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Greater London Council

The Greater London Council (GLC) was a major local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to its abolition in 1986.

Prior to the GLC London had the Metropolitan Board of Works (1855-1889) and then the London County Council (LCC, established in 1887).

From 1934 the Labour Party gained control of the LCC. The LCC boundaries had been set in 1855 and as the population shifted towards the suburbs Labour control at the centre became stronger. To combat this the Conservative government sought to create a new body covering all of London. A Royal Commission was set up in 1957 and reported in 1960, it recommended the creation of 32 new London boroughs as the basis for local government, with the LCC replaced by a weaker strategic authority the GLC with responsibility for public transport, road schemes, housing development and regeneration. The GLC covered the counties of London and Middlesex plus parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey, and the county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham,

The first GLC election was on April 9, 1964 with each of the new boroughs electing a number of representatives. Despite Conservative hopes the first GLC consisted of 64 Labour and 36 Conservative councillors with the Labour Group leader, William Fiske, the first Leader of the Council. At the next election in 1967 the unpopularity of the national government produced a massive Conservative victory, 82 to 18. Desmond Plummer headed the first Conservative controlled London council in 33 years. The Conservatives retained control in 1970, although with a reduced majority and Labour gained control of the significant Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).

Following a boundary review in 1969, in 1972 the electoral system was reformed, introducing single-member constituencies for the election after the 1973 contest and four year terms. Labour fought the 1973 election on a strongly socialist platform to which the voters responded by giving them a 24 seat majority (57 seats to 33 conservatives), including the election of some determined left-wingers and militants such as Ken Livingstone and David White. The Liberal Party managed to gain a number of seats for the first time in 1973, winning in Richmond and Sutton.

The GLC's hopes under the Labour administration of Reg Goodwin were badly affected by the oil crisis of 1974. Massive inflation combined with the GLC's 1.6 billion debt led to heavy rate increases (200% in total before the next election in 1977) and unpopular budget cuts. Some months before the 1977 elections the Labour group internal divisions resulted in a split between the right and left wings, the leftist group denouncing the election manifesto of the party.

Unsurprisingly the Conservatives regained control in May 1977, winning 64 seats under their new Thatcherite leader Horace Cutler to a Labour total of just 28. Cutler headed a resolutely right-wing administration, cutting spending, selling council houses and attacking London Transport. In opposition the Labour party continued to factionalise, Goodwin resigned suddenly in 1980 and in the following leadership contest the little regarded left-winger Livingstone was only just beaten in a intensely tactical campaign by the moderate Andrew McIntosh. However the Labour left were strong at the constituency level and as the 1981 election approached they worked to ensure that their members were selected to stand and that their ideologies shaped the manifesto. The eventual manifesto topped out at over 50,000 words.

The May 1981 election was presented as a clash of ideologies by the Conservatives - Thatcherism against a 'tax high, spend high' Marxist Labour group. Helped by the moderate stance of McIntosh the Labour party won a very narrow victory with a majority of six. The Labour Left immediately rebelled and arranged to push their members into key posts, McIntosh was side-lined and there was a snap leadership vote - McIntosh was ousted 20 votes to 30 and replaced with Ken Livingstone. 'Red Ken' managed to gain the guarded support of the Labour deputy leader Illtyd Harrington and the party Chief Whip and set about his new administration.

Livingstone was able to push through the majority of his leftist agenda and was rewarded by a marked increase in his popularity (only 16% of Londoners wanted the GLC abolished). The over-spending of the concil led the national government to suspend the GLC's central government grant as punishment. In 1983 the cabinet agreed "in principle" to abolish the GLC and devolve its functions to the boroughs. Political infighting meant that the actual bill of abolition was not passed until 1985, setting the end of the council for March 31, 1986. This turned the last term of the GLC into an attempt to find employment for their 22,000 strong workforce and for the distribution of the council's assests to 'friendly' boroughs.

The GLC was abolished at midnight on March 31 and the GLC assests were assigned to the quango London Residuary Body for disposal, including County Hall.

The GLC had been marked by instability throughout its existence, the population of London only re-elected a party once and on every election the party that won was nationally in opposition.

See also: Greater London Authority Act (1999), Greater London Authority