Outside the circles of orthodox Trotskyism and left-wing romanticism, Derek Hatton
[has] been the subject of few hagiographies, especially in recent years. BBC2’s My Brilliant Career (Thursday, 8 February, 8pm) seems to have set out to redress the balance. If so, it achieved its aim with flying colours.
It portrayed Hatton as a Jack-the-lad character always with the interests of the working class at heart, now with his own successful PR firm and flash car since the Labour Party were foolish enough to dispense with his considerable talents a few years back. Perhaps understandably, to his father he could do no wrong— Hatton “could turn his hand to anything” and had never forgotten his roots. A local Church of England vicar—a friend of Hatton’s in his youth—compared him to Jesus, feted one day, crucified the next, but a real saviour nonetheless.
If Hatton’s PR firm had made this film, they couldn’t have done a better job. The nature of Militant (really the Revolutionary Socialist League) as a bunch of scheming elitists bent on power for themselves and their cronies was not touched upon. In fact, it wasn’t entirely clear whether Hatton had been a Trotskyist at all. or merely an errant Christian. Nor was the intimidation, the thuggery and abuse of other Labour Party members and trade unionists mentioned, all of which had been condoned by Hatton.
While Hatton’s three-year term as a fire-fighter was referred to, his period as a youth leader in Toxteth didn’t rate a mention. Was this anything to do with the fact that during his time in charge £17,000 went walkabout and Hatton was eventually forced to leave after an internal inquiry found him guilty of incompetence? And why was his time as community development officer in Kirkby overlooked? Surely not because his undemocratic ways and treatment of the local community was such that they held a meeting to protest about his activities and actually banned him from two community centres?
Understandably, the programme centred on Hatton’s role as Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council in the mid-1980s, together with his various confrontations with the Tory government and the then Environment Secretary, Patrick Jenkin. What perhaps should have been made clearer was the way in which Militant, like other Trotskyist groups, attempts to mislead the working class into believing they can achieve the unachievable as a matter of course. This is, after all, their supreme tactic—one of discrediting existing leaderships which cannot deliver, thereby prompting further turns to the left. It is only in the light of this mistaken tactic that the real failure of the Trotskyists on Liverpool City Council can be understood.
After once initially winning more money from the government—to their own surprise— Hatton and his crew upped their demands for the following financial year in the correct belief that the government would tell them where to get off. As part of their tactic they sent redundancy notices out in taxis to 30,000 Liverpool Council workers, famously referred to by Neil Kinnock in his 1985 Labour Conference speech as “grotesque chaos”, and which provoked fury in the city itself. Their miscalculation was that in threatening to sack their entire workforce the Militant leadership of the council only succeeded in alienating large sections of the left-wing that might have otherwise have rushed to their support. Far from setting an example of what other Labour councils should do to put pressure on the Tories and drive them out, it simply acted as an example of what local councils should not do if they wish to stay in power. Moreover, it was no coincidence that the years following Hatton’s ridiculous posturings in Liverpool saw an even further crackdown on the powers of local government in Britain.
If the makers of My Brilliant Career wished to make a valid point about Derek Hatton it would surely have been that his “success”, such as it is, has been almost solely confined to his PR business, an occupation where he can arguably do less damage than he did as a councillor. As Liverpool’s Deputy Leader he left behind debts, chaos and acrimony.
And to those who say Hatton still has the interests of the working class at heart, take note of this. Hatton claimed on Granada’s Up Front programme a couple of years ago that his lasting legacy was that he had persuaded Barratt’s and Wimpey’s to build five thousand new council houses in Liverpool during his period of office (before the debts got too great and he was chucked out). “No. Derek,” replied John Hamilton, nominal council Leader to Hatton’s Deputy in a rare moment of insightfulness, “Barratt’s and Wimpey’s didn’t build those houses—the workers of Liverpool did.” So much for not forgetting your roots.