’s analysis was that there were 45 hardline Darby votes, 55 hardline Stringer votes, 20 right-wing floaters and 20 left-wing floaters, meaning that the balance of power was not held by either slate. Since there had never been anything but animosity from the Labour right-wing towards the sectarians, it was clear that they were voting for them as a way of maximising the damage to Graham’s leadership.

At 11.30pm, there were still 107 delegates present for the last vote on Deputy Chair of the Airport (it was the turn of one of the other ten Greater Manchester districts to elect the Chair that year). Tony McCardell got 44 votes, but Jack Flanagan got 63.

All in all, the existing administration won the majority of the contested nominations, but eight of the ‘rebels’ were nominated for nine positions.

The most depressing outcome of all these votes was that five women had lost positions, including Val Edwards who had been acting up as Chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee since John Clegg’s resignation in January, but had now been ousted by Vince Young by just two votes.

Richard Leese summed up the situation in his paper to Blackley CLP as follows:

“Over the last couple of weeks, political activity in Manchester has been dominated by the much publicised ‘power struggle’ for the leadership of the council. Unlike other leadership elections, locally and nationally, it is far from clear what the politics are behind Sam Darby and co’s challenge to Graham Stringer and co. As a consequence, there has been a tendency to label it merely a personality conflict or as an unprincipled contest for personal power. There is no doubt in my mind that the pursuit of power has been a significant factor, but there are underlying political factors that need bringing out because they reflect at local level the same sort of reaction that is taking place nationally with regard to party policy”.

He proposed the following as a way forward, but very little was subsequently done to address these issues:

  • The Party should look with urgency at the sacking of so many women.
  • The Party should urgently consider its overall political strategy, review its relationship with the Labour Group, particularly how it nominates for positions of responsibility and which positions it nominates to. Accountability is surely about what people do, rather than who they are.
  • Recommitment to open government including a review of the workings of the Labour Group to diminish factionalism, opportunism and pursuit of self interest as opposed to political objectives.

Two of the women councillors on the Left, Helen Johnson and Rhona Graham, wrote a paper analysing of the loss of positions by women, and criticising the ‘rebels’ for their sexism, and this was signed by ten other women councillors (including me) and circulated to the Labour Group. The accusation was strongly rebutted in a paper by Shirley McCardell arguing that political stance was more important than gender, which, in other circumstances, we would have all agreed.

At the subsequent Labour Group AGM on 12th May 1989, the ‘rebels’ did not contest the recommendations from the City Party[10], but the Right did put forward some of their group for seven of the positions. None of them got enough votes to get elected, but on the vote for the Deputy of Personnel, John Gilmore (a right-winger) got 33 votes, which meant that five of the Left had broken ranks.

When it came to the vote for Group Officer positions (on which the City Party traditionally made no recommendations, apart from Leader and deputies), Tony McCardell was elected as Chair of the Labour Group and Shirley McCardell as one of the whips, which meant that the Right had voted with the ‘rebels’, once again taking the opportunity to maximise the damage to the Left. So, of the nine centrally important Labour Group Officer positions, three were held by people who were determined to cause trouble and a further six of them held committee chair or deputy positions (see Appendix 12C).

Fracturing of the Labour Group
The legislative and financial problems facing the Council were enormous and increasing, but rather than pulling together to tackle these, the Group was becoming more and more fractured. Although the majority on the Left disagreed with the behaviour of the rebels, there was great disquiet about Graham Stringer’s increasingly centralised approach to leadership, described as ‘Stalinist’ by his detractors.

In September 1989, Graham produced a paper for the City Party and the Trade Union Forum highlighting the problems facing the Council from April 1990 (see chapter 13). He highlighted, in addition to the Poll Tax, the forthcoming changes in Housing (ring-fencing of the Housing Revenue Account), and controls on capital spending, but typically, failed to refer to the changes affecting Education[11] (Local Management of Schools). Given that Education accounted for nearly half of the Council’s budget, the proposal to effectively ring-fence most of it to schools was destined to have a massive effect on the overall budget situation in the Council.

In a later paper, he highlighted Enforced Tendering (CCT) and Care in the Community in addition to the above, but still failed to mention Education.

Mike Harrison (Chair of the Finance Committee and Secretary of the Labour Group) became seriously ill in September 1989 and had to resign from all his positions for the sake of his health. This put further strain on the Left administration. Nick Harris was Mike’s deputy on the Finance Committee and took over as acting Chair, but when Mike’s position as Group Secretary came up for election at the Labour Group that month, John Clegg (one of the ‘rebels’) was elected.

At a special Labour Group meeting in September, Graham put forward the proposal that all committees (apart from the Strategy Sub-committee) should be temporarily suspended and chief officers should devote their time to preparing three levels of cuts options, on the assumption that the global cuts to be made would be £30 million, £50 million or £70 million, and this was agreed.

However, at the October Labour Group meeting, Richard Leese (Chair of the Education Committee at the time) moved that the Strategy Sub-committee should be abolished, that the meetings of committees should be resumed, and that the chief officers should cease preparing their cuts proposals. This was agreed by the Labour Group, but the only part of this that was actually implemented was that the committees should continue to meet. Even though the abolition of the Strategy Sub-committee was formally agreed (and minuted) at the following P&R committee, it continued to meet, and chief officers continued to prepare options for cuts levels from £30 to £70 million, which infuriated the trade unions (see later).

The tensions between Richard Leese and Graham Stringer were growing. In public Richard supported Graham, their differences were around styles of management rather than politics. Graham’s management style favoured centralised control, whereas Richard was in favour of more open and democratic decision-making. Another of their disagreements was over whether or not to have a compulsory redundancy agreement – Graham being in favour and Richard against.

The much delayed AGM of the City Party was finally held in October 1989 with Duncan Edwards (a GMB[12] delegate) taking the chair, Pat Jones (a right-wing USDAW[13] delegate) as vice-chair, Andy Smith (a right-wing AEU[14] delegate and Party official in the North West Labour Party) as Secretary, and Joyce Keller (another right-winger) as Treasurer. The left-wing contingent at the City Party had been considerably reduced over the previous few years as left-wing activists had become councillors.

Repeated Call for a Democratic Forum
During September and October 1989, speakers from the City Party had been going out to Labour Party branches to lead debate on the issues facing the Council. An open meeting (ie for all Party members, not just City Party delegates) was planned for 12th November on a platform of ‘No cuts and defending the 1984 manifesto’. But there was some disquiet about the nature of this stance.

The Left Caucus meeting on 7th November was attended by 60 -70 people, including the ‘rebels’ and the sectarians. Further meetings were due to be held on Sun 3rd and Mon 11th December, but the non-sectarians were increasingly frustrated about the impossibility of having open and honest discussions about the future when they felt they had so little common ground with either the sectarians or the ‘rebels’.

So, two years after the previous attempt, an ‘action group’ of non-sectarian left-wingers[15] met on 17th November 1989 to plan the setting up of another Democratic Socialist Forum (DSF).

Some of the questions and issues posed at this meeting were:

“What does it mean to have a left-wing administration? It’s important to separate the Party and the Council. How can the culture within the Council administration be changed? How can we ensure ‘quality management’? What should be the relationship between Council Trade Unions and the Council administration, and between the TUs and the Party? For councillors to cope with this latest budget crisis (from the Poll Tax), they need to have a clear idea of what political objectives they are pursuing (eg Equal Opportunities, decentralisation, open government, quality of service). Need to take community groups with us. Need to challenge the concept that state provision is best. Should the City Party budget meeting on 13th Dec be taking decisions, or is it too early? Some charges (eg car parking) need to be set soon, but should Poll Tax levels be left until Jan/Feb?”

John Shiers felt that the broad Left could be re-united. But, he had recently been less active in Manchester politics and did not initially appreciate the depth of the split between the ‘rebels’ and the rest of the Left. The possibility of unity was long gone.

The action group planned a meeting for 29th November 1989[16] to be open to all Party members, at which they would aim to get some basic principles agreed, with a mechanism for putting ideas on the table and for taking the debate out to the Party branches – possibly via the Red Banner[17] magazine and speakers – and a mechanism for taking the debate outside the Party. A leaflet advertising the meeting said:

“After ten years of Thatcher, what are the political objectives for the left in Manchester? Can a Labour council in Manchester continue to exercise power and implement progressive policies into the 1990s? How can decision-making and accountability be improved and decentralisation of services made a reality?”

At that point Pat Karney and Ronni Myers also organised a meeting – for ‘non-aligned’ Labour councillors – on 27th November. Pat circulated an invite to 37 Labour Councillors, but copied it to Bill Egerton (for the right-wing group) and Tony McCardell (for the ‘rebels’).

“… to consider whether there is a need for a forum where non-aligned councillors can think out loud about the problems and choices we face, in a mutually supportive atmosphere? What is the agenda for such a grouping? …

“We have no cause to push apart from a felt need to have creative discussion that supplements the war zone of the Labour Group with its organised Warsaw and NATO pacts… and the dilemma of which Labour Group Christmas party to attend!”

This last point was typical of Pat Karney’s attempts to inject humour into serious political situations. In the event, very few of the invitees actually attended this meeting and apart from concerns being voiced about the tensions and lack of comradeship at meetings, no proposals for resolving the situation were put forward.

The 29th November DSF meeting was attended by more than 30 people and the debate was intense, but constructive. There was a consensus that more needed to be done to tackle the council bureaucracy, that the Left councillors needed to stay in power, and that there needed to be better communication with Party members, trade unions and community groups. But there were differences of view on when decisions should be taken – some saying that more time was needed to weigh up the consequences, others saying that decisions should be taken soon because the situation was urgent. It was agreed to hold future meetings to try to formulate a coherent strategy for the future.

Interviews with the Whip and Expulsions
Throughout the autumn, the ‘rebels’ had been fairly consistently voting against the whip and at the December Council meeting fourteen Labour councillors voted against the agreed Party line on voluntary early retirement (VER), redeployment and a selective jobs freeze (see chapter 13). So at the January 1990 Labour Group it was agreed to remove the four of them who were Group officers (Ken Strath, John Clegg, Tony and Shirley McCardell) from those positions and for the whips to interview all the fourteen with a view to removing other positions of responsibility from them.

At the Labour Group meeting on 30th January 1990, elections were held for three of the vacant Group officer positions, but it was agreed to leave the fourth (second Deputy Leader) position vacant until May. When it came to the voting it was clear that the Right had the balance of power. Gordon Conquest (a right-winger) was elected as Chair and Ken Franklin (another right-winger) as Assistant Whip, and Sam Darby (one of the rebel ring leaders) was elected as Secretary, which made a travesty of just having removed ‘rebels’ from positions, and proved that the right-wing had voted for Sam in order to maximise the damage to the administration. The whips reported on their interviews and recommended removing positions from Vince Young, Shirley McCardell, John Clegg and Mark Hackett, but three people had apologised (Peter Morrison, George Chadwick, Albert Garside) and so they kept their positions.

The following month, the Labour Group saw sense and agreed to remove Sam Darby as Secretary for voting against the whip again, and decided to hold another election for that position in March. And, then, on 6th March, Pat Karney was elected – a position he continues to hold at the time of writing.

Whilst all these splits and expulsions were going on, the Left administration was struggling to draw up a balanced budget and set as reasonable a level of Poll Tax as possible (see chapter 13). At the Poll Tax setting council meeting on 28th February 1990, it was agreed to set the level at £425 per head, but 12 ‘rebels’[18] voted against this.

The ‘rebels’ continued to publicly disagree with the Party’s policy on the Poll Tax and even in official Labour Party election leaflets referred to their oppositional stand. City Party officers wrote officially calling on them to desist from publicly attacking the Party and the Council, but this was ignored. In the Moss Side ward (at which Sam Darby was a leading member), leaflets for public distribution were printed that attacked the Labour Party’s official policy and committed their candidates in elections to vote against the Poll Tax. Graham Ballance decided to stand down as a Moss Side councillor because of ill health and the ward selected Iqbal Sram as their candidate, who pledged that he would vote against the whip. This should have been sufficient grounds for expulsion from the Labour Party, but this action wasn’t taken.

Making Alliances with the Right
The May 1990 local elections were very good for Labour throughout the country, with large turnouts – particularly by young people. Tory voters stayed away (because of the unpopularity of the Poll Tax). In Manchester, the 31 Labour seats being defended were won with increased majorities. Graham Stringer was quoted in the Manchester Evening News: “We improved on our best ever results of two years ago”. The composition of the Council at this point was Labour -78, Tory -12 (including 2 Independent Conservatives) and Lib Dems – 9 (including one Liberal – Audrey Greaves).

But, the impossibility of continuing to run the administration with the ‘rebels’ holding the balance of power between the mainstream Left and the right-wing, led to Graham opening negotiations with Bill Egerton on a possible ‘power-sharing’ compromise.

At the Left Caucus meeting (which didn’t include the ‘rebels’) after the May elections, Graham put forward the ‘deal’ that the Right wanted in order to bring them back into the fold.

They wanted the position of Chair of Education for Gordon Conquest, the Chair of Land and Property for Bill Egerton, and the Deputy Chair of Leisure Services for Colin Brierley. Gordon Conquest was seen as being the least objectionable of those on the Right. Richard Leese (who was the favourite for Chair of Finance) had completed his four year term of office in Education and I had been hoping to be elected as the next Chair, but, in the interests of unity, was prepared to give this up and felt I could work with Gordon as his deputy. Giving Bill the Chair of Land and Property was also seen as being something we could ‘live with’, but what was completely unacceptable to the Left was giving a position of responsibility to Colin Brierley, who had been a vociferous (and homophobic) opponent of Equal Opportunities. So, Graham was deputed to go back to Bill with the offer of the two chair positions, but nothing else. Bill took this back to his right-wing caucus and they accepted it, so the deal was done.

Val Dunn had wanted to be Chair of Personnel (on the assumption that I would be vacating the position to be Chair of Education), and I didn’t want to push her out, but it was felt that she would need support in the role, so I agreed to be a second deputy (with May Bullows) and therefore had two deputy positions that year.

At the May City Party meeting when the agreed slate was put to the vote, Dick Pickering and the GMB delegates refused to vote for Gordon Conquest because of the Right’s history of cuts and specific problems when Gordon had previously been Chair of Education, but there were no alternative names to vote for, so the slate went through.

However, when it came to the Labour Group AGM, Eileen Kelly withdrew her name from the nomination for one of the deputies of Leisure Services (I don’t know whether this was of her own volition or whether Graham had persuaded her – she was an extremely loyal acolyte of Graham’s). The Right then nominated Colin Brierley for the vacancy and the Left had no alternative name ready and so Colin was elected unopposed.

At the following City Party EC (13th June 1990) concerns were expressed that the election of Colin Brierley was completely contrary to the Party’s wishes. Graham simply said (rather ingenuously I thought) that Eileen had stood down and Colin’s name was put forward, and that there was no time to bring the matter back to the Party. This was the first (but not the last) time that the Party’s recommendation was overturned at the Labour Group.

From then on, the right (mostly) voted with the Left in the Labour Group and in Council meetings and the ‘rebels’ were marginalised[19]. But the tensions within the Labour Group were not resolved as there was still a great deal of discontent about the centralised management style of the Group leadership.

Expulsions and Lack of Policy Discussion
The Democratic Socialist Forum Action Group continued to meet for a few weeks (until June 1990) producing a number of discussion papers and generating debate in the Party ward meetings we attended. Richard Leese described us thus:

  • “The action group for Democratic Socialism is an informal group of Labour Party members committed to redistribution of wealth, improving the quality of life, equal opportunities, and full democratic control by the people over their own lives.
  • “We are working in the Party for greater openness; participation by rank and file members in discussion, debate and decision-making; accountability of representatives at all levels of the Party.
  • “We reject sectarianism and old-style Labour Mafiosi, but look to build political strategies by generating debate and discussion in genuine comradeship”.

But these discussions didn’t lead to any significant changes to the centralised operation of the Labour Group and the role of the City Party was significantly weakened from then on. The policy working parties ceased to meet (apart from the one dealing with the environment and planning). The Education Working Party merged with the Manchester branch of the Socialist Education Association, which was affiliated to the City Party and thereby gave it an opportunity to put forward policy motions and retain some influence.

Later that year, Cath Inchbold complained about the lack of policy being discussed by the City Party and it was resolved that less time would in future be devoted to discussing the administrative detail of the Council, leaving more time for policy discussion, and attempts would be made to re-launch the Red Banner (the Labour Party’s internal newsletter). Neither of these came to fruition and the only real policy development from then on came from within the Labour Group on the Council.

The ‘rebels’ continued to vote against the Labour Group in committees and in Council and in July 1991, seven[20] of them were removed from committees and from their positions on outside bodies, and a further five were given final warnings. At the same time, John Clegg and Margaret Manning were suspended from membership of the Labour Party for allegedly supporting a Militant-backed candidate standing against a Labour candidate in a Liverpool by-election.

At the September 1991 City Party EC meeting the following statement condemning the actions of Militant supporters was agreed:

“This EC recognises that Militant have taken a political decision to oppose, and do as much damage to, the Labour Party as it can. The EC therefore believes Militant members should not be in the Labour Party and condemn their acts of intimidation and violence perpetrated by them.”

At the subsequent City Party meeting in October, the Chair (Duncan Edwards) moved the EC statement and reported that a letter from Margaret Manning’s solicitor had been received requesting that the EC statement be not discussed. The Militant-dominated Labour Women’s Council (LWC) had also put forward a motion condemning the EC statement. The Secretary (Andy Smith) then took the chair because Duncan was the mover of the EC statement. A delegate moved that the debate on Militant be deferred for a month to allow the CLPs time to discuss it, but Andy ruled that the issue had been on the agenda which had gone out in advance of the meeting and so it was a legitimate item of business. A motion of ‘no confidence’ in the Chair’s ruling was then put, so the Vice Chair (Hilda Bickley) took the chair for the vote, which wasn’t carried, and then handed back the chair to Andy. Pete Keenlyside then moved that the item was outside the remit of the City Party and therefore shouldn’t be taken. Given the animosity between Socialist Organiser supporters (of whom Pete was one) and Militant, this was an interesting move, but presumably Pete saw a similar potential threat for Socialist Organiser. A ruling from the NW Regional Organiser was sought who ruled that it was competent business for the City Party.

The meeting then debated both the LWC motion and the EC statement – for more than an hour. When put to the vote, the LWC motion was heavily defeated and the EC statement was carried overwhelmingly.

The following day’s MEN carried a piece headlined ‘Militant gets a mauling by massive vote’ and reported them as hitting out at “a campaign of smears and lies” in relation to the accusations of intimidation and violence. A Militant spokesman was quoted:

“It’s a scandal we have been attacked for intimidation. This is a lie and it’s hypocritical. The Labour council are the ones intimidating people by trying to jail them for not paying their poll tax”.

The article incorrectly claimed that Duncan Edwards faced a motion of ‘no confidence’ during the meeting which was not true. Militant supporters vowed to fight back and planned to hold a public meeting later in October.

John Nicholson issued a press release headed ‘Left throws down challenge’ and going on to say:

“The leadership wants socialists and socialism out of the party. It’s heads down until the next election. We are being told not only don’t campaign (against the poll tax or nuclear bombs) but also that we are to denounce people we have worked with for years. This is a real witch-hunt, in which we will all be guilty by association.”

This failed to get much press coverage and was largely ignored by the City Party. Three more Labour councillors were removed from committees for breaking the whip[21].

In January 1992, Ray Whyte resigned from the Labour Party and joined Margaret Manning as an independent councillor and a few others were thought to be considering doing the same. Graham Stringer and Duncan Edwards (Chair of the City Party) issued an ultimatum to the rebel councillors to “start co-operating or get out of the Party”.

The MEN featured Margaret and Ray because they were also refusing to pay the Poll Tax. The court hearings about these (and other) cases were held up due to a legal loophole which, nationally, had thrown non-payment prosecutions into chaos. The loophole was that lawyers had successfully challenged the use of computer records on the basis that they were ‘hearsay’. Shortly after this Margaret Manning and John Clegg were expelled from the Party by the National Executive Committee.


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Editor’s Comments

The sub-headings were not in the original. There have been minor typographical and layout changes. This chapter is long and the detail of people is hard to wade through if you don’t know who they all are. However it’s hard to see how to avoid it. The level of detail gives me a picture of how much time and energy was involved in just sorting out the positions of power before actually doing anything else.


[1] Further Education, aged 16+.

[2] The £17 million reduction was achieved by £3.6 million from special funds; £4.8 million from rents; £0.2 million from reduced contingency provision; £3.8 million less required for pay awards; £3.7 million reduction in unallocated contingency and £0.9 million in unspecified cuts. The block grant from government was £104,700,530 and the amount to be met from the rates was £211,936,000 (equivalent to a general rate of 285.63p). To be added on – Fire & CD = 10.45p, PTA = 15.58p, GMP = 15.38p. Domestic rate set at 308.54p (- 8.17% on last year); General rate set at 327.04p (- 7.5% on last year).

[3] A female external candidate was appointed in August 1988 – Charmian Houslander. She came from the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, but she didn’t last very long.

[4] This was when I was first elected as a councillor for Whalley Range.

[5] May 1988, 7 standing down – Margaret Ainsworth, Keith Bradley, Frances Done, David Heald, Alf Home and Jeff Wilner. 3 of those who’d lost their seats in 1987 got back in – Basil Curley, Mark Hackett and Bill Risby. 8 new left-wingers came on – Kath Fry, Albert Garside, Yousouf Gooljary, Kevin Rowswell, Bernard Stone, Alan Tomlinson, Rhys Vaughan and Vince Young.

[6] Gordon Hainsworth had been recently appointed as Chief Executive, having previously been Chief Education Officer, and Peter Short reverted to being just City Treasurer.

[7] The 10 were:- Eric Bullows, John Byrne, John Clegg, Sam Darby, Tony & Shirley McCardell, Peter Morrison, Ken Strath, Ray Whyte and Niel Warren. They were supported by Graham Ballance and Vince Young who at the time had no positions of responsibility to resign from.

[8] I thought David Black was the best choice to be Chair, since he had been on the Personnel sub-committee for two years, but he worked full-time and was already deputy of Social Services and overseeing that department’s staffing re-structure, so couldn’t take it on.

[9] Tony McCardell, Sam Darby, Dennis Barker and Ken Strath.

[10] It was the policy of the Left that the nominations from the Party would be automatically elected, although the rules stated only that the views of the Party were to be taken into consideration.

[11] Kath said: “As Graham was famously disinterested in anything to do with children, or indeed people, it is not surprising that he failed to recognise the significance of the forthcoming Education legislation.”

[12] GMB is short for The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, a name officially adopted in 1987 (although the abbreviation had been used since 1982) after a series of trade union mergers.

[13] USDAW is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

[14] AEU is the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

[15] They were – David Black, Val Edwards, Tim Ferguson, Kath Fry, Nick Harris, Cath Inchbold, Richard Leese, Chris Morris, Dave Power, Maria Price, John Shiers, Alan Tomlinson.

[16] Tim Ferguson to Chair; Speakers – John Shiers and Cath Inchbold (to set ground rules and areas for debate); Richard Leese to speak from floor; Me to sum up at end. Objectives for meeting to be set at start.

[17] The Red Banner was an internal Labour Party information leaflet that was produced from time to time and circulated to all Party members in Manchester via their CLPs.

[18] The 12 ‘rebels’ were Dennis Barker, Graham Ballance, John Byrne, John Clegg, Sam Darby, Yousouf Gooljary, Mark Hackett, Tony McCardell, Shirley McCardell, Ken Strath, Ray Whyte, Vince Young. Mark Hackett had already decided to stand down at the following election.

[19] Sam Darby resigned from the Council in November 1990

[20] The seven removed were – Ken Strath, Shirley and Tony McCardell, John Byrne, John Clegg, Ray Whyte and Margaret Manning. The five given a final warning were – Margaret Ainsworth, Dennis Barker, Ray Boyle, Sylvia Done and Nora Tilley.

[21] Margaret Ainsworth, Ray Boyle, and Nora Tilley

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