Jeremy Corbyn risked fresh fury from Labour moderates today as he said it was ‘understandable’ for councils to set illegal budgets.
The Labour leader made the remarks as he defended a frontbencher who praised the actions of the Militant-dominated authority in Liverpool in the 1980s.
Shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler said the authority had stood up to Margaret Thatcher, saying it was ‘better to break the law than break the poor’.
The extraordinary endorsement sparked outrage from party colleagues who said the remarks were ‘another nail in Labour’s coffin’.
But Mr Corbyn today insisted that there was nothing wrong with her views.
Jeremy Corbyn today insisted that there was nothing wrong with Dawn Butler praising the 1980s Labour council in Liverpool
Shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler hailed the Militant-dominated authority that set an illegal budget in 1985 in protest at government cuts
‘I think what she was doing was expressing support for the determination of the people of Liverpool,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
‘The politics and the legalities of the whole thing have moved on and indeed what we need is proper funding of local government.’
In an interview kicking off Labour conference in Liverpool, Mr Corbyn added that he understood why councils set illegal budgets.
‘I understand it, absolutely understand it. I represent an inner city area in Islington and we were very angry in the 1980s at the way our council expenditure was cut,’ he said.
He added that he was ‘very angry now when I see local authorities trying their best to deliver good quality services’ in the face of reduced funds.
Speaking to Labour’s Women’s Conference yesterday, Ms Butler praised councillors who were fighting against cuts imposed by Theresa May’s government.
‘Local councils have seen nearly 50 per cent of their funding cut – I want to give a shout out to all the councillors fighting every day against these Tory cuts,’ she said.
And she added: ‘Conference, we are in Liverpool where over 30 years ago the council stood up to Thatcher and said, better to break the law than break the poor.’
Former leader Neil Kinnock’s conference speech in 1985, when he denounced the Liverpool councillors, is seen as the turning point when moderates wrestled control from the union-controlled hard-Left.
Kinnock told the party faithful that he would not tolerate the ‘grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’.
The Militant group’s hold over parts of the party was broken soon afterwards, culminating in the expulsion of figures including Liverpool council’s deputy leader Derek Hatton.
However, since Mr Corbyn took charge of Labour in 2015 the Left has reasserted its power.
Former minister Chris Leslie told MailOnline that Ms Butler’s remarks were ‘astonishing’.
‘I can only assume these remarks come from ignorance about the disastrous policies of the Trotskyist Militant tendency – whose mismanagement led to the issuing of thousands of redundancy notices to their own local council workers,’ the MP said.
In an interview kicking off Labour conference in Liverpool, Mr Corbyn said he understood why councils set illegal budgets
Mr Corbyn took to the stage in Liverpool today as Labour’s autumn gathering got under way
‘That type of hard leftism should have no place in a modern Labour Party – and it’s certainly not something to be proud of.’
Another livid MP said: ‘Another nail in the coffin of the party. And a clear signal that the hard Left are rampant.’
John Woodcock MP, who recently quit the party in protest at its lurch to the Left, said: ‘A current member of the Labour shadow cabinet praising the misery Militant brought to Liverpool.
‘A powerful demonstration of just how fundamentally my former party has changed.’
Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis said: ‘This is the sorry state of Labour today: Shadow Cabinet members praising the hard-left militants of the 1980s.
‘Militant controlled Liverpool of the 1980’s boasted it was better to ‘break the law, than break the poor’ but ran out of money and was forced to sack its own workers.
‘As Neil Kinnock said himself at the time: ‘You can’t play politics with people’s jobs and people’s homes and people’s services.
‘Labour has learnt nothing from the past and would take the country back to bankruptcy, job losses and worse public services.’
Derek Hatton, who was deputy leader of Liverpool council when it was run by the hard-left Militant group. He was later expelled from the Labour party
Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock is pictured at the 1985 party conference in Bournemouth where he condemned Militant in a defining moment in Labour history
Labour peer Baroness Thornton slammed Ms Butler’s praise for the rebel councillors in a series of tweets.
‘Great to be at Women’s conference, but am surprised that @DawnButlerBrent has just praised a Liverpool Council in the past – that of Derek Hatton – who issued redundancy notices to their own public sector employees, and failed to protect services too!’ said Lady Thornton.
‘And @DawnButlerBrent Derek Hatton’s Militant colleagues were misogynistic bullies. We should not be praising them at @UKLabour Women’s Conference.’
Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell wrote to all Labour council leaders in 2015 calling on them to resist calls to set illegal budgets.
A Labour spokesman said: ‘The point Dawn was making was that like the Thatcher government of the 1980s, this Tory Government has prioritised tax cuts for the rich while cutting services like women’s refuges that save lives and keep women safe.
‘Labour will invest in our communities to rebuild Britain for the many not the few.’