's book from which Dorian
has taken the above quote is a good, easy-to-read account of what it was like to be a Labour Party
activist during the 1980
s (one word sums it up: depressing
The abolition of the Greater London Council
was just another example of Thatcher
's apparent supreme power
in Britain in 1986
, and one I personally remember very clearly.
The miners had just been defeated after the most bitter strike in British history, trades union membership had been made illegal at GCHQ, opinion polls showed the ruling Conservative Party to be more popular than at any time in their history, yet one thing still really, REALLY annoyed Mrs Thatcher. That thing was London. Despite all her efforts, all the propaganda and a booming (later to be overheating) economy, every time Londoners were asked to go and vote they had this irritating and consistent habit of voting for socialism.
To Maggie's government, Socialism was personified in the figure of Ken Livingstone, the left-wing Labour Party member who was leader of the General London Council, the organisation ultimately responsible for running most services in London. Amongst his subversive plans had been schemes such as "Fare's Fair" whereby the GLC subsidised the cost of public transport in the capital. The result: a 35% drop in the number of private cars clogging the streets, a huge investment in faster, cleaner, safer buses and tubes, and an extremely pissed off Prime Minister who forced the High Court to declare this illegal. Public finance can never be seen to succeed over private capital, goddammit!
The GLC's main offices were situated in the beautiful County Hall, just over the river Thames from the Houses of Parliament. Every time Thatcher looked out her office window she had to stare at County Hall (which never flew a red flag despite popular mythology) and its huge banner advertising the ever-increasing number of unemployed in London. Eventually she hit on a master plan.
If the citizens of London continued to vote for people she didn't like, there was one easy solution: take away their right to vote.
And that's exactly what she did. At the beginning of 1985
, less than a year after the GLC had been elected, Margaret Thatcher announced that she was going to abolish
it. Permanently. There would be no replacement organisation to oversee and co-ordinate fucntions through one of the world's largest cities
, London would instead have to fend for itself. A few people who cherished the concept of democracy
raised their voices in protest but were quickly drowned out
amidst the right-wing media diatribe
against "Red Ken".
March 31, 1986. The last day of the GLC. Myself and 100,000 other people crammed onto the Thames embankment in front of County Hall. It might seem strange to consider people feeling passionate about local politicians and their local council but it was about so much more than that really: about democracy, after all, Thatcher was behaving like a tin-pot dictator who declares illegal any elections that don't go the "right" way. It was about pride in our city, one of the four great Western cities in the world, and wondering what the future would bring. It was also about having one hell of a party as the fireworks shot up into the sky and County Hall closed its doors for the very last time.
Ken Livingstone had his revenge in the end. He became a Labour MP and took great delight in heckling Thatcher across the floor of the House of Commons. Then when the Labour Government took control in 1997 they announced they were going to bring local government back to London, in the form of an elected assembly and a powerful, US-style mayor. Ken announced he was going to stand for mayor, and despite an incredibly vitriolic campaign in the press, Londoners remembered what he'd done for the city all those years ago, and elected him with an overwhelming majority. He began his acceptance speech with:
As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago ...