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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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The debate in the House of Commons over the closure of Love Lane 30 years ago TONIGHT

Written by Ron Noon at 13:07 on Thursday, February 17th 2011

Alfred Stocks, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Liverpool wrote to the Prime Minister on the 30th of January 1981, expressing the alarm felt by the City Council at Tate & Lyle’s decision to close the refinery in April. In a second letter he wrote to Mrs Thatcher (2nd of February) he emphasised the critical importance of a special meeting which had taken place in the City.  It had been comprised of representatives from all the Merseyside District Councils, the Leader of the Merseyside County Council, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, the Bishop of Liverpool and the Archbishop of Liverpool, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, as well as the various Trade Unions.

The purpose of   Alfred Stocks’s second effort was to ask Mrs Thatcher to meet up with this broadly based delegation to discuss the implications of the Love Lane closure and the possibility of preventing it. In its comment column of February 3rd the Liverpool Echo christened it the “Congress of Merseyside” adding that “this could well become an important milestone in the history of our community. Here we see diverse interests coming together with a strong common purpose - to halt the wounding loss of jobs. The initial aim is to save the threatened jobs at Tate & Lyle. The fight will be difficult and prolonged but a start has been made. Whitehall will get the message that Merseyside has taken enough blows. Tates could well prove the first of many battles. It is not difficult to identify other areas under threat. At the first whiff of danger our Watchdogs should be active.”

Readers of the previous blog know that Margaret Thatcher was not prepared to do business with a delegation from Liverpool even or especially if it did contain Bishop Sheppard and Archbishop Worlock! Is that why David Alton, Liverpool Edge Hill MP, fulminated with anger at Thatcher’s “insult to the people of Merseyside”? He pointed out that “the woman has n’t visited Liverpool since she was elected Prime Minister in 1979” and now “her policies have increased unemployment to well over 100,000 people she refused to see people who simply want to present a case to her”. So on the 11th of February The Liverpool Echo editorial column responded to the Prime Minister’s refusal to meet the extraordinary delegation from Merseyside in a measured but emphatic retort to the snub Thatcher delivered to the people of Liverpool.

“Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to see the Liverpool delegation over Tate &Lyle is no doubt defensible in terms of Westminster protocol. But it will be interpreted as a cold insensitivity to the feelings of the whole community. The composition of the delegation including Church leaders reflected the deep concern over unemployment not just at Tate &Lyle but throughout Merseyside. Mrs Thatcher’s policies have played a large part in creating the situation and she cannot brush aside the responsibility by referring protests to the management concerned. ‘I don’t myself see delegations’ she told the Commons. The Premier should step down from this lofty position and if mere delegations are below her dignity then the City of Liverpool would offer her a warm welcome to see at first hand what is actually happening outside Whitehall.”

Later on that year in the aftermath of the Toxteth riots, Thatcher would be smuggled in to the city to hear testimony from another more informally and more rapidly convened Congress of Merseyside. The historic fact is that unforseen events can turn even those ideologically “not for turning” into listening mode. The impact of Thatcherism, particularly on Merseyside is repeating itself in the deleterious policies of her scion, David Cameron. Liverpool City Council is harder hit than any other council in the country by ConDem cuts, and a tabloid newspaper page in front of me now is very depressing.  I’m looking at a picture in today’s Daily Mirror, of Hollywood star Meryl Streep, “her face as unflinching as iron” as she acts out her latest film role as Mrs Thatcher, “on the set of The Iron Lady”, currently being shot in South London! How can Liverpool people and especially the surviving boys and girls from the whitestuff, feel “reassured” that in her blue suit and coiffed hair Meryl is “completely immersed” in the role of the then Prime Minister, particularly Thatcher’s attitude towards delegations from Merseyside.  Perhaps it is not too late for Meryl Streep to weave into her script some of the insights gained by the school children of Hillside School when they researched the consequences of Thatcherite policies on their communities. 
I don’t suppose Meryl will be too impressed by this pdf file of her new heroine.


John Maclean: I’ve discovered a briefing note that John left me which related to the House of Commons Lobby on February 16th 1981.  It refers directly to Parliamentary question 189 over the Prime Minister’s meeting with Merseyside members concerning Tate & Lyle Liverpool. It poignantly expressed regret at “the refusal of the PM in a reply to the honourable Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange,  to meet an all-party deputation of Merseyside Members, leaders of local authorities and church leaders, and representatives of management, workers and cane producing countries, to discuss the proposed closure of Tate and Lyle, Liverpool; believes that a Government decision can save the refinery and 1,500 jobs in an area facing nearly 16 per cent, unemployment; and calls upon the Prime Minister, if she is concerned about the situation to think again”.