Liverpool has given birth to some great leaders. There are leaders who have gone on to affect change, leaders who have delivered on election promises and leaders who have made decisions that have shaped the spine and spirit of the city. Leadership, by its very nature, isn’t always the best way to win a popularity contest. Which is strange, really, as that’s exactly how you win it… but, we digress.
With this in mind, etc. has put together a list of ten great politicians from Liverpool. Some you will like, some you will hate. Some you might know, others may send you to Wikipedia. Please let us know your thoughts – this list has been put together, along with the similarly themed ten great footballers and ten great songwriters from Liverpool, to help shape how you see us and perhaps intimate to you where our heart may lie, politically and culturally. Once again, in alphabetical order, here’s our list… feel free to tell us yours.
John Reginald Bevins
A Tory MP for Toxteth? It may seem unthinkable today, but Bevins held on to the seat for over a decade in the fifties and sixties. He’d tried before, too, and when victory at the polls finally arrived in 1950, the Scouser made the most of it. As a former member of the Labour Party, however, Bevins was often at the centre of the push and pull local politics can pulverise MPs with when looking to Parliament for help. History has not been kind to his role in the controversial Rent Act of 1957 – indeed, it nearly cost him his spot in this list – but redemption, of a kind, maybe came with the part he played in the post workers’ pay dispute of 1964. As Postmaster General, Bevins recommended a 5% pay increase and left his party flabbergasted. The Cabinet disowned him and Bevins was blamed for an eventual 6.5% pay increase, which led to a surge in wage inflation. He left the party bitterly, too, and walked away with parting words that described in no uncertain terms how he saw the future for the Tories: with no room for the upper class echelon that had begun to dominate it. Prescient, hey…. he died in 1996.
Did you know? Bevins went to Dovedale Road Primary School… just before John Lennon.
His dad was a blacksmith and his mother a nurse (with a strong socialist background), so it should come as no surprise that Scouser Jimmy Deane was brought up a trade unionist. He joined the Labour Party when he was 16, but quickly became disillusioned with the ambition and opportunism of his mother’s old friends the Braddocks and entered the Militant Labour League in 1937. The group had ties to the Trotskyist movement and Deane’s nascent politics continued to move further in this direction as he then defected to the Worker’s International League and eventually co-founded the Revolutionary Socialist League, in 1956, as general secretary. In between came World War II and Deane’s socialist stance took him to the Revolutionary Communist Party and on to Paris, in 1946, as the British delegate to the International Conference of the Fourth International. Deane continued to spread the Trotskyist word across the world, even as his star diminished over the years, and spoke to and for the Militant rise in Liverpool during the eighties. He died in 2002.
Did you know? You can read Jimmy Deane’s writings for the Merseyside Militant Bulletin – but only four issues survive to this day. Start Googling.
The life and career of Terry Fields would make a fantastic film: rescuing people from burning buildings, challenging political polemics and getting thrown in jail! Perhaps ‘career’ is the wrong word to use, however, as the ambition burning inside of the firefighter was a simple one – to make things better for the working class. Bootle born and bred, Fields was MP for Liverpool Broadgreen for nearly a decade and was elected on the promise that he would be “a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage”. He kept this promise, banking the equivalent wage of a firefighter, and donating the remainder of his MP’s salary to trade union causes and, allegedly, the Militant needs of the eighties. Fields is best remembered for being sent to jail in 1993 for his refusal to pay Thatcher’s poll tax: the MP (who kept his seat during his incarceration) was jailed for 60 days, owing just under £400. He was expelled from the Labour Party, for “miltant tendencies” (lower case ‘m’ the party’s own), and stood as an independent against Labour’s Jane Kennedy in 1991. He died in 2008.
Did you know? The former firefighter rescued a woman from a burning house… when he was 65.
It’s difficult to decide what’s more impressive: four separate terms as Prime Minister or being a pain in the backside of Queen Victoria. Anyone who addresses royalty “as if I were a public meeting” (as she once complained) possesses the right ingredients to be a great politician. But, perhaps, not a perfect human being. Gladstone’s journey began at 62 Rodney Street, where he was born, before he found his early political legs as a Tory and subsequently opposed the abolition of slavery (amongst many other things, including factory legislation) in 1834. He left the party, became a Liberal in 1859 and never apologised for his past. However, he proposed Home Rule in Ireland during two of his terms in office, perhaps coming to terms with that past, and was also quoted as saying “my mission is to pacify Ireland,” on the occasion of his first premiership, in 1868. He also demonstrated a remarkable change of ideology when, during his third reign as PM in 1889, he sided with striking London dockers in a bitter dispute between labour and capital. Gladstone’s success shows that political dogma is not always the only way to win. He died in 1898.
Did you know? William Gladstone remains Britain’s oldest Prime Minister – he was 84 when he left office for the final time.
Ideals always come with inherent contradictions. And Jack Jones, who was born in Garston in 1913, struggled harder than most with those contradictions. He lead the Transport and General Workers’ Union for almost a decade in the seventies and time after time wrestled with the reconciliation of bringing about change through elections, whilst reacting to the immediate needs of the rank and file. Jones was a brave man who fought against Oswald Mosley’s fascists in Britain and joined the International Brigades to fight Franco’s fascists in Spain, where he was seriously wounded in 1937. Fast forward to the late seventies and many believed him to be the most powerful person in Britain and a constant thorn in the side of the Conservative government of the time. Later in his career, the trade union boss focused on the issues faced by pensioners and dedicated his time to the elderly cause. Unite The Union also named their Liverpool HQ after him and Jack Jones House takes pride of place on Churchill Way. He died in 2009.
Did you know? Jack turned down a peerage following his retirement in 1977.
Political identities don’t always tell the story, but ‘Big’ Jim Larkin’s figurehead roles with the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, Irish Labour Party and Workers’ Union of Ireland tell their own tale. Larkin was born and bred in Liverpool, to Irish parents, and the family were as poor as those around them, with the seven-year-old often finishing school in the morning to go to work in the afternoon. His father died when he was a teenager and Larkin was immediately given a job with the firm who employed James senior – a decision they would probably later regret! Larkin became one of his generation’s greatest organisers and was a full-time leader in the Liverpool docks strike of 1905… one of very few foreman to come out. The die was cast and Larkin carried his beliefs into many famous labour battles, including the Dublin lock-out of 1913. True, Larkin may not have been the peaceful pioneer of bargaining his legacy now suggests, but he used the strike as a ruthless tool to manipulate the oppression of private enterprise. He died in 1947.
Did you know? Brendan Behan once wrote a poem about Larkin.
A working class hero? It’s something to be. Especially in your own lifetime. Tony Mulhearn, former president of the Liverpool District Labour Party, is (still) a working man in search of a better way of life for the people he’s chosen to represent. It’s as simple as that. Even his enemies, and there are many from his days as a leader of Miltant, use kind words when discussing the man behind the politics. “What people often mean is ‘now he’s out of mainstream politics, he’s no longer a threat’,” said Mulhearn once, when asked about said compliments. But, the fact remains, even with his trials and tribulations through Militant, his expulsion from the Labour Party, the subsequent struggles of the Liverpool 47 and his current membership of the Socialist Party and Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, Mulhearn is a respected political figure. Still.
Did you know? Mulhearn last stood for office in 2015 for the TUSC in Riverside.
The first woman to be elected to Liverpool City Council, Eleanor Rathbone represented Granby for over a quarter of a century, from 1909 to 1934. The daughter of social reformer William Rathbone, Eleanor was at the forefront of issues affecting women in the first half of the 1900’s and was the catalyst for the introduction of family allowance (now child benefit) in 1945. Rathbone was an independent MP, elected in 1929, and lectured in public administration at the University of Liverpool… indeed, it was while working at the ‘Red Brick’ that Rathbone helped establish the uni’s School of Social Science. Although a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights, it would be wrong to reduce her achievements to a single issue – Rathbone was an affluent woman who made the most of her privileged start in life and dedicated the majority of her time to improving the lives of those less fortunate. She was also quick to spot the rise of the Nazis when, in the early thirties, she joined the British Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council and later pressured the Government to make public the horrors of the Holocaust. She died in 1946.
Did you know?: Eleanor founded the 1918 Club – a discussion forum for women that still meets regularly in Liverpool.
His father may have ran The Bowling Green pub on Mount Pleasant, but William Roscoe never pulled a pint in his life. He did, however, pull off a spectacular victory at the ballot box in 1806, when he was elected MP for Liverpool. Roscoe’s time as our Westminster representative may well have been a short one, he lasted a year, but it was certainly significant. Always a vocal and courageous attacker of the slave trade (especially when you think about how most of his acquaintances would have been making their money in Liverpool), Roscoe voted for its abolition and the movement was passed in 1806. The rest of his life was dedicated to his career as an historian and writer, during which time his works of note included the polemical poem ‘The Wrongs of Africa’ and the book, ‘Life of Lorenzo’. He died in 1831.
Did you know?: He donated proceeds of ‘The Wrongs of Africa’ to the London Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Here’s a story alive with the mystery, possibility and wonder of immigration. John Archer, one of the first few people of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain, was born in Liverpool in 1863. His father was from Barbados, his mother from Ireland and Archer took up their travelling mantle and spent the first grown-up years of his life sailing around the world as a seaman. He settled in Battersea before the turn of the century and was first up for office in 1906. He won, was elected to Battersea Borough Council and never looked back. We can only imagine the racist and malignant abuse he may have suffered during this period – but he was to successfully campaign for a minimum wage (32 shillings a week) for council workers concurrently. His political career continued to have ups and downs, but he was returned as Mayor of Battersea in 1913 and died a successful political agent and alderman in 1932.
Did you know?: Archer was given a Blue Plaque by English Heritage in 2013… in Battersea. Should Liverpool be next?
‘Town Hall Ceiling’
– Pic by John Johnson