I’m reading Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle’s book Left Behind – Lessons from Labour’s Heartlands which I picked up for a few quid in one of the bargain bookshops the other week in London.
Kilfoyle was the man charged by the Labour Party NEC of cleaning the entryist Trotskyite sect, the Militant tendency, out of the Labour Party in Liverpool where they had gained effective control of the party and the city. To Militant he was “the witchunter in chief” but I am sure most party members would now agree he played a key role in making the party a serious electoral force again and reading this book it is pretty clear that he loved it.
Like many Young Socialists in the North West in the mid-to-late eighties I had contact with ‘The Tendency’ – I attended a few local meetings and through the YS came across some of the figures from the Merseyside scene who travelled around the region.
Thankfully I never joined – their only real attempt to recruit me involved taking me to a big rally in Liverpool and while I suspect the aim was to dazzle me and other ‘contacts’ with their star speakers such as Derek Hatton and Peter Taafe (and a satellite link-up with Trotsky’s grandson) – yet instead I was bored stiff and very wary of them.
There was just something a little spooky about the whole scene. Later when I heard the tales of the intimidation and violence that went on in Liverpool politics, stories confirmed by Kilfoyle’s account, I was quite relieved that I had stayed well clear of them.
Anyway, I was surprised to find so much material about Militant avaliable on the internet, given that they had folded or rather become The Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW), by the time the internet came around.
SPEW, run by Taafe and a few diehards, have a full tribute site to Militant, while there is also an official nostalgia site to the ‘Liverpool 47’ councillors who got in hot water with the Tory government and just about everyone else. It appears that the infamous Tony Mulhearn is behind the site.
Also online there is a much discussed, although controversial thesis on Militant by a former member Dennis Tourish, which asks whether the Tendency was a cult. I’m not convinced of this although there are many areas of similarities, including a surprising amount of inter-marriage among the Merseyside Millies.
Of course no Trot group would be complete without a split and Socialist Appeal is produced by those, including guru Ted Grant, who did not join in the ‘open turn’ which saw SPEW leave the Labour Party.
Hatton has gone on to other things, which you can discover here.
The Witchunter Kilfoyle himself can be found here. As for his book, I think it is one for politicalheads only.
There are only so many accounts of tense ward meetings of Walton Labour Party, punch-ups at the DLP you can cope with but it is full of sectarian snippets of info and, as you would expect, has lots of tales of jobs for the boys and the stunts that Hatton and co got up to. I find it fascinating but then I have soft spot for eighties nostalgia of all kinds.
Thankfully a source of nostalgia is all Militant are these days.