The last years of the Greater London Council and the battle with Thatcher


GLC
Campaigning to save the GLC

The whole saga around the Greater London Council in the early 80s doesn’t exactly cover Margaret Thatcher in glory. It’s arguably the worst example of her political centralising tendencies.

In 1977, the GLC had switched from Labour to Conservative control – under the flamboyant Sir Horace Cutler. Under him, many of the ideas that would become national Conservative policy after Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 General Election were tried out – in particular, the sale of council houses. Cutler also transformed Covent Garden from a fruit and veg market to a chic shopping experience that incidentally banned shops selling denim!

By 1981, Londoners were ready to bring Labour back and the party won under Andrew McIntosh. In a very daring and controversial move, Ken Livingstone representing the left of the London Labour Party then deposed McIntosh and was installed as the new leader of the GLC.

This began several years of Livingstone taunting Thatcher over the rising level of unemployment and a very strident defence of minority rights. There was also a campaign around keeping London Underground fares down.

Thatcher detested the GLC and in 1986, she abolished it along with six other metropolitan county councils – Merseyside council for example. Even by the standards of the time, this was a shockingly partisan move – an attack on authorities that were all Labour controlled. Needless to say the official excuse was that bureaucracy was being trimmed. But I don’t think anybody bought that line.

Margaret Thatcher and capital punishment – her desire to bring back hanging


In 1979, Thatcher pledged to bring back hanging during the General Election that saw her take power for the first time – beating Jim Callaghan and Labour. In one conversation made public in 2014 she made it clear that hanging should be re-introduced for terrorists in Northern Ireland.

Capital punishment had only been banned under 15 years earlier by a Labour government. But the movement against it had been gathering pace since the 1930s. Thatcher undoubtedly supported the rope and wanted a free vote in parliament. In answer to a question put to her in a newspaper attacking her over the issue, she replied:

For my part, I have always supported capital punishment for terrorists, and will continue to do so.