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New Labour in Liverpool

Jim Dye

FOLLOWING THE the crushing defeat in May 1998 of the Liverpool Labour Party by the Liberal Democrats, who gained their only metropolitan council, the NEC set up a Liverpool Taskforce (see "New Labour Witch-Hunt in Liverpool", What Next? No.10). The reason for this was clear in the immediate attacks made on the then leadership of the Labour Group, who were far from being left-wingers but were seen as Old Labour and so had to be removed by the Blairites.

The three unelected members of the Taskforce (including Richard Arthur, leader of Camden Council) decided that there will be no more local Party democracy for the Liverpool Labour Party. In future all candidates for local elections will be selected by an NEC-appointed Regional Director, with no rights at all for local wards or CLPs to choose their representatives. All potential candidates must also swear a loyalty pledge to Blairite New Labour policies, while existing councillors will be vetted to see if they are to be allowed to be reselected. In other words, all accountability will be ended permanently. The report also makes clear that local trade union branches will play no role in the local Party, and that the District Labour Party (which has been suspended for a decade since the witch-hunt against the left) will not be allowed to be reformed. Indeed, activists from both wards and trade union branches will have absolutely no role in this new organisation.

Rather than risk expelling a number of long-standing members, the NEC simply prevented those who it didnít like from standing. These included some existing councillors, and John Hamilton, the former soft left leader of the Council during the 1983-87 battle against Tory rate-capping, who was trying to get back on the council following the expiry of the government ban imposed on the 47 surcharged councillors from that period. Hamilton, a Party member since the 1940s, was written to by a Millbank drone (who obviously had never heard of him) and patronisingly told that he should apply to go on a Party educational course because he "did not understand local government"!

In the case of Frank Prendergast, the Group Leader, he lost a One Member One Vote ballot by the local membership against the Blairite Gideon Ben-Tovim, a university lecturer. For socialists it was not an easy choice, given that Prendergast was actually supported by the arch-witch-hunter Peter Kilfoyle, and real politics were absent from the contest. However, Ben-Tovim is an enthusiastic Blairite and has indicated that he intends to modernise the local Party, the meaning of which is obvious.

Far from being over, the battle by socialists against the right wing within the Party must be continued.