Is this the return of Militant in Liverpool? – Coffee with Kilfoyle (Part one)

This is the first half of an interview conducted by Liverpool Student Radio Politics hour team member Alisha Lewis in 2018 with former Liverpool Labour MP, Peter Kilfoyle. It was conducted as part of a discussion on the past, present, and future of the Liverpool Labour Party – which you can listen to here:

Former Labour minister Peter Kilfoyle earned the nickname “Witchfinder General” in the 1980s, as the party’s enforcer in the battle against Liverpool’s Derek Hatton lead Militant council.

In this half of the interview, Alisha and Peter discuss the state of Liverpool Labour politics, responding to news of a new wave of deselections and the rise of Momentum candidates, which some have claimed is the start of a new militant era for the city.

Photo credit: BBC

What would you say the state of politics in the city of Liverpool is like today?

I think what you’ve got now is, in my lifetime, the third cycle of corruption in local politics on a real scale, which is very sad because I often wonder whether it is down to ineptitude on behalf of the current incumbents or whether it’s down to deliberate maleficence on their part.

The reality remains is that everybody suffers. Students suffer. I mean there’s that unfinished project, for example, between London road and Lord Nelson street alongside Lime Street Station. There are students actually living in there, and yet I’m satisfied that the place isn’t fit for human habitation.

It encapsulates everything that is wrong [with politics in Liverpool] because contractors and subcontractors that were building the thing were ripped off, investors were ripped off, the city’s been ripped off and it was run by a bunch of crooks. If anybody had had their eyes open, and looked, they would have seen that they were crooks – I know they’re crooks – and I’m sure that those in authority locally know that they’re crooks.

So, you have to either assume that, as I say, it’s either down to ineptitude or it’s down to, shall we say, at least acquiescence in crooked activity.

I’m sure you’ve been following the news recently, and seeing all the deselections happening in the Liverpool Labour Party – as someone who lived through the Militant era and Hatton on the council would you call this a predilection to the return of that kind of politics?

No, I think what happens is – and it’s good that it happens – is that every now and then there’s like a purge of the body politic. Politics needs it, it needs to get new blood. I’m not saying that it won’t happen again, and I’m not saying that the people coming in are all pure in the driven snow. I know that there are people who’ve come back into the party who don’t belong in the Labour Party, but there are a lot of decent people who are, especially younger people, very idealistic, very driven – and you’ve got to put your faith in them sometimes, in a new generation.

We have to ask: will they make a better fist of it than the current lot have done? And that’s happened time after time after time.

I had a bit of a discussion prior to arranging this interview with the students from the radio team, and it seems really odd to me that so few people really know very much about the Militant era in the 1980s.

You lived through it politically, and were a part of dismantling it, should there be a higher sense of political literacy about this issue among those seeking to go into or influence politics in the city?

When Derek Hatton was deputy leader of the council that was the second of the cycles of corruption in my time in the Labour Party over all the years. The truth is there was a very great difference then because he was a con man, and he remains one in my view, but he was a con man supreme in that he kidded Militant that he was more in line and in tune with them than he ever was.

I’ve never, to this day, been able to figure out exactly who used who more – whether they used him more, or he used them. It was the alignment of, as I can only describe him a con man, with a highly disciplined and focused ideological group like Militant who had their own very very separate agenda which gave rise to a group that was dominating the council but were never in the majority.

That kind of approach doesn’t appear to exist anymore, and if it doesn’t exist for me that is a good thing. You’ve got to remember that when Hatton was around they were what we call ‘entrists’, they were trotskyites, they were people who had a very separate set of beliefs to that of the Labour Party. They saw its weaknesses and tried to exploit them.

I know previously in interviews you’ve suggested that Momentum is nothing like the Militant movement, is that something you’re still holding to looking at the state of Labour politics in the city today?

I don’t doubt that there are people that were involved in my generation in Militant in the 1980s who are reinventing themselves as part of Momentum, that’s my understanding, but their time has gone – these are very very different times and very different circumstances.

I can think of one very energetic member of Militant back in the 1980s who is now the head of one of the big social housing companies in this city – there’s a bit of a transformation there, but it’s a good one. Instead of banging his head against an ideological brick wall what he’s actually done is tried to put his energies into something that is positive across the city, and he’s done it very successfully to be honest.

People have gone their own ways, and they’ve grown up politically, some of them haven’t.

Momentum is more than the sum of its parts – it strikes me as a big reaction to what has gone on before.


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