Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

‘Militant Liverpool’ as Liverpool Exceptionalism: The Rise, Fall and Character of the City Council, 1983–1987

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2017), 166, (1), 145–186.

Abstract

This study examines the programme and policies of Liverpool City Council between 1983–1987, a period noted for the ruling Labour Group’s strategy of confrontation with central government. In order to fill the financial shortfalls left in illegal deficit budgets, and as leaders of a city in the throes of secular decline, the combative stance of the council was adopted in a bid to win extra funding from Whitehall in an era of mass unemployment, disinvestment, slum housing, and a steady dwindling of the population as thousands left the city year on year in search of work. Investigating the nature of the so-called ‘rebel council’ – not least the involvement of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency within the Liverpool Labour Party – the study situates the tumultuous events of those years in the broader context of Liverpool exceptionalism, linking the conflict between a Conservative national government and a left-wing local authority to a broader tradition of Liverpudlian difference, rooted firmly in the city’s eccentricities, its sense of Scouse pride, local chauvinism, and its economic, social, cultural and political peculiarities.

Vilified by the national press, Liverpool had long had a reputation as a hotbed of industrial militancy despite its weak industrial base, and its identity as a centre of truculence and radicalism, separate from the mainstream of English political culture, was solidified by the appearance of bolshie, working-class Scousers and selfconfessed revolutionary Marxists holding high office in one of Britain’s major cities. Using interviews with some of the key political players of the period, this study explores how the rise of the Labour council, and the Militant phenomenon, were symptomatic not just of socioeconomic determinations or working class reactions to industrial decline and urban deprivation, but were a unique expression of a wider Scouse cultural identity – resilient, gritty and self-consciously Other – and indicative of particularly Liverpudlian historical specificities.

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Details

Author details

Ball, Jonny