Derek Hatton: 'Thatcher's dying means absolutely nothing. But I'll say a million times I regret that she was ever born'
The Eighties socialist firebrand turned property tycoon Derek Hatton tells Jonathan Brown why he still views the former PM as the 'total enemy'
Alongside Arthur Scargill and General Galtieri, the name of Derek Hatton ranks at the very top of any 1980s tabloid rogues' gallery of foes battled by the late Margaret Thatcher. The former Labour deputy leader of Liverpool City Council threatened to bring chaos to Britain – at least according to the popular press – by helping mastermind the rate-capping rebellion of English councils against Tory spending cuts and openly defying the Government by setting a rogue budget and planning an all-out strike.
It was a position that was to cost him – and some say his city – dearly. Kicked out of his party, heavily fined and banned from office by the House of Lords, the militant leader was eventually cleared after a massive police investigation into alleged corruption – a political campaign he maintains that was carried out on the direct orders of Whitehall.
Liverpool meanwhile was to face further years of decline in the aftermath of the confrontation. So ask him how he felt about Mrs Thatcher back then and the answer is surprising. "If at the time I felt more bad towards an individual it would have been more [Neil] Kinnock rather than her because you knew what you got from Thatcher. You knew she was a Tory," he recalls.
It has been a busy few days for Hatton, now a superfit 65-year-old grandfather of nine. Since the Iron Lady's death his views have been much in demand, and he will be among the dissenting voices contributing to broadcasters' coverage of her funeral on Wednesday.
But "Degsy", as he is known, has certainly changed since his days as a Trotskyist firebrand. Now an apparently wealthy property developer and businessman – having sold the digital agency he founded with his son to Trinity Mirror for £5.8m in 2008 – he lives in a luxury penthouse in the heart of Liverpool's thriving clubland, spends part of the year at his home in Cyprus and is busy running salary-sacrifice schemes encouraging cycling and workplace parking.
While fellow leftist bogeyman Scargill has retained a stony silence, Hatton is candid about Thatcher's legacy, and refuses to condemn the street parties that have occurred since her death. "Many people are celebrating the fact that Margaret Thatcher has died and I can understand that. The problem is that Thatcherism still exists and has existed ever since she walked out of Downing Street," he says.
"It has existed throughout all political parties in one way or another. Arguably, Tony Blair wouldn't have got away with a lot of what he got away with and certainly wouldn't have got away with going to war with another country on the basis of pure speculation and just to keep his mate in America who was a Republican happy and for a bit of oil. He would never have got away with that if Thatcher had not paved the way," he adds.
Hatton insists that had Mrs Thatcher died in 1985 at the height of the battle with Liverpool, there would have been no council-funded rejoicing. "Her dying means absolutely nothing in real terms and equally to celebrate the death of a human being means nothing. Basically I regret the fact that she was ever born. I will say that a million times," he says.
But while Thatcher was a "total enemy" the other villain of the piece was the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, and his notorious speech to the Labour Party conference in 1985 denouncing Militant and the near-bankrupt Liverpool City Council over its illegal deficit budget.
Hatton believes that the Tories were trembling at the prospect of their looming showdown with the local authorities over rate-capping which posed an even bigger threat to the Government's survival than the miners' strike – until the Labour leader's intervention destroyed the solidarity of the campaign.
"Kinnock did her dirty work for her," he says. "The moment Kinnock's speech happened it was like I was a leper. From that moment on every city didn't want to know. It is really strange but afterwards over the years I have bumped into ex-Tory ministers and ex-leading lights in the Conservative Party and they have all said the same thing – that Thatcher couldn't believe her luck when Kinnock said that. She actually thought she was going to have then a major battle with local authorities like she had with the miners," he adds.
Hatton admits that he enjoyed himself during his time in power. "I loved it. Of course I loved it," he says. And he remains proud of the Militant-run council's achievements during its brief tenure that began 30 years ago next month. In Liverpool, they revelled in being on the "hard" rather than the "loony left" – eschewing the "lesbian wrestling" tendencies of metropolitan comrades, he recalls.
"We built 5,000 houses which was more than twice as many as every other city added together. Every single one of those houses still stands they are all over the city. We built schools, we built nurseries – we created 1,000 jobs and 1,000 apprentices at a time when everyone else was doing natural wastage," Hatton adds. "We never lost an election. Eventually it was the House of Lords that got rid of us and not many people in Liverpool vote for the House of Lords," he says.
Modern-day council leaders have nothing like the same power although they face many of the same problems. "If Joe Anderson [the current Mayor of Liverpool] tomorrow tried to do what I did in the 80s within 24 hours they will just have taken all his powers off him and given them to the civil service… If there is ever going to be major change or major action in this country it certainly is not going to be based on local authorities. In the short term [the future is] they will simply be administrators," he says.
Meanwhile, Hatton has little time for those who call him a sell-out. "Those people who say those things haven't taken one millionth of the action that I have taken. I have got nothing to be ashamed of in terms of what I did in the 1980s," he says.
"Life's too short. I enjoy going to the gym. I have a fabulous family. I enjoy friends, I enjoy doing what I do. I enjoy everything about life. I love life. I'm certainly not going to let what happened 30 years ago get in the way of what I enjoy now. I'm 65 years old I'm probably at the half way stage in my life so I want to enjoy the next half."
Derek Hatton: Agenda
Last film watched: Hitchcock
Favourite TV show: Homeland
Last book read: The China Study by Colin Campbell
Most recent sporting event seen: Everton vs QPR on Saturday
Liverpool restaurant recommendation: 60 Hope Street for the food; Il Forno on Duke Street for the atmosphere.
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