Leicester’s Municipal Dreams for Council Housing

Tomorrow morning John Boughton, the author of the soon-to-be-released book, Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, will be speaking at Leicester City Hall to address a Housing and Homelessness conference that has been organised by the Labour Party. (Start time: 10am, Saturday 24th March.)

For decades, socialists have demanded that Labour Councils commit to launching mass council housing programs, and during the 2015 elections in Leicester, the then opposition group of two socialists (members of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) released a manifesto with a section dedicated to housing and homelessness titled “A return to council housing.” (This section of the manifesto can be read online here.)

With thousands of people on the waiting list for a council home, it is good news that the City Council has finally promised to build 50 council homes in the coming year (March 18, Leicester Mercury), as the last time they built any at all was in 2013. But unfortunately, in the same month that the Council announced this project they reported that they were planning to demolish Goscote House, a tower block that contains 134 council homes (a block that, previously, the Council had said they were planning to refurbish).

As a member of the Socialist Party (formerly known as the Militant) I am particularly proud of the role that our organization played during the 1980s — in the darkest days of the Thatcher government – in ensuring that the Labour-run Liverpool City Council built more council homes than the rest of the country combined. The fighting socialist Council actually constructed over 5,000 council homes over the four-year period in which the Militant helped lead the struggle against the Tories (before, that is, the city’s inspiring resistance was undermined by the rightward moving leadership of the rest of the Labour Party)!

On his Municipal Dreams blog, John Boughton, although obviously not enamoured by the Militant’s unrepentantly pro-working-class politics, could not completely overlook “the impact of the massive house-building programme of the Militant-controlled council in the 1980s – a huge achievement in many ways as Thatcherism sounded council housing’s death knell elsewhere”. (Blog post, June 14, 2016)

In an earlier blog post (February 10, 2015) he also wrote: “The Militant-led council in power between 1983 and 1987 famously – and, in some ways, creditably – built thousands of solid brick council houses in central Liverpool”.

gerard-gardens-1986-liverpool-echo
Gerard Gardens, 1986 © Liverpool Echo

Boughton refers to the “powerful images of this phase of Liverpool history” which were taken by Militant photographer, Dave Sinclair, and recently published in his excellent book Liverpool in the 1980s (Amberley Publishing, 2014). Although the Municipal Dreams blogger has no more to say about the militant politics of this period, he does provide a link to an informative blog post authored by Ronnie Hughes.

In Hughes’ blog post, the author recalls how “Liverpool in the 1980s felt like the front line of a war zone, a class war where a working class city stood up to a manifestly unfair and provocative Conservative government and fought for its survival.” (January 26, 2015)

Hughes points out that he was an active member of the Labour Party in Liverpool, being a union delegate to the Trades Council, but he is the first one to admit that he “never really got on with the Militant ones, thinking them humourless zealots for the most part.” Nevertheless, with the benefit of hindsight he adds:

“But looking back now I find it hard to disagree with what they all did. It was a class war and they fought for Liverpool as hard as they knew how. If it took the city years to get over the war, well that’s because it was a war.”

Tragically, as Hughes explains, Liverpool’s Labour Council was “eventually made bankrupt by the Tories for refusing to bow down and set their vindictive budget for them.” This is precisely why just last year, Leicester’s biggest union, the city branch of UNISON, called upon their Labour Council to investigate the potential of refusing to bow down to the Tories budget cuts by using their reserves to set a fighting no-cuts budget.

Now is the time for Leicester’s Labour Council to get off its knees and help launch a genuine fight-back against Tory austerity.

Leicester needs a Labour Council that can commit to building council housing, not constructed by the tens but by the thousands.

But ultimately such a commitment is unlikely to be forthcoming from a Council led by Sir Peter Soulsby, which is why supporters of the Labour movement must continue to back demands for local democracy and the end of Soulsby’s authoritarian reign of power.

 

LM today
My Letter about Goscote House published in the Leicester Mercury (March 23, 2018)

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