Lambeth Labour Group fights on – rally to our cause! (August 1985)

Joan Twelves (Vauxhall CLP and Regional EC member)

London Labour Briefing No. 52 August 1985

Surcharged councillors banner
The banner celebrating the Lambeth Labour councillors who were surcharged for refusing to set a rate in 1985

The quickest sell-out in history? Five minutes after voting that ‘the NEC to calls upon all sections of the Party to offer maximum support those councillors in Liverpool, Lambeth and Edinburgh threatened with disqualification and surcharge’, Neil Kinnock was telling the press that it was all the councillors’ fault anyway . Comrade Neil forgot to tell the press he voted for the resolution, which also reaffirmed ‘the right of all councils to set budgets to meet the needs of their own communities’.

Even though a rate has now been set everywhere, the fight to defend local services and protect council jobs is going to remain high on the political agenda over the next year. Labour’s leadership must stand up and publicly declare as Eric Heffer has done that “we will do everything to support the councillors – they are carrying our party policy.” With more councils facing rate capping and with Patrick Jenkins frantically casting round for yet further ways to smash Labour councils, resistance to Tory policies will continue to centre on the fight for the Town Halls.

 Maximum support now for the councillors in Liverpool, Lambeth and Edinburgh will be a crucial factor in whether we can win that fight. And it will also be critical in showing both to the working class and to Kinnock and the right wing that Labour’s policies are popular and that the electorate supports a Party which stands firm and sticks by its promises.

In Lambeth, councillors carried the banners of the three CLPs through the no lobby on 3rd July, demonstrating the continued unity between Group, Parties and Trade Unions for a policy of non-compliance. With one councillor having resigned and two defections, the Group knew b3efore that meeting that ‘no rate’ would be defeated. However the intervention of the District Auditor, who had already issued letters saying 32 councillors were liable for losses of £126,947, meant that the battleground had already begun to shift. The ‘no rate’ tactic has now been replaced by a dual fight. On the one hand, for the right of local councils to oppose Tory policies and in defence of our councillors. ON the other, against any cuts and for a real deficit budget.

On 3rd July, video screens were set up in neighbouring rooms to ensure maximum community involvement. A powerful speech from the public gallery from trade unionist Anna Tapsell, made it clear to the Tories and renegades that they would not get away with cuts.

The Tories had come prepared to cause disruption, but continuous attempts to provoke, it wasn’t until voting started that they succeeded in their ply to distract attention from the real issues. Having pulled a Party banner down from the gallery – and nearly pulling down the comrades holding it too – they created an excuse for physically attacking Labour councillors who tried to retrieve it from being trampled on. Terry Rich was held in a headlock by four Tories and Jo Sinclair suffered considerable bruises on her arms from Tory thugs. Having provoked a row, the Tory who started it all then whipped out a camera so he could sell photos of the ‘Labour mob’ to the press!
Lambeth has the highest per capita unemployment in London – and three of the largest employers in the borough are being threatened by the Tories. Abolition of the GLC will mean the loss of thousands of jobs for local workers at County Hall, mainly cleaners and manual workers; if Lambeth Council complies with the limits imposed by the maximum rate and does not get back the millions stolen by the government through reductions in the rate support grant, the latest estimates are that 1,000 jobs will go; and West Lambeth Health Authority is being forced to shut two hospitals and choose between retaining the medical school or withdrawing most general surgical services at St Thomas’ in order to comply with the cuts the Tories ‘aren’t’ making in the health service. Lambeth’s councillors and Party members on the health authority have fought hard and convinced the in-built Tory majority to oppose these cuts and not make a cash-limited budget. Now the Tories are threatening to dismiss all the members of the health authority if they don’t agree to make a further £1 million cuts.

Within a month, three sets of public representatives in Lambeth are being told to close down because they won’t do the Tories’ dirty work. We are under siege! All public services in Lambeth could soon- be being run by government commissioners – our fight to retain democratic control isn’t restricted to the local council!

The resolution passed by the Council on 3rd July was put by the two Labour defectors and included a freeze on recruitment. But, working with the unions, Labour Group is determined to block this. Amelda Inyang, Lambeth’s Chair of Management Services, said, ‘It made me so angry – I visualised it going against everything we’d promised the trade unions. The people who put it don’t see that it’s cuts – no workers mean no services’. A formula has already 1been worked out between Group and the unions to ensure recruitment continues and when Group gets its majority back on 1 August after the by-election the official policy will be reversed.


Industrial Action

The council trade unions have embarked on a rolling programme of industrial action, which has already included delaying the rate notices being sent out, Anna Tapsell, Chair of Lambeth NALGO and Vice Chair of the Joint Trade Union Committee (London Bridge) feels that a mixture of events – the announcement of next year’s rate capped hit list, the abolition of the GLC, continuing cuts in public expenditure – are coming together in such a way that council trade unionists will have no choice  but to respond. ‘Events will dictate a ¡reaction more widespread than just in Lambeth’, she says, ‘We are organising, but need the precise trigger upon which members will act, although it’s difficult to keep up the momentum as the government is keen to drag it out. We are aiming for the beginning of the court action, both with a major demonstration from Lambeth to the Law Courts and for more long term action. We will not wait until the councillors are finally disbarred.’

Lambeth Labour Group contains a mixture of young and old, Black and white, women and men; we have comrades with disabilities, we have pensioners, we have patents with small children. But they have stood firm with a determination which has put others to shame. When Eleanor Mclaughlin, the Deputy Leader of Edinburgh Council, spoke at a rally in Lambeth, she said, ‘When you come from naught, it isn’t too hard to go back to naught’. Many Lambeth councillors have expressed similar sentiments. ‘Even if they take everything I’ve got, I’ll still be better¡ off than most  of my constituents’ is the way it’s put in Lambeth.

Except the Labour Movement has to ensure that the councillors don’t get penalised for carrying out Party policy. The miners’ strike showed there was a union which was prepared to fight for its members. Lambeth councillors took that lesson to heart to show that here was a Labour Party prepared to fight for the community.

The fight against surcharge and in defence of Lambeth councillors, as well as the comrades in Liverpool and Edinburgh, must be top priority for Party activists throughout the country. Invite a speaker, rally to our cause – send money now!


Rally for Lambeth

29th July, Assembly Rooms, Lambeth Town Hall, 7.30pm, Speakers include Arthur Scargill, Dennis Skinner Joan Maynard, Ted Knight, Linda Bellos.


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