Row over hard-left Militant Tendency breaks out on eve of Labour conference

Joe Watts

A row has broken out on the first day of Labour conference after a shadow cabinet minister appeared to praise the hard-left Militant Tendency group that clashed with Neil Kinnock in the 1980s.

Dawn Butler, shadow equalities minister. hailed the actions of Liverpool’s council 30 years ago, which was then run by Militant, for setting an illegal deficit budget during the Tory administration of Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Kinnock denounced the group at party conference in 1985 after the city’s council ran out of money and had to sack workers.

But on Saturday Ms Butler said of the group’s actions that it had been “better to break the law than break the poor”, sparking anger from another frontbencher.

Ms Butler said: “Local councils, have seen nearly 50 per cent of their funding cut – I want to give a shout out to all the councillors fighting everyday against these Tory cuts.

“Conference, we are in Liverpool where over 30 years ago the council stood up to Thatcher and said: better to break the law than break the poor.”

Three years ago, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell signed a letter urging present-day Labour councils not to follow Militant’s example.

Ms Butler’s comments were condemned by Glenys Thornton, Labour’s shadow health minister in the House of Lords, who said the group were “misogynistic bullies” and should not have been praised, particularly on the day of the 2018 conference dedicated to female party members.

Richard Angell, who chairs the Progress group on Labour’s right wing, said: “The Militant Tendency did break the law, left the bills to be picked up by the poor and kept the Tories in power for 12 years more.”

In 1982 Liverpool’s Labour party adopted Militant’s agenda, setting a deficit budget in the face of cuts from the Thatcher administration and was later found to have breached the law.

It was proscribed by Labour’s national executive committee later that year and its members subsequently expelled from the party, with Mr Kinnock launching a devastating attack on the group from the conference stage in 1985.

A Labour party spokesperson said on Saturday: “The point Dawn was making was that, like the Thatcher government of the 1980s, this Tory government has prioritised tax cuts for the rich while cutting services like women’s refuges that save lives and keep women safe.

“Labour will invest in our communities to rebuild Britain for the many not the few.”