In 1985 John Gyford produced a slim volume which crystallized discussion about recent changes in local socialism, or at least, the kind of society the Labour Party was trying to create through local government in England. He set up a contrast between 'Labourism' and 'the New Urban Left'. This distinction hinged on the ways in which the old guard and the New Left conceptualized the relationship between 'council' and 'people'. I will argue that, more than this, the New Left tried to construct 'people' differently. They rejected Labourism's certainty that they were working for the 'working class' and introduced a confusing array of alternative constructions.
In this chapter, after examining Gyford's distinction in more depth, I will trace the development of Labourism in Teesside, its vision, its policies, and political practices. The New Left responded to the crisis of unemployment in the late 1980s with an alternative vision of local socialism. Using a case study, I will show how in one of the old heartlands of Labourism, now experiencing 20 per cent male unemployment, in a contest between the New Left and the old guard, the latter has managed to retain the definition of the public as 'the working class', and keep to its established political practices. 1
Gyford is careful to distinguish Municipal Labourism from an earlier Municipal Socialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the latter, Labour local municipalities ran utilities (water, gas, and transport) as income-generating concerns and provided more generous redistributive welfare services than other councils, like public assistance benefits, maternity care, welfare services, and education (Gyford 1985:5). These traditions of using local government to achieve some measure of socialism were devalued in the inter-war period. The road to socialism was thought to lie in Labour Party control of national government. Attention turned towards nationally planned provision of services which were large-scale, cost-effective, efficient, and distant from the local electorate and