Labor Party Opens Inquiry Into Militant Liverpool Branch
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) _ The opposition Labor Party on Sunday began an investigation into its militant Liverpool wing, which is dominated by a Marxist group that brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy.
A nine-member inquiry team questioned local party officials behind closed doors through the day. Supporters of the Marxist group, Militant Tendency, demonstrated outside the party’s headquarters, waving placards and copies of the movement’s newspaper.
Militant Tendency sympathizers control the Liverpool City Council. Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock last week described Militant Tendency as a ″maggot in the body of the Labor Party.″
Tony Mulhearn, a Militant Tendency backer who heads the Labor Party’s Liverpool district, was among the people questioned by the inquiry panel. He said he challenged allegations by Labor Party moderates of irregularities and intimidation by Liverpool militants.
″We are confident that the position of the (Liverpool) party will be vindicated,″ Mulhearn told reporters. ″There is no basis for expulsions to take place.″
Labor’s national executive committee last month suspended the Liverpool wing pending the results of the inquiry. Officials said the questioning of Liverpool leaders probably will be finished Monday, but the findings may not be announced until January.
The inquiry is regarded as the latest step by Kinnock to control the radicals in the socialist movement since its defeat by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in the 1983 general elections.
Militant Tendency urges, among other things, the nationalization of most private enterprise and the abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy.
The Liverpool City Council, dominated by its Militant Tendency supporters, headed for bankruptcy in a battle this year with the Conservative government over budget restraints.
After refusing to agree to a new budget, the council backed down last month when it ran out of money to pay the city’s 31,800 employees and approved a balanced budget that relied heavily on borrowing from Swiss banks.
The city of 500,000 people, the sixth largest in Britain, has been in economic decline for 20 years.
At Labor’s annual conference in October, Kinnock accused Labor members on the City Council of pursuing rigid dogma and bringing ″grosteque chaos″ to Liverpool.
The Militant Tendency, founded in Liverpool in 1964, claims it has 7,000 supporters. It denies having actual members, and has said sympathizers sell its newspaper.
″We have pussyfooted around with the Militant Tendency for years and it has cost the Labor Party very dear,″ Alistair Graham, a moderate Laborite, said in a television interview on Sunday.
″We will not win a general election until we are seen to purge the Labor Party of the influence of groups like the Militant Tendency,″ added Graham, leader of the 191,000-member Civil and Public Services Association.
But Richard Venton, the Militant Tendency’s full-time organizer in Liverpool, was quoted as saying, ″Kinnock and the right are too late.″
″A mass expulsion of Militant Tendency supporters would mean the virtual abolition of the Liverpool Labor Party,″ Venton was quoted as saying in an interview with London’s Sunday Times.
Militant Tendency has scheduled 100 public meetings, a circulation drive for its newspaper and stepped up fund-raising in a counter-offensive against what it calls a ″witch-hunt″ by the party hierarchy.
Two of Labor’s 209 members in the 650-seat House of Commons are acknowledged Militant Tendency sympathizers.