The Bradford Revolution

Bradford began the destruction of municipal socialism in the pretence of improving local government.

Review of The Pickles Papers
Author: T Grogan

Reviewed by Dr Frances Hutchinson

Frances Hutchinson reviews a small, but important book, which describes the genesis of many of the UK's current problems. Local government in the UK, and particularly in England, has been under relentless attack from central government. It lacks any constitutional protection and as she describes here, local government has become an easy target for politicians who have been willing to demolish basic public services.

A small book entitled The Pickles Papers, published in 1989, carried the following legend:

“In October 1988 Eric Pickles and his Tory group took control of Bradford Council with a radical programme designed to “wipe out municipal socialism forever.”

“His plan heralded the “Bradford Revolution” and was set to become the blueprint for every radical Tory council in the land. The story behind the Bradford Revolution is the story of Eric Pickles.

“It is a story of intrigue and double-dealing, ambition and power, sex and money, conspiracy and corruption, betrayal and blackmail!”

The Pickles Papers raises the issue of the changes in administration of local government services that flowed from the 1974 Local Government Acts. Sweeping boundary changes were imposed on local authorities across the entire country. The book tells the story of how Bradford blazed the trail of devastation of local services, leading towards the present imposition of totalitarian controls. 

The boundary changes of 1974 were imposed upon local authorities on grounds of a spurious financial 'efficiency'. They were NOT demanded by the people, by their elected councillors or by the local government employees. In fact, as Tony Grogan shows in The Pickles Papers, they were fiercely opposed. There was a general feeling that local shops and local businesses, banks, schools, hospitals, clinics, transport and the entire infrastructure were serving the local community through identifiable structures operated by identifiable individuals. 

Between 1974 and 1988 elected councillors of all parties sought to make the new administrative structures work for their local communities. That was an impossibility. The changes were intended to take power from the people. Throughout the country, individuals like Eric Pickles were being groomed as tools of the national financial authorities. Financial capitalism had to ‘wipe out municipal socialism for ever’ because consensus politics is its arch enemy. The new agenda introduced by the financial powers-that-be through the likes of Eric Pickles had no time for the consensus politics of truly local political administration.

Author Tony Grogan takes up the saga of 1988:

“Beeley [leader of the opposition] eyed his overweight opponent with anger. Beeley had been a close friend to Pickles' predecessor as Tory leader, but he could not even bring himself to speak to Pickles. For Bradford it was a new phenomenon. Years of consensus politics had ended with Pickles and Beeley sharing a mutual contempt.

“There lay few surprises ahead. Since taking control on September 18th 1988 Pickles had created a near hysterical atmosphere with a series of shock announcements spelling out his radical plans. Almost daily the local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, had led it's front page with the latest news of proposed cuts, sell-offs, price rises and job losses. But Pickles knew exactly what he was doing. He chose to ignore warnings - even from his loyal officers. 3 weeks earlier he had made his most stunning pronouncement to date; the Tory group would axe the jobs of 9,000 council employees!

“At 4 o'clock the council meeting got underway. It was to be one of the longest in living memory lasting over 12 hours.

“Throughout the meeting abuse flew across the council chamber and down from the galleries. At times it was impossible to hear the debates, but one by one the Tory's phase one proposals were pushed through on the casting vote of the Lord Mayor.

“An hour and a half into the meeting everything stopped as someone set off the fire alarm. Two hours later further disruption was caused by what turned out to be a hoax bomb call.

“But nothing could stop Pickles and his group as proposal after proposal were approved in the stifling heat of the council chamber.

“£5.8 million was cut from the budget, chiefly in Education. Up went council rents, the first of two such increases within 6 months. Up went charges for leisure centres, theatre hire, car parks, school meals, home helps, meals on wheels, elderly luncheon clubs and cemeteries. Staff cuts were announced amongst repairs and maintenance workers, caretakers, teachers, creche and nursery workers, social workers and council officers. Job vacancies would remain unfilled and budgets slashed in most departments. The council's Old Peoples Homes would be sold off and Benefit Advice Centres closed. For the largely poor inhabitants of the inner city it was a terrifying package and it was only the start.”

The Pickles Papers 1989 (p11)

And the rest is local history just waiting to be drawn upon for suggestions for building back a better system of local security to counter the power of global finance. 

The task is to explore new ways for all to work towards the common good at local, national and international levels, starting by reclaiming our truly local autonomy.

You can read the book here:

Book: Grogan T (1989) The Pickles Papers. Bradford: 1 in 12 Publications.

The publisher is Citizen Network Research. Review of The Pickles Papers: The Bradford Revolution © Frances Hutchinson 2022.

Review | 14.10.22

Constitutional Reform, local government, Neighbourhood Democracy, politics, England, Review

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