In October 1988 Eric Pickles and his Tory group took control of Bradford Council with a radical programme designed to "wipe out municipal socialism forever". The story behind the "Bradford Revolution" is the story of Eric Pickles - now an ambitious Tory M.P. and shadow minister with a safe seat. It is a story of intrigue and double-dealing, ambition and power, sex and money, conspiracy and corruption, betrayal and blackmail! Taken from the 1 in 12 Publications archive.
The Pickles Papers
The story of Eric Pickles and his "Bradford Revolution" is a complex web of events, ideas and individuals. To attempt to separate the threads of this web into a single strand is not only impossible but ultimately undesirable. As new characters enter the tale, each brings their own background, motives, experiences and network of contacts.
This document therefore has been constructed as a collection of interlinked and detailed investigations. In this sense it is a resource package and should be dipped into accordingly.
Read between the lines; investigations continue.
This book is the result of 12 months work. Most of the material is drawn from documentary evidence, but where I have had to rely on personal accounts I have sought 2 or more independent sources. Where possible I have had final drafts checked by the individuals directly involved.
This is not intended as a political critique of Eric Pickles or local Tory politics. It is an attempt to establish what went on behind events.
Inevitably a work of this nature will contains errors. I trust these will be minimal. I will be grateful to hear from anyone with new information that will help improve any future editions.
Those who refused point blank to assist me include the Tory leader himself, Eric Pickles, along with his senior Tory colleagues. I have been able to gauge their views to some extent by talking to sources close to them. Most of the quotes attributed to them are taken from other documented sources. In this respect I have relied heavily on newspapers including the Telegraph & Argus, Keighley News, Bradford Star, Yorkshire Post and Evening Post, along with the national papers and numerous magazines and journals.
Mike Howat told me that he and his colleague Derek Halliday were unable to discuss matters relating to the School meals buy-out covered in Chapter 11 without permission from their employers - Bradford Council. At the time of going to print this permission had not been given.
I am indebted to fellow members of the 1 IN 12 PUBLICATIONS collective for their help in research, writing, editing, photography, design and finance. They include Chris Murdoch, Dave Turner, Sev Carrell and Mike Hughes. For additional help in research I thank the staff at libraries in Bradford, Keighley, Leeds and Wakefield, but especially the staff at Bradford's central reference library. I am also most grateful to workers at Bradford Resource Centre, Wakefield county archives, Leeds Other Paper and S.C.A.T., along with Joan Heath, Kate Barker, Caroline Dinsmore, staff at Leeds Crown Court, the Law Society, "Searchlight" and Bradford Register office.
Individuals who helped me include Gerry Sutcliffe, John Ryan, Peter Gilmour, Edward Johnson, Charles James, Max Madden MP, David Saunders, Malcolm Walton, Mike Barnett, Pete Carrol, John Tempest, Keith Piggott, Derek Holmes, Alan Sykes and Richard Penn.
I would also like to thank all those council workers and staff who were helpful and friendly.
Finally I must give a special mention to those very many people who helped me but whom I am unable to name, chiefly because it may make their own work more difficult in the future. They include journalists, police officers, lawyers, councillors and council officials.
Tony Grogan, November 1989.
Notes for electronic edition, October 1996:
Very few alterations have been made in the preparation of this electronic edition of the Pickles Papers. A few errata have been corrected and some minor changes to correct factual errors.
Additional material and updates have been attached at the end of the book in the form of additional "Epilogues" ( 4 ).
On Thursday October 13th 1988, Eric Pickles took the rostrum at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton. 5 years before he had stood in the same place and faced booing and heckling from a hostile audience. But this time it would be different.
A month earlier Eric Pickles and his Tory group had taken power in the West Yorkshire city of Bradford - the only large inner city to fall under local Tory control. With control had come revelations of a secret and radical plan to wipe out municipal socialism forever and to transform Bradford Metropolitan Council into "Bradford Plc", with Eric Pickles as chairman of the board of directors. It was a plan that had been drawn up hand-in-glove with the government over 2 years. It was a plan that was to be the blueprint for every Tory councillor in the land. It was a plan that heralded "The Bradford Revolution".
To cheers from the Tory delegates Pickles declared:
"There is a real sea of change in northern cities which reflects the new realism. It is the test of our party to remove Labour from the last vestiges of power in the north. If we can do it in Bradford, the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party, we can do it anywhere.
"There is little point in Conservatives controlling councils if they administer socialist municipal empires. Our aim must not be to run that system better - to produce more efficient municipal socialism. It must be to change the system!"
Pickles stepped down to become the toast of the Tory conference.
"A big hand for the Tories' local government hero" called the chairman Sir Ian McLeod as delegates rose in jubilation. For Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher it was the best birthday present she could have imagined - the fulfilment of a promise Pickles had made 3 years before.
The story behind the Bradford Revolution is the story of Eric Pickles. The ingredients owe more to a soap opera than a council chamber; intrigue and double-dealing, ambition and power, sex and money, conspiracy and corruption, betrayal and blackmail!
Chapter 01: The Bradford Revolution
On a warm autumn afternoon in 1988 the nation's media circus descended on the city of Bradford to record "the night of the Tory long knives".
It was Tuesday, October 25th and the city's new ruling Conservative group were preparing to push through phase one of their controversial plans dubbed "The Bradford Revolution". As the afternoon drew in over 3000 people flooded from a mass rally at St. Georges Hall and lay siege to City Hall. A half day strike by NALGO's five and a half thousand council members had left the corridors of City Hall eerily silent, save for the crackle of walkie-talkies from a handful of nervous security officers.
Outside union stewards and police struggled to pave a way through the heaving crowd for the city's opposition councillors to enter. Most of the Tory councillors had gathered safely inside 2 hours earlier, where they sat and chatted or watched videos.
A long queue of citizens snaked around the front of the Victorian edifice waiting to gain admission to the 118 seat public gallery. A move by the Tory leadership to impose a "ticket only" system of entry, designed to exclude "known troublemakers", had been deemed illegal only 3 days before. The legal challenge had been mounted with help from Bradford Law Centre - a council funded legal advice project that was earmarked for closure by the city's new masters.
An additional room had been set aside in City Hall to accommodate a further 50 members of the public. The council’s proceedings would be relayed to them via loudspeakers.
In his first floor office overlooking the mass of protesters outside, council leader Eric Pickles waited tensely. Fellow Tory councillor Enid Manogue had been missing since the previous day after deserting her husband and children to run off with her toyboy lover. Ilkley Tory councillor Alan Blann, notorious for his "disappearing" acts was also still missing. If only one of Pickles' group failed to appear then all would be lost.
Eric Pickles had taken power the month before when a by-election victory had left his group with 45 seats on the council. Labour and Liberals combined could muster the same number - 45. But the wily Tory leader had lain plans for this eventuality months earlier.
Bradford's Lord Mayor Smith Midgley - a Tory from the same ward as Pickles - would preside over the council meeting. As each decision was to be taken he would cast his vote with the Conservative group. With the combined opposition voting against the Tories the result would always be a dead heat - 45 votes each. In such an outcome the Lord Mayor had a second "casting" vote. Traditionally this second vote should have been used in a non-partisan manner, which usually meant voting to retain the status quo. But under the new radical Tory leadership Midgley would use his second vote to push through the Conservatives new policy package.
So controversial was this strategy to prove that Gemima Wilson, a pensioner and life long Tory voter, would later mount a High Court challenge to the practice. The challenge would fail.
But even worse was to follow. There were no further council elections due until May 1990. This left Pickles with the task of maintaining his tenuous grip on the council, dependant on the Lord Mayor's casting vote, for 18 months. But Smith Midgley was due to step down as Lord Mayor in May 1989. By tradition the new Lord Mayor should have been a Liberal, which would of course have marked the end of Tory control. As a sign of his ruthless determination Eric Pickles had announced, within days of taking power, that his group intended to keep the Lord Mayor's chair for 2 years on the trot. This move was unprecedented in modern times.
At the councils Annual General Meeting in May 1989 the Tory group would vote down the Liberals nomination for Mayor. Then, using his casting vote, the outgoing Lord Mayor Smith Midgley would vote in George Hodgson as his replacement. Hodgson was yet another Tory from Pickles' own ward. This move too would be challenged in the High Court. That challenge would also fail.
As 4.00 p.m. approached the city's councillors began to make their way into the council chamber.
Eric Pickles, "the Beast of Bradford", led his troops to their seats as protests and abuse rained down from the packed public galleries above. Much to Pickles' relief both Manogue and Blann had turned up, giving him the full compliment of councillors he needed.
On the opposite side of the chamber Labour leader Phil Beeley eyed his overweight opponent with anger. Beeley had been a close friend to Pickles' predecessor as Tory leader, but he could not even bring himself to speak to Pickles. For Bradford it was a new phenomenon. Years of consensus politics had ended with Pickles and Beeley sharing a mutual contempt.
There lay few surprises ahead. Since taking control on September 18th Pickles had created a near hysterical atmosphere with a series of shock announcements spelling out his radical plans. Almost daily the local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, had led it's front page with the latest news of proposed cuts, sell-offs, price rises and job losses. But Pickles knew exactly what he was doing. He chose to ignore warnings - even from his loyal officers. 3 weeks earlier he had made his most stunning pronouncement to date; the Tory group would axe the jobs of 9000 council employees!
At 4 o'clock the council meeting got underway. It was to be one of the longest in living memory lasting over 12 hours.
Throughout the meeting abuse flew across the council chamber and down from the galleries. At times it was impossible to hear the debates, but one by one the Tory's phase one proposals were pushed through on the casting vote of the Lord Mayor.
An hour and a half into the meeting everything stopped as someone set off the fire alarm. 2 hours later further disruption was caused by what turned out to be a hoax bomb call.
But nothing could stop Pickles and his group as proposal after proposal were approved in the stifling heat of the council chamber.
£5.8 million was cut from the budget, chiefly in Education. Up went council rents, the first of 2 such increases within 6 months.
Up went charges for leisure centres, theatre hire, car parks, school meals, home helps, meals on wheels, elderly luncheon clubs and cemeteries.
Staff cuts were announced amongst repairs and maintenance workers, caretakers, teachers, creche and nursery workers, social workers and council officers. Job vacancies would remain unfilled and budgets slashed in most departments. The councils' Old Peoples Homes would be sold off and Benefit Advice Centres closed.
For the largely poor inhabitants of the inner city it was a terrifying package and it was only the start. Within 6 months the council's budget would have been cut by £13 million.
Eric Pickles' 5 year plan was to cut over £50 million from the budget, to cut the council workforce by a third through job cuts and service privatisation, and to completely restructure the authority. The council would simply became a "holding" company which would meet 2 or 3 times a year in order to sign contracts with private companies who would provide whatever services remained.
By 4.30 on Wednesday morning as tired councillors staggered from the meeting Eric Pickles had assured his name would be known throughout the land.
To the thousands of protesters who had turned out to signal their anger at the Tory group, Eric Pickles was at best "a fat Tory bastard".
To the Labour group and trade unions he was "a puppet of central government".
To the hordes of journalists who began packing away and heading for their hotels, Pickles was "a man of mystery".
But to the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who sent her personal message of support later that day, Eric Pickles was a hero. He was bringing her revolutionary vision into the heart of the Inner Cities.
Chapter 02: Man of Mystery
In early October 1988, a Labour researcher walked into the offices of the "Members Secretariat" in City Hall. He asked to see the "Statutory register of members’ Interests".
This register, enforced by the 1972 Local Government Act as well as the council’s own rulebook, had to be updated every year. Councillors were required to fill in a form, setting out in detail all their pecuniary (financial) interests, as well as those of their spouse. The details were then copied into the register.
The researcher began checking to see what details the new Tory leader Eric Pickles had entered. Starting at 1988, he began to work back through the register.
It soon became clear that Eric Pickles had not bothered to fill in the register for 9 years. Indeed, the only entry Pickles had ever made was shortly after he had first joined the council in May 1979. What Pickles had then declared proved fascinating.
Eric Pickles gave his job as "Office holder, research work" and his employers as "The Conservative party, 32 Smith Square, London". By tradition a failure to update an entry meant that the original entry still stood.
This appeared to confirm exactly what the opposition had been claiming for some time - Eric Pickles was simply a "tool" of central government.
Local T & A reporter Robert Schopen tackled Pickles about this. Pickles dismissed the allegations saying;
"I made a mistake, I have forgotten to make my declaration of interests up to date. That form was filled in when I first joined the council when the Party paid for me to take a year’s sabbatical off work to fulfil my duties as national Chairman of the Young Conservatives. To tell the truth I was convinced I had updated it, but I have never actually looked at the register. I do not work for Conservative Central Office, and I am not taking my instructions directly from Mrs. Thatcher."
If Pickles thought the matter would rest there he was mistaken. That short statement was to set researchers off on a long mystery tour through the private finances of the Tory leader.
Researchers were quick to spot a number of errors in Pickles’ short statement. For instance, how could Pickles have taken "a year’s sabbatical off work to fulfil my duties as national Chairman of the Young Conservatives" in 1979, when he wasn’t elected to that position until 1980 - one year later? Furthermore, researchers soon discovered that Pickles had in fact updated his "Declaration of Interests" 6 years after he had first joined the council.
In early 1985 the council’s Members Liaison Officer Tessa Winchcombe had phoned Pickles and told him that he had been neglecting his yearly returns for the register. On January 11th 1985 Pickles scribbled a note on City Hall notepaper and passed it through. It read;
"Following our telephone conversation I confirm that to the best of my belief nothing has changed since my last declaration of Interest.
"I am afraid I did not realise they had to be confirmed yearly. Sorry if this caused you any problem.
"Best wishes, Eric Pickles."
This would appear to confirm that in 1985 Pickles was still employed by Conservative Central office!
Shortly after being quizzed by Schopen, Pickles filled in his register entry for the second time in 9 years. He now gave his occupation as "Self employed lawyer" working in "Industrial and Employment law". He added "no work in Bradford" as if to emphasise there could be no clash of interests between his private and political life.
Indeed, Pickles had insisted to Schopen that he had always publicly stated he was an employment lawyer working mainly in the North West. Records bear this claim out.
When he first stood as a councillor in 1979, Pickles had described himself on his election manifesto as "A Lawyer" only weeks before he filled in the council register claiming to be an employee of the Tory party.
Other public statements over the 9 years he had served as a councillor showed him describing himself as "a lawyer".
Many journalists had noted that Pickles was a "solicitor". This is not surprising since the rather vague sounding term "lawyer" is in fact quite specific. A "lawyer" is "someone qualified to practice law" and means either a solicitor or a barrister. Since Pickles had never claimed to be a barrister, journalists naturally took it that Pickles’ reference to being a "lawyer" meant he was a qualified solicitor. It was well known that Pickles had studied to be a solicitor in the early 1970’s.
There was just one small problem with all this - Eric Pickles had failed to qualify as a solicitor. And anyone who describes themselves as such without the necessary qualifications commits a criminal offence!The Solicitors Act 1974, Section 21 reads;
"Unqualified Person Not To Pretend To Be A Solicitor.
"Any unqualified person who wilfully pretends to be, or takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine....
On October 25th 1988, as councillors gathered at City Hall for the first council meeting under Pickles leadership, a "KDIS Special Bulletin" entitled "The secret life of Eric Pickles" was circulated. The bulletin - the first of 5 profiles on the new Tory leadership front bench team, produced by 1 IN 12 Publications - spelt out these facts.
An angry Labour councillor Alan Rye demanded Pickles come clean. A furious Eric Pickles refused to respond, and later told journalists he would sue the authors of the bulletin. 2 days afterwards his bluff was called when Leeds Other Paper expanded the allegations in a full page article "Who pays Pickles?" The article also wondered when Pickles found time for his mysterious "law" work, as council records showed that Pickles was working at City Hall full time, consistently drawing the daily "attendance allowance".
Similarly, Pickles had no "office" for his law work - his "business" telephone number was in fact the number of his City Hall office. Council rules strictly forbid councillors from using City Hall resources for their private business interests.
Pickles never claimed "loss of earnings" to which he was entitled, and which would add up to a considerable amount if his "law work" claim was genuine. However, in order to claim these he would have to give details of his mystery clients.
He never advertised as a "lawyer" and, despite detailed and protracted enquiries by researchers amongst legal sources in the North West, no-one who had ever heard of Eric Pickles "the lawyer" could be found.
Despite his threats, Pickles never sued. Instead, that weekend he gave a number of interviews to friendly national newspapers and tried to set the record straight.
Pickles told lan Hamilton Fazey of the Financial Times that he was "a freelance legal consultant" and "made a good living from advising solicitors on employment law and industrial injuries". He admitted he had never completed his "Part two Law Society exams" and thus was not qualified as a solicitor. As to when he found time for his "law work" Pickles explained;
"I don’t need much sleep. I rise between 4 and 5 am and do a lot of paperwork and writing before 9 o’clock. Then I go out on any business I have to do."
Far from satisfying curious researchers Pickles’ statement only served to stretch their credulity. Further efforts to identify Pickles’ mystery clients proved fruitless.
With so little information available most newspapers settled on the description of Pickles as "a man of mystery".
Shortly after the Leeds Other Paper article in October 1988, Pickles had told an L.O.P. journalist; "Anyway, I’m starting a new job soon." He refused to expand on this and so researchers waited expectantly for his next entry in the council’s Register of Interests.
In June 1989 Eric Pickles duly updated the record. He wrote;
- Employment: "consultant in Employment practice".
- Business: "Industrial accidents, Employment law (thru solicitors firms), Training work, computer software."
Once more there was nothing specific.
The Local Government Act of 1972 had stated clearly that the register should contain details of a member’s "...employment of a specified company or other body, or that he or his spouse is a partner or in the employment of a specified person..."
However, the council’s solicitor Allen Sykes was quick to rebut the suggestion that Eric Pickles’ entry was "completely worthless with regard to the 1972 act."
"The disclosure is a valid disclosure within the terms of the legislation" he said.
So what is the truth behind the source of Eric Pickles’ mysterious income? Who are his shady paymasters?
In order to attempt to answer these questions it is first necessary to delve deeper into the private life of the Tory leader.
Eric Jack Pickles was born on April 20th 1952 at Keighley's Victoria Hospital. He was the only child of Constance Joyce Pickles and Jack Pickles - a retail fish and fruit salesman.
The Pickles family were then living in a small house at 22 Blossom Street (known locally as Thorn St.) in the Park Wood area of Keighley, overlooking a grimy industrial area of the town.
In 1963, when young Eric was 11 years old, Jack and Constance took over a small general store called "Smiths Store" on the nearby Woodhouse estate. The store stood at the top of the growing council estate and business was brisk. The family lived in at the shop.
The constant access to sweets and treats for young Eric must have proved tempting, and no doubt added to his weight problem. Although these were fairly humble circumstances, none the less being the son of a shopkeeper set Eric a notch above those youngsters around him.
When Eric was 16 years old Keighley became one of the first areas in the country to adopt the new Comprehensive education system. It was a revolution that Keighley was ill prepared for. The 2 grammar schools, Keighley Boys’ and Keighley Girls’, were made coeducational and the 11 Plus exams abolished, but teaching methods changed little.
Keighley Girls’ school changed it’s, name to Greenhead Grammar (although of course now a comprehensive) and a handful of boys took the first steps across it’s grand entrance in 1967. Eric Pickles was amongst that group. It must have been a daunting experience for that first group of boys, entering a new world where they found themselves vastly outnumbered by girls at ease with their surroundings.
But it was also a time when the "liberal" tradition was in ascendancy. When Eric entered the sixth form they had just acquired a new "common room" where mini-skirted girls and a handful of long haired boys in flared trousers could relax as "adults".
In the same year at school with Eric was a young girl called Irene Coates. They didn’t know it at the time, but the couple would later marry.
In the year immediately below Eric was another precocious and podgy youth who would follow closely in the footsteps of Eric Pickles. His name was Peter Gilmour.
At the age of 16 Eric Pickles was well read;
"I’d already read ‘Das Kapital' and Trotskys' ‘History of the Russian Revolution’. Selsdon Man was in fashion. It was an exciting time, riots and so on."
It was at this time that Pickles joined the Keighley Young Conservatives:
"I joined because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I was so shocked by the tanks. It was not the best way of fighting Breznev, but it made me feel better" he said.
Keighley had a particularly strong Conservative association. The Tories had won control of Keighley town hall and retained power until local government reorganisation in 1974 took Keighley into the Bradford Metropolitan District.
A brand new Conservative Association headquarters had just been opened at Churchill House in the town centre. The formal opening in October 1967 was performed by Tory opposition leader Edward Heath.
Keighley's Young Conservatives’ branch was the strongest in the country with a membership of over 200. Eric Pickles found it a "marvellous organisation, very friendly" and soon began to rise through it’s ranks. At the Keighley Y.C.’s annual meeting on Monday January 18th 1971, Eric Pickles was elected deputy chairman of the organisation. He was then 18 years old.
Pickles was having a good time. The Young Conservatives ran a disco at Churchill House - one of few activities for under 18’s in the town. It was always full and the young Eric Pickles was a regular attender. But the discos also brought in "skinheads and bikers" and the evenings often ended with fights. In 1971 the Keighley Conservative association felt it necessary to stop the Y.C. discos, even though they were annually bringing in £1500 for party coffers (they would later try to reinstate them, only to close them down again in 1974 due to "violence").
In January 1972, 19 year old Eric Pickles was elected as chairman of the Keighley Young Conservatives. In his inaugural speech he chose Unemployment and the Aire Valley Trunk Road as his topics - both of which would still haunt him 16 years later when he took control of Bradford council. "Unemployment is an economic and human waste. A trunk road would enable us to stop this alarming trend of redundancies by making Keighley that bit more attractive to firms wishing to expand."
He went on to argue that Keighley needed the motorlinks with the Euroports at Humberside and the Greater London area to attract industry. He said that most young people had to leave Keighley to find a good job and all that was left was the older people.
"Has Keighley only to look forward to the prospect of becoming the Geriatric Mecca of the 1990’s?" he asked.
Eric Pickles’ rise through the local Tory party ranks was meteoric. He went on to become chairman of the Yorkshire area Young Conservatives and in 1974 he was elected onto the National Executive of the National Conservative party as one of 4 delegates for the Yorkshire area National Union of Conservative and Unionist associations.
In order to appreciate Pickles’ standing within the Tory party, it is important to understand the party’s structure and where the spheres of influence lie.
The Conservative party is a very different organisation to other mainstream political parties. The Tory party itself consists of it’s members of Parliament and is ruled firmly from the top. The rest of the organisation has no direct say over policies.
The various Conservative associations around the country combine to form the National Union which has it’s annual conference once a year when Tory ministers and the Prime Minister make key note speeches. But the debates are very much stage managed and, unlike the Labour party for instance, have no direct effect on party policy.
The governing body of the National Union is it’s Central Council, which also meets once a year in a sort of "mini conference".
The National Executive committee (around 100 delegates) is made up of representatives of provincial areas, officers of the Parliamentary party and officers from Conservative Central Office. It meets every 2 or 3 months. Again this body does not direct government policy, but runs the party "machine". It approves or rejects affiliation applications from constituency associations, prepares agendas for the annual conference and vets resolutions submitted by local branches.
However, it also serves a very important "unofficial" function; it funnels concerns from local constituencies to Parliament, and feeds back government directives to the constituencies.
The key link between the National Executive and Downing Street is the Conservative party Chairman, who runs Conservative Central Office.
When Pickles attended his first meeting of the National Executive, the Party Chairman was Lord Thorneycroft. But Eric was to see several Party Chairmen come and go; Cecil Parkinson, John Selwyn Gummer, Norman Tebbit, Peter Brooke and Kenneth Baker. All were influential ministers under Margaret Thatcher.
Pickles was to sit on the National Executive right through from 1974 until he took control of Bradford council and beyond, with only a 2 year break. This was to have a vital effect on his political career, giving him a direct line to government ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister herself.
Meanwhile Eric Pickles was also turning his attention to his future employment prospects. Armed with his 'O' and ‘A’ levels, Pickles studied on a six month course at Leeds Polytechnic Law Department, where he passed his Law Society "Part One" examinations in 1974. Then, in his early twenties, he got himself a position with top local solicitors Last Suddards where he began serving his 4 years’ "articles". This involved doing the basic clerical work for a wage about equivalent to a student grant.
During the first 2 years of his "articles" Pickles sat his Law Society "Part Two" exams, and failed. This in itself was not surprising; these exams were notoriously tough and it wasn’t unusual for aspiring solicitors to fail on their first attempt. Pickles still had 2 years ahead of him for further attempts.
Meanwhile he continued his work in the Keighley Tory party, entertaining at Young Conservative supper debates with motions such as "The liberated woman has failed to take her place in society."
On September 11th 1976, 24 year old Eric Pickles married Irene Coates at St. Michael’s Parish church in Linton-in-Craven, just over the border in North Yorkshire. Irene was then living in Colne, Lancashire and worked at the Grassington branch of Barclays bank. The couple had got to know each other through the Keighley Young Conservatives.
The newlyweds bought a brand new bungalow at 36 Hillside Avenue in Oakworth for just over £7000. A perk of Irene’s job meant the couple could benefit from a much reduced interest rate on their mortgage.
For Eric Pickles life was sweet and the future looked promising. His wife Irene was a quiet and unassuming woman who patiently tolerated her husband’s long political absences and rarely quizzed him about his political life.
In February 1978 his work with the Keighley Young Conservatives was acknowledged with an award for the "Best branch of the Young Conservatives". The decision was made by a committee chaired by the leader of the Tory party in opposition - Margaret Hilda Thatcher. 2 months later Eric Pickles was elected as the youngest ever National vice-chairman of the Young Conservatives, aged only 25.
Eric Pickles was now at a crossroads. As he served 2 consecutive years as National Y.C. vice-chairman he found himself devoting more and more time to politics. This had a detrimental effect on his work as an articled clerk and his continued attempts to pass his "Part Two" exams. A decision as to his future had to be made. He opted for a full-time commitment to politics.
In mid 1978, after finishing his 4 years’ articles without qualifying, and shortly after the death of his mother, Eric Pickles packed in his work at Last Suddards and gave up any hope of becoming a solicitor.
He was by then spending a good deal of time in London and eventually took on a full-time job as a research officer for Conservative Central Office. This was a voluntary and, according to former Party Chairman Peter Brooke, unpaid position. But Pickles received generous expenses.
As vice-chairman of the National Young Conservatives and a member of their Youth Service committee, Pickles embarked on drafting a new "Youth and Community" bill. When it was finished Pickles persuaded Trevor Skeet, Tory MP for Bedford, to push the bill through Parliament.
The bill was aimed at creating wider consultation between central and local government and voluntary youth organisations. It was introduced to Parliament by Skeet in June 1979 and made it’s way through a number of stages before disappearing altogether in July 1980.
Never the less, the experience brought Pickles directly into the Parliamentary arena.
As Pickles began his research work he had no thoughts of entering local government. But, in early 1979 the councillor for Pickles’ local Worth Valley ward, Bill Proom, decided to turn his attentions full-time to the County council. Proom announced that he was standing down as a member of Bradford council.
In April 1979 Pickles’ local ward party met to pick a successor for Proom. According to Pickles;
"I joined Bradford council completely by accident. I was chosen by the ward to fight an election in my absence. When I arrived late for the meeting I was told. I was mildly surprised but thought it might be interesting."
Pickles won the safe Tory seat in May 1979 with a majority of 500. But he had little interest at that time in local Politics and continued to direct all his efforts at national level. Margaret Thatcher had been elected as Prime Minister on the very same day Pickles was elected to Bradford council and national politics was about to lurch radically to the right.
Politically it was an exciting time for Pickles, even though he was still then poles apart from "Thatcherism".
At the annual conference of the National Young Conservatives in early February 1980, held in Scarborough, Eric Pickles realised one of his ambitions by being elected as the youngest ever chairman. It was a triumph for the "liberal" majority of the 30,000 strong Young Conservatives.
But the newly installed Prime Minister, now presiding over a right-wing resurgence in Tory politics, showed her feelings by snubbing the Young Conservative’s conference altogether. In a break with tradition she failed to show up.
The Young Conservatives had been founded in 1947 as a successor to the Junior Imperial and Constitutional League, to become the largest political youth movement in Britain and the second largest in Europe. Becoming chairman of the Y.C.’s was a useful step for any ambitious young Tory.
In 1988 Pickles would join the 40th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Young Conservatives as one of it’s 28 former chairmen. Of those 28, half had already gone on to become MPs and half of those had become government ministers
Life at the top of the Young Conservatives had already taken Eric Pickles around the world. On a trip to a Young Christian Democrats seminar held at Salerno in Italy, Pickles found himself caught up in a gun battle at Milan Airport between the police and the Red Brigades. Later he walked into a battle at Naples station between the police and local communists.
One of his first jobs as Y.C. chairman was to lead a delegation to Israel.
But his year in office was not without it’s difficulties. The radical right was a growing force in young Tory politics. The S.D.P. had recently been founded and disillusioned liberals in both the Labour and Conservative parties were deserting to the new "centre" party.
At the Young Conservative’s national conference in Eastbourne in February 1981, Pickles presided over a growing split in the ranks, particularly between northern "liberals" and southern "right-wingers".
Government Environment minister James Prior addressed the audience. He was worried about the growth of racist groups like the National Front, but was heckled by southern delegates. When northern delegates called for more cash aid for youth training, southern right-wingers dismissed it as "a waste of money".
Later that year 8 prominent young Tories defected to the S.D.P. They included 2 executive members of the Tory Reform Group and 3 former chairmen of the Federation of Conservative Students. They had been planning their move since early 1980, concerned at the Tories’ "drift to the right" and claiming that the Conservative party had become little more than a "Thatcher fan club".
The writing was already on the wall for the "wet" Eric Pickles.
The Federation of Conservative Students soon fell under the control of the radical right. Indeed, their antics proved such an embarrassment that Tory party chairman Norman Tebbit was forced to disband the FCS altogether just prior to the 1987 General Election. The right-wing young Tories simply moved elsewhere, and in 1988 even the "moderate" Young Conservatives were captured by the radical right when Andrew Tinney was elected chairman.
After his stint as chairman of the National Young Conservatives, Eric Pickles began to devote more time to local politics. But he still retained his close national party links as well. In June 1981 he was appointed co-chairman of the national Joint Committee Against Racialism by the Tory party. He joined the Labour party’s Jo Richardson MP on this Parliamentary body.
Back in Bradford Eric Pickles, by now chairman of the councils Social Services committee, was beginning to enjoy his council work. He was governor of several local schools and in October 1982 was appointed to the board of the Yorkshire Regional Health Authority.
According to Peter Gilmour, Pickles’ close friend and colleague who was running the council’s Education committee, ideas were then already beginning to form in Pickles’ mind about the need to reorganise the council. Having attempted, with little success, to obtain detailed costings for various council services, Pickles and Gilmour had settled for securing the best resources they could for their own departments.
It was around this time too that Pickles dramatically changed his image. His long hair was cut off and out went the "Godfather"-like tinted glasses to make way for contact lenses.
Pickles was moving into the new Conservative mainstream.
But what of the mysterious source of his income?
Since finishing at Last Suddards in 1978 Eric Pickles had had no further known employment.
There is undoubtedly some truth in his claim to have done some work as a "freelance legal consultant" for mystery solicitor-clients somewhere in the North West, but it is clear that this could never have generated much in the way of income.
This mystery had set researchers on a fruitless search for evidence of a shady political paymaster - either directly linked to Conservative Central Office or through one of the many right-wing and nominally independent "front" organisations which surround the party.
But there is another, as yet unexamined, possibility.
Eric and Irene Pickles enjoyed a relatively inexpensive lifestyle, with low mortgage repayments (probably less than £50 per month). They both drove inexpensive cars, again probably obtained with low rates of interest courtesy of Irene’s bank work. Irene, who in 1989 was still working as a clerk at Barclays bank Skipton branch, where the couple have a number of joint accounts, was earning in the region of £9,000 per year. The couple have no children.
Eric would be receiving generous expenses for his national Tory party work. Records show that he has always claimed consistently high expenses for his council attendance’s. These have risen each year and averaged around £6000 in 1987 and 1988. As council leader he topped the councils expenses league, bringing in around £2000 or more each quarter.
So, with a joint income of over £15,000 a year and only modest outgoings, the Pickles’ family could manage quite easily without the need for a "mystery paymaster".
It may well be that Eric Pickles was happy to foster the mystery surrounding his income, simply because for almost 10 years he had been largely unemployed. To admit this would hardly have enhanced his image.
Of course, the future emergence of new evidence or the sudden desire to "come clean" by the Tory leader may yet produce some startling surprises.
Chapter 03: The Honeyford Affair
In January 1984 Bradford headmaster Ray Honeyford wrote an article on "Education and Race - an alternative view" for the pro-repatriation magazine "The Salisbury Review". This article was to spark off 2 years of bitter controversy that would tear the community of Bradford in half. It was to have a profound effect on everyone - not least Eric Pickles.
In order to understand how the ramblings of a middle school headmaster in the pages of a minor right wing magazine could so devastate the normally tight-knit cohesion of the Bradford community, it is first necessary to look back several years.
Bradford has always been a multi-cultural and multi-racial city. Early immigrants came from across Europe; Germany, Poland and the Ukraine. Later people came from the West Indies and the Indian sub-continent to feed the textile mills of Wool City. Yet it is on Bradford's black community that malicious attention has always been focussed.
In the early 1970's neo-nazi groups like the National Front were at the peak of their strength. Active in Bradford as elsewhere they had a visible presence on the streets and in the media, even putting up numerous candidates at elections. Racist violence was commonplace.
In 1976 the Front organised a huge "anti-immigration" march through Bradford. Tolerance throughout the community finally broke and a massive resistance poured out to meet them. Thousands of local people harried the nazi procession through Bradford city centre and into Manningham. Barricades were thrown up across Manningham Lane and the remnants of the Front march only reached Manningham middle school with the help of a large police presence. . Clashes between local protesters and the police - who were judged to have acted as "protectors" to the fascists -continued into the evening. There were a number of injuries and 2 Police cars were overturned and smashed.
"The Battle of Bradford" marked a turning point. Even the local Telegraph & Argus announced that the fascist "stormtroopers" should never be allowed to return.
From then on a communal decision was reached to drive the fascists from Bradford forever. The atmosphere was electric with euphoria and determination.
Over the next few years physical confrontation against any organised fascist presence became the norm. There were many ugly incidents and the neo-nazis turned increasingly to terrorist violence to retain their tenuous grip. Arson attacks, shotgun attacks, machete attacks, stabbings and finally murder were the price paid by Bradfordians before the fascists abandoned any hope of maintaining an open presence in the city.
In July 1981 12 Asian youths were arrested and charged with "conspiracy to cause explosions". They had prepared a cache of petrol bombs for defence against a planned invasion of Bradford by the National Front. Immediately after their arrests over 800 people turned up at a public meeting in their support. It was a clear sign of the mood at that time. The following year the Bradford 12 were all acquitted in an historic jury decision. The right to self-defence had prevailed.
Of course there remained a level of submerged "cultural" racism in large sections of the white community, but none the less the general feeling was one of progressive hope.
Demands for improvements in race relations were met by a consensus amongst local politicians. Peter Gilmour, the young Tory chairman of the Council's Education Committee, was particularly held in high regard by both the older, more traditional Asian community as well as the younger radical elements in the Asian Youth Movement. Gilmour was unashamedly anti-racist and promoted innovations such as the provision of halal meat in schools in 1983.At that time Gilmour's close friend Eric Pickles was also a firm supporter of the council's multi-cultural policies. At the 1983 Tory party conference Pickles was heckled and booed when he spoke out in a debate on immigration.
The introduction of the halal meat policy led to protests from a largely white middle-class "animal rights" group that was soon attracting support from racist elements on the far right. Some councillors such as Labour's Norman Free also weighed in against the halal decision and grassroots Tory party members in Gilmour's constituency of Keighley North were soon expressing displeasure at their representative's standpoint.
Other decisions began to arouse suspicions, such as the council's introduction of "race training courses" for head teachers - the result of a complacent attitude to racial attacks in schools. With these pressures simmering, Ray Honeyford's outpourings proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Ray Honeyford was appointed headmaster of Bradford's Drummond middle school in 1980.
He had lived and worked in the Manchester area all his life and rather than move to Bradford he chose to drive through from his home in Prestwich each day. He found a very different environment from that which he was used to.
When Honeyford joined Drummond, half the pupils were black. Within 5 years this percentage grew to around 90% when the council's policy of "bussing" pupils to outlying areas was eventually scrapped.
Honeyford first expressed dubious views 2 years after coming to Bradford when he wrote to the local T & A on school notepaper to complain about a council grant given to a local West Indian Community Association. As a result he was disciplined by the council.
Undeterred, the following year he wrote an article for the Times Educational Supplement. This took the form of his diary entries over a week.
It was clear from this article where Honeyford stood. Whilst claiming not to be a racist Honeyford's tone expressed clearly the kind of "cultural racism" which was common in wide sections of the population.
His article for the right wing Salisbury Review confirmed this clearly.
Whilst primarily an attack on what Honeyford called "The Race Relations Lobby" Honeyford was also attacking the council's carefully drawn up multi-cultural Education policy. According to Honeyford "much of the pressure for a multi-racial curriculum comes from the vehement, radical left of black organisations."Honeyford took the populist view that there exists in Britain a uniform, Christian and superior "English" culture. His idea of a dominant English culture had been defined in the first issue of the Salisbury Review when John Casey quoted the poet T.S. Eliot;
"It includes all the characteristic activities of the people: Derby Day, Henley regatta, Cowes, the Twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin-table, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth century gothic churches and the music of Elgar."
His basic premise was as absurd as it was romantic, but none the less it would strike a chord with a large number of people.
Honeyford illustrated his theme with a series of offensive and irrelevant stereotypes that can only have been intended to insult the parents of the children in his care. His article is littered with phrases like:
"West Indians .... create an ear-splitting cacophony for most of the night..."
"The hysterical political temperament of the Indian sub-continent..."
"A half educated and volatile Sikh..."
"Pakistan is a country that cannot cope with democracy... the heroin capital of the world which is now reflected in the drug problems of English cities with Asian populations.
Honeyford sums up his feelings with this passage.,
"At no point in all this sound and fury does the plight of those white children who constitute the "Ethnic minority" in a growing number of inner city schools merit even a mention. Yet their educational "disadvantage" is now confirmed. It is no more than common sense that if a school contains a disproportionate number of children for whom English is a second language (true of all Asian children, even those born here), or children from homes where educational values to support it are conspicuously absent (i.e. the vast majority of West Indian homes – a disproportionate number of which are fatherless) then academic standards are bound to suffer."
Honeyford got most of his facts wrong and his views were not shared by the vast majority of teachers in Bradford's inner city area. But Honeyford was primarily an ideologue.
Honeyford's association of "inferior cultures" with West Indians and Asians defined the victims of his "cultural racism" as precisely the same as victims of overt racism. If there ever was an "intellectual" difference, in practice there was none.
Of course the parents whose children went to Drummond were not amongst the 1000 right wing subscribers to the Salisbury Review and so it was not until the Yorkshire Post reprinted the article in March that they realised what exactly their headmaster felt about them.A number of the Drummond parents were so shocked that on March 15th they formed the Drummond Parents Action Committee. One of the parents, Jenny Woodward, was elected chairman and the committee called for Honeyford's dismissal. Woodward later stood for the post of parent governor to the school. She faced 12 other candidates but received more votes than all the others put together.
Initially the consensus amongst senior councillors was hostile to Honeyford. Both Tory leader Ronnie Farley and Tory Education chief Peter Gilmour publicly attacked Honeyford' Senior Labour councillors and the Liberals joined in along with the Community Relations Council and a number of community organisations. The local N.U.T. called for Honeyford's dismissal.
But Honeyford was not without supporters. Tory backbench councillors remained initially silent although their sympathy lay almost entirely with the headmaster and his views. A number of Labour councillors were unhappy too and before long the apparent council consensus was broken when the outgoing Labour Lord Mayor Norman Free backed Honeyford. The governors at Drummond, mostly political appointees, backed Honeyford. His union, the N.A.H.T. came to his defence.
The controversy was beginning to boil when the May council elections came. Tory Education chief Peter Gilmour became the first political casualty as a direct result of his anti Honeyford stance. Most of his own ward party members would not help his campaign and he lost his seat.
With Gilmour gone, Eric Pickles became the chairman of the Education Committee and responsible for the Honeyford saga. At first he simply went along with what appeared to be the political consensus at Bradford council. Much later he said this was a mistake;
"When I took over as Education chairman I was told that he (Honeyford) was an out-and-out racist, part of a movement to topple the authority, and a person who had to be got rid of."
This is Pickles' view today, but at the time he had read Honeyford's article and found his views distasteful. Council officials like Education director Richard Knight warned Pickles of the trouble that lay ahead and told him that Honeyford would have to go. The difficulty lay in publicly justifying Honeyford's removal. In opting initially for the reason that Honeyford had ignored the rules laid down by his employer the council - they lay themselves open to the charge of being unjustly "authoritarian".
The Tory right meanwhile began to organise in Honeyford's support on the basis of defending "free speech". The media were soon backing Honeyford both locally and nationally.
The Honeyford campaign would soon also draw in activists from the extreme right who were more than willing to exploit the situation. Frank Kelly - later of the Yorkshire Monday Club - collected a 6000 name petition backing Honeyford. Another recently retired Bradford headmaster lent his support; Stanley Garnett, northern spokesman for the neo-nazi British National Party.
Within a matter of months public opinion was totally polarised.
As the controversy dragged on the Drummond parents grew more frustrated with the lack of progress in removing a headmaster they had no faith in. They began organising marches and demonstrations. Later they organised boycotts, keeping their children from school. In March 1985, one year into the affair, they successfully organised a weeklong "alternative" school for their children. It seems somewhat ironic now that the government believes in greater parental control of schools. To Honeyford's backers the Drummond parents were seen as a group of left-wing conspirators. Their views were judged as irrelevant. In April 1985 when the right wing Tory MP Marcus Fox arranged an adjournment debate in Parliament on Honeyford, Labour MP Max Madden - whose constituency included the school - was denied the right to speak for his constituents!
Throughout his first year as Education supremo, Eric Pickles walked a political tightrope. Although he wanted rid of Honeyford he was soon fully aware of his own backbenchers support for the headmaster. He could not back a straight dismissal as demanded by the opposition. Instead he opted for a quiet "pay off" deal so that Honeyford would simply retire. But with no overall control of the council, Pickles needed the support of the opposition. Both Labour and Liberals would have none of it.
In November 1984 Honeyford turned down a £100,000 payoff package secretly proposed by Pickles. Honeyford was not averse to a pay-off in principle, just the amount. In January 1985 he set his leaving price at a quarter of a million pounds. The Honeyford affair took many twists and turns and is fully documented elsewhere (see for example the Telegraph & Argus Supplement, November 1985).
Suffice it to say that by September 1985 Pickles had made several attempts to arrange a pay-off deal. Each had been blocked by the opposition. Honeyford had faced a 5-month suspension on full pay, which provided a breathing space, but he was eventually cleared of "misconduct" by a school governor's inquiry and reinstated following High Court action by his union.
The situation in Bradford was becoming more and more tense. The widespread "cultural" racism that for so long had remained submerged had now been released with a vengeance. Popular public opinion, at least on a national scale, seemed to be shifting in Honeyfords favour with strident pro-Honeyford campaigns in the tabloids.
Eric Pickles was facing the most serious political dilemma of his career.
He had been to see Honeyford himself and later described the meeting;
"My mistake was not going to see Ray Honeyford sooner than I did. When I did, I met a genuine man, perhaps a little stubborn but a person who cared about his school, pupils and parents. Asian children tugged at his sleeve wanting to talk to him. I realised he believed in what he was doing and that the system was out to crush him."
But it was no warming to Honeyford that brought about a remarkable conversion in Eric Pickles. He was coming under severe pressure from the government to back Honeyford. Keith Joseph, the Education minister, had ordered a full report on the affair and Pickles was told to settle the matter quickly. The government was closely in touch with the network of "independent" radical right wing pressure groups that were becoming increasingly influential at Downing Street. These groups had been taking more and more responsibility for formulating and promoting new Tory policy ideas. The Salisbury Review was part of this network.Eric Pickles, as a member of the Tory National Executive Committee, found himself isolated from government opinion as well as his local Tory activists and Tory voters.
It was time for Pickles to re-examine his own basic beliefs and consider his political future.
His close friend Peter Gilmour had chosen to sacrifice his own political future in order to do what he believed was right. If Pickles continued on the course he was following there was a good chance he would go the same way.
But Pickles was far too ambitious for that. He had spent too much time building his political career to see it crushed now. It was clear to him that the future lay in embracing the philosophy of the newly dominant radical right and Eric Pickles decided to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Pickles apologised to the government for his mistake. He promised to make amends by delivering Bradford into Conservative hands with a new radical face.Meanwhile the situation in Bradford was deteriorating fast. With Honeyford back at Drummond middle school the parents reintroduced their boycott and set up a picket line outside the school. The picket was shown almost daily on television an some ugly confrontations developed.
Bradford's Lord Mayor Mohammed Ajeeb - Britain's first Asian Mayor - broke his silence and called for Honeyford's suspension. Ajeeb's home was attacked as a result. 3 new anti-Honeyford parent governors were elected overwhelmingly on the day that Margaret Thatcher signalled her backing for the headmaster by inviting him to an education seminar at Downing Street.Drummond school governors appointed a new chairman - right wing Tory councillor Eric Sunderland - and the newly elected parent governors walked out in disgust.
Growing street violence was highlighted by local church leaders which prompted emergency secret talks at City Hall involving the Bishop of Bradford and West Yorkshire Chief Constable Colin Sampson.
Such was the concern that finally, in October 1985, the Labour and Liberal groups dropped their opposition to a payoff deal for Honeyford. It seemed that at last the matter was to be settled.
But it was at this point that the new Eric Pickles emerged. Shed of the last vestiges of his "wet" past and determined to sweep away the old practice of fudged "consensus" politics, Eric Pickles proclaimed "There will be no pay-off. Honeyford will stay."
Pickles' new stance stunned the opposition. At a stormy council meeting on October 29th Liberal John Wells said; "What they seem to be going for now is a nasty rightwing backlash vote. I urge you to change your position or you will be accused of fiddling while Bradford burns." ' This was no exaggerated claim. With Bradford moving towards large-scale civil unrest all bets seemed off. The Drummond Parents Support Group launched a wider campaign and it seemed a fight to the finish lay ahead.
But Pickles had dithered too long. Evidence from canvass returns coming to the Tory group indicated that their new backing for Honeyford had come too late. It was likely that Labour would gain control of the council at the next elections in May 1986.
Pickles later explained;
"Politically, I felt it would be good for the Tory party if Ray Honeyford was in place at the time of the coming local elections but feared a Labour victory, and if that happened, he would be out without compensation. I fought for the best settlement I could."
In fact Honeyford himself had told Pickles that he was ready to go. Honeyford was by now a celebrity in right wing circles and had a new career planned.
In December 1985 Honeyford agreed to retire with a golden handshake of £71,000 plus an index-linked pension of £6,500 per year. Not bad for 5 years "service".
With Honeyford gone almost everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Ray Honeyford was out but not down. He immediately sold his story to the Daily Mail who serialised it under the headline "The Hounding of Honeyford". With his new financial independence he threw himself into the inter-linked network of right wing organisations around the Conservative party; the Salisbury Review, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Freedom Association, the Committee for a Free Britain and the Campaign for Real Education.
He helped form a new organisation "Majority Rights" to campaign for the abolition of the Commission for Racial Equality.
In May 1988 he was elected a Tory councillor for Bury. Meanwhile, at Eric Pickles' invitation he returned to Bradford to campaign for the Conservatives in the May 1986 elections. But by that time most people wanted to forget the pain of the Honeyford affair.
For Eric Pickles the affair had proved the catalyst for his political conversion. Government pleasure at his new stance was shown by the remarkable number of Tory ministers who came to Bradford in the run up to the elections.
But Pickles' conversion had come too late to save him from the immediate local right wing backlash. Someone had to take the blame for Honeyford's fall.
In April 1986 Pickles was voted off the Tory's National Executive Committee - a seat he had held for 12 years.
The following month the Tories in Bradford were swept from power by an unprecedented 16-seat landslide victory for Labour.
Chapter 04: The Sad Tale of Ronnie Farley
The 1986 council election result was an unprecedented disaster for Bradford's Tories and Tory leader Ronnie Farley in particular. Even the best efforts of Eric Pickles, by now Farley's deputy, in bringing up the government's Big Guns to bolster the campaign had failed miserably.
For Ronnie Farley the defeat seemed to mark the end of his political career and paved the way for the rise of Eric Pickles.
Ronald Malcolm Farley was born on September 14th 1946. He was the youngest of 3 brothers; John was then 8 years old and Derrik, the eldest, 2 years older.
Ronnie was born into a family of mixed political pedigree. His grandfather had been a founder member of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford - the forerunner to the present Labour party. But Ronnie's father Sydney and mother Wyn were involved in Clayton Tory circles and Ronnie would eventually follow suit.
Ronnie lived at the Farley's family home in Clayton until his marriage. He attended Clayton Church school, then Grange Grammar which he left aged 16 with a modest 5 '0' levels. After toying with the idea of becoming a vet, he eventually followed his father and brother John into the family accountancy business Charles Buckle & Co. and qualified in 1967.
At that time Ronnie had little interest in politics. He was an active sportsman and put most of his energy into having a good time. He joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce and became known for organising "wild" fund raising events. He also showed his talent for public speaking, always laced with humour, which would ultimately establish him as one of the best performers on the council.
On May 17th 1971, Ronnie married Pamela Susan Haigh at Clayton Parish church and they set up home together at Wilmer Drive, Bradford. In 1983 they moved to Yew Tree Farm in Allerton, set in glorious open countryside high above Bradford. The couple have no children.
Ronnie made a good living from accountancy. His clients included the local Working Men's Clubs where he liked to drink and joke with the regulars. He also put his accountancy skills to work in business.
In 1973 he set up an Insurance brokers - Trevor Richmond & Associates - with his brother John and 2 others. This spawned a subsidiary - Castle Pension Advisors Ltd.
He also went into business with brother Derrik. Derrik had established a growing industrial business in Shipley called Pneumatic (AE) Ltd. that spawned 3 subsidiaries. Ronnie joined the board of directors on each. One of the companies - PACE Ltd. - was quickly to grow into the most profitable of the group and become significant later.
Until his early 30's Ronnie had avoided politics, but in May 1980 he stood as Tory candidate for the marginal Clayton ward and was elected.
Also elected on that same day for Labour was Phil Beeley. Beeley was soon to become leader of the Labour group and a close personal friend of Ronnie Farley. The 2 men and their wives would often spend nights out together and evenings at each other's homes.
Ronnie Farley was a popular character amongst councillors of all parties. He was very much cast in the traditional Bradford "consensus" mould that had been set following local government reorganisation in 1974. The reorganisation had expanded the inner city of Bradford into a metropolitan district, pulling in the surrounding rural "posher" areas. Since 1974 Labour's domination of the inner city had been matched by the influx of Tory councillors from outlying districts, giving a more or less evenly balanced political complexion to the council chamber. This had made Bradford unique in recent times as the only northern city where the Tories could expect to hold power.
The 1980 elections were unusual in that all council seats were up for grabs at once, as opposed to the usual 4 yearly cycle where only a third of the seats are contested in any one year.
The result put Labour in overall control for the first time since 1974. This had disillusioned the ageing Tory leadership, so Farley got together with other younger members of the Tory group to organise the Tory fightback. Chief amongst his allies were 2 rising stars; Eric Pickles and Peter Gilmour.
Peter Gilmour was the youngest of the trio although held been on the council longest. He had been elected for Keighley in 1976 becoming the youngest member at 21 years of age.
In many other respects he'd followed in the shadow of Eric Pickles. Gilmour had also attended Greenhead Grammar school and later became active in the Young Conservatives. In 1979 he was senior Vice Chairman of the Yorkshire Young Conservatives and in 1980 was elected president of Keighley Y.C.'s. He was also elected on to the Tory Party National Executive Committee alongside Pickles.
At that time he was working for a firm of Keighley estate agents, but later went to Bradford College as a student, followed by a period of unemployment when he put all his energies into full time council work.
Gilmour and Pickles were both confirmed "wets" and became close personal friends.
By 1982 when the Tories retook control of a "hung" council, the trio were firmly in the driving seat. Pickles was chair of Social Services, Gilmour in charge of Education and Ronnie Farley in control of the powerful Management Committee.
By 1984 Ronnie Farley had replaced the aged Tom Hall as leader of the Tory group and leader of the council. It had been a meteoric rise and reflected his skills as both a speaker and popular mediator.
With Farley in charge there seemed little cause to "rock the boat". He was well placed in a council dominated by rising young stars on both sides of the chamber.
Ronnie liked to be seen as "one of the lads". He had earned the title "Bonking Ron" due to the many sordid stories of his sexual antics. Most of the lurid yarns had, of course, emanated from Ronnie himself, who loved to entertain anyone who would listen with tales of his exploits, and there were plenty of women around who could at least confirm his "approaches". Pride of place on his City Hall office was given to a pair of frilly pink knickers - a momento of his encounter with the Sheffield Ladies Junior Chamber of Commerce. He topped the image by driving a sleek white Porsche.
With his close pal Phil Beeley in charge of the Labour group, the council seemed set on it's usual course of consensus with the Tory leadership leaning clearly to the "liberal" left of Conservative politics. It was a Tory philosophy that was now at odds with the national party under the radical rightwing leadership of Margaret Thatcher. This conflict was soon to become apparent.
Farley's first national Tory party conference as council leader almost ended in disaster. It was the year that the Provisional I.R.A. pulled off their most daring attack by blowing up the Grand Hotel in Brighton, in an attempt to assassinate Thatcher and her cabinet.
The attack came late at night at the end of the conference.
Ronnie Farley and other Yorkshire delegates had just returned from the Tory Ball for a celebration drink. They gathered at the back of the foyer in the Grand with a bottle of champagne when the building was devastated by the explosion.
Farley was later hailed a "hero" as he calmly led his colleagues from the shattered building.
Amongst the Bradford delegation were a number of those who would later join Pickles' "core" group, including Phyllis Pettit, Richard Wightman, Margaret Eaton and David Heseltine.
Back in Bradford it was business as usual. The extent to which consensus politics served the interests of councillors like Farley can be judged from a remarkable business deal that was sealed in secret.
Packaged Air Conditioning Equipment Ltd. (PACE) had been set up in 1971 through the offices of Ronnie's accountancy firm. It was a wholly owned subsidiary of brother Derrik's Pneumatic (AE) Ltd. and Ronnie joined the board of directors. PACE produced commercial and industrial air conditioning equipment and quickly grew to be the largest company in the group. Amongst PACE's clients was Bradford council.
In early 1984 PACE entered negotiations with I.M.I. Radiators to buy premises in Shipley for PACE's much needed expansion programme. But finance for the deal was a problem. Consequently, in early September PACE applied to Bradford council for a £175,000 loan under the council's "Loans to Industry" scheme. But Bradford council had little money to spare. Later that month the director of Finance Derek Holmes (later Chief Executive) reported;
"The council currently operates a Loans to Industry scheme which due to government restrictions on capital expenditure, is now running short of funds. A recent announcement by the Secretary of State for the Environment points to matters getting worse and a complete moratorium on new capital expenditure cannot be ruled out."
PACE's bid seemed certain to fail. Ordered to find a way round this shortage of money, Derek Holmes devised a "Loan Guarantee" scheme, very similar to the original scheme except that the council didn't have to physically put up any money. The cash would be loaned by a third party and the council guaranteed to repay the loan if anything went wrong.
But, of course, no private body would loan money on the same favourable terms as the council - with low rates of interest and long repayment periods. The third party financiers would be County council ratepayers.
The 2 funding bodies to operate the scheme in partnership with Bradford council were the West Yorkshire Enterprise Board and it's subsidiary White Rose Investments - both set up and run by West Yorkshire County council. In January 1985 Bradford council's Economic Development sub-committee approved PACE's application and guaranteed the company a £175,000 loan from White Rose Investments.
Senior council officers knew that their leader Ronnie Farley was a director of PACE. They were aware that the deal might give rise to public concern. A report to White Rose Investments states;
"This is the second mortgage guarantee case in co-operation with the City of Bradford and a leading Member of the council has a substantial involvement in the company. In the light of this fact Bradford have been very concerned that no question of undue influence or favouritism could arise."
One way of making sure that no questions from the public were raised was to conduct the whole deal in secret.
When PACE's application came before the council subcommittee in January, the press and public were excluded. It was approved behind closed doors. Details of the scheme were classified "Permanently restricted - not for public disclosure". No public record of the deal exists today.
As with all such applications, the name of the company was not revealed to councillors on the committee - it was identified only by an initial. Similarly, although councillors were informed that a member had an interest in the company, Farley was not identified by name and the nature of his interest was not disclosed.
Ronnie Farley had declared his directorship of PACE on the councils' register of interests, so legally he was in the clear. He didn't sit on the sub-committee which approved the deal, but the committee was Tory controlled and before each meeting the Tory group, led by Farley, met in private to decide its approach to items on the agenda.
In March 1988, as details of the deal first began to filter into the public domain, Derrik Farley announced that PACE Ltd. had been sold for a cool £1 million. The loan, guaranteed by Bradford council, which had led to this jackpot, had not been repaid and the debt passed to new owners The Baxi Partnership.
As the Pace deal was being secretly signed, Ronnie Farley began fighting a public court battle against the government. The Department of the Environment had set Bradford's Rate Support Grant at a figure £4 million short of Bradford's own calculations.
As Ronnie set off to attend his second Tory party conference as council leader, the Court of Appeal announced it's final decision in Bradford councils' favour. It was a decision that delighted Bradford councillors, but the government was not amused and Farley was told so in no uncertain terms.
The Bradford group's handling of the Honeyford affair was also raising government displeasure. Farley was rapidly falling from favour.
Things went from bad to worse. Farley led Bradford's Tories into the 1986 local elections with disastrous results. He now found himself isolated both nationally and locally.
Soon after the election defeat Eric Pickles and his cabal of close friends on the Tory benches began formulating their secret radical plans for the council. Ronnie was not a member of the group.
Although maintaining a friendly "front", it is well known that Farley and Pickles were privately at odds by now. Ronnie no longer trusted Pickles. Farley was coming under increasing pressure from his brother John, who felt their business was suffering. The strain of leadership was also beginning to tell, but with Pickles now elected as his deputy Farley hung on.
For Ronnie Farley the final humiliation came at the 1986 Tory party conference. He turned up to address a conference "fringe" meeting on the subject of "freedom of information". He stood before a hall filled with empty chairs. Not a single delegate had turned up to hear him.
It was now clear to Ronnie that he would have to resign as leader, but the thought of Pickles taking over haunted him. Ronnie tried to have Pickles' background checked out, to see if there were any "skeletons" in the cupboard. But even with his many influential contacts he was unable to penetrate the secrecy that surrounded his podgy rival.
Unable to stall any longer, Ronnie finally resigned in January 1987. The following month Pickles was elected as leader of the Tory group in Farley's place.
But Pickles was fully aware that a man like Farley set free on the back benches would be a constant threat. He therefore shrewdly offered Farley a front bench job.
Ronnie Farley was down but not out. He had significant advantages of his rival - he was still a universally popular character on the Tory benches, Pickles was not.
For Ronnie it was to become a waiting game. Convinced that the Pickles bubble would eventually burst, Ronnie was none the less content to let Pickles carry through the unpleasant tasks that even he was prepared to accept were necessary. When Pickles finally moved on Ronnie knew that he was bound to retake the Tory leadership.
By the time the Tory group were once again poised to take power, Ronnie Farley would accept Pickles' offer and take the front bench job as Enterprise & Environment spokesman.
Chapter 05: The Core Group
In many respects the landslide defeat of the Tories in May 1986 proved to be a blessing in disguise for Eric Pickles.
Juggling "consensus" agreements on a hung council had proved extremely frustrating for most of the time. Now Pickles had the chance to sit down and rewrite Tory policy in full. It was a challenge he relished.
Tory leader Ronnie Farley was feeling tired and defeated. He was happy to leave policy development to his deputy.
Eric Pickles had already determined the broad philosophy of his approach - to build a vigorous Tory group in the Thatcher mould armed with detained and radical new policies. But he couldn't do it alone.
He set out to pick a small group of loyal and like-minded Tory councillors to work as a closely-knit team. The team was to become his "Core" group.
As chairman of the Education committee he had established close links with 3 women. Phyllis Pettit had headed the Further Education sub-committee and Kath Metcalfe the Schools Special sub-committee. Margaret Eaton had served on the Education committee as a co-opted Tory appointee even before she was elected onto the council.
He balanced his team with 3 men.
Richard Wightman was an obvious choice, having worked closely with Pickles on the council for several years. Wightman had served the previous year as head of the Employment and Economic Affairs committee.
Michael Gaunt was a hard-nosed right-winger who had served as head of the Residential and Day Care sub-committee. Graham Seager, former chairman of the Social Services committee, would have been included, but he had lost his seat in the 1986 elections and was suffering personal problems. To make up the team Pickles picked a new and relative unknown - David Heseltine, an activist in the Young Conservatives.
The 6 had a number of things in common. Most regarded themselves as "self-made" - they felt that they had achieved their positions through the hard work of their own efforts. They were serious about politics and wanted to change things rather than serve out their time on the council quietly.
Most had learnt their political skills by being active in the Young Conservatives. Most had been at the Tory conference in Brighton in 1984 when it was bombed by the I.R.A. That extraordinary experience had a particular "bonding" effect between the group.
Pickles and his Core group began meeting formally once a fortnight. They started with a clean sheet and began putting together the building blocks of the "Bradford Revolution".
Of course, as time progressed other rising stars on the Tory benches were brought into the process; Graham Seager when he was re-elected the following year, "Jac" Beeson, Ken Poulton and others. But the initial Core group remained special to Pickles - they had been in from the start.
It is worth looking at each member of the Core group in detail.
Most prominent of Pickles' Core group was RICHARD EDWARD JOHN WIGHTMAN.
Wightman was elected to Bradford council in 1983 to represent the posh Rombalds ward and had been Tory chief of Race Relations throughout the Honeyford affair. Like a number of senior Tories he had been active in the Junior Chamber of Commerce, having served as President.
It was Wightman's business experience and education that was to be of particular importance to the plans of Eric Pickles. The hand of Richard Wightman can be clearly seen behind the development of plans to restructure the local authority and introduce a comprehensive service privatisation strategy.
Unlike the others in the Core group, Wightman had been born into a large and already prosperous family.
Richard's grandfather William Prest Wightman had established the family timber-importing business, Beecroft & Wightmans, at the turn of the century. William had also helped develop the Davenport Engineering Company in which the family had a large stake. Both businesses quickly developed into highly profitable companies leading to status and wealth for the Baildon based Wightman dynasty.
Richard Wightman was despatched from his parents' Ilkley home in the early 1960's to Edinburgh University to study business. He returned with a degree and a wife, Elizabeth.
In 1967 the young couple set up home at Fairbank, West Lane, Baildon. Their first son Charles was born the following year and their second son Alasdair 2 years later.
1976 saw the Wightmans move to their Menston mansion Fairfax Hall on Menston Main Street. This massive and impressive house also became home for their ageing widowed father Charles, who finally died in 1981.
In January 1974 Richard Wightman had been made a director of Beecroft & Wightmans, along with the other companies in the family group, and finally he took over running the company. But by then business was suffering a downturn. Between 1980 and 1987, under Richard Wightman's control, turnover was halved from £12 million to £6 million and profits were down to a mere £250,000.
In 1984 Wightman applied for a loan from the council's "Loans to Industry" scheme - at the same time as his leader Ronnie Farley. However, records are classified "secret" and it is not known what became of his application.
At the same time Wightman set about restructuring his family's companies.
Beecrofts & Wightmans eventually became Wightman Holdings Ltd., set to specialise in management of property and investments. The productive side of business was all shuffled off to Wightwood Industries Ltd. based in Hull. Richard Wightman remained a director in all the numerous companies, but now found himself at his office in Harris Street, Bradford, with time on his hands to devote to his overriding passion - politics.
It was an arrangement that suited his business colleagues in Hull, who were free to get on with running the real productive side of the business empire.
Wightman's business restructuring exercise would prove to be the inspiration for the Core group's plans for Bradford council.
Richard Wightmans wife also worked for the Inland Revenue, which proved useful when he began investing money in other companies.
Taking advantage of "tax exemption" investment schemes arranged by Capital for Companies Ltd., Wightman funnelled money into a number of middle-sized but controversial companies.
One of these was Salford Plastics, a hose pipe factory based in Manchester. In 1984 Baildon businessman Barry Chapman had bought the £1/2 million profitable company with money from investors like Wightman. Chapman was interested in maximising profits and soon sacked his entire workforce after illicitly engineering a strike. With the union gone he brought in new workers who found themselves earning less pay in increasingly dangerous conditions. It was not long before a catalogue of accidents left workers maimed and crippled.
In July 1987 Paul Foot of the Daily Mirror wrote a major article on the "Agony of horror factory workers". The story of Salford Plastics was a shocking scandal and an embarrassment to the new Tory deputy leader.
Richard Wightman's restructuring ideas for Bradford council were eventually to take form in September 1989, a year after Eric Pickles had taken power. The idea was simple enough.
A new council company would be established called "Bradford Contract Services". The company would take over control of all those council services that the ruling Tory group hoped to privatise. The eventual aim was to "privatise" the new Holding company itself, which would initially run council departments employing thousands of staff with an annual turnover of more than £40 million.
But Wightman's critics saw in the new council plan a rerun of Wightman's own private business restructuring. That, they claimed, came as a result of his own business failures and hence indicated disaster for Bradford.
MARGARET EATON proved to be one of the hardest working of Pickles' allies. She was fairly wealthy and could afford to work more or less full time in politics. But the stress would soon begin to take its toll. Within 6 months of the Tory group taking power Eaton would confide to council officer John Crook how "This business has aged me years."
She was born Ellen Margaret Midgley in 1942, the only child of mum Evelyn and dad John who was a company director. She lived at the family home in Moor Park Drive, Bradford until her marriage.
Margaret went on to become a teacher at Bradford Girls' Preparatory Department. She also became active in the Young Conservatives, eventually becoming chairman of Group 4 of the Yorkshire Y.C.'s.
She met her husband John Eaton at one of his firm's dances. John Eaton had taken over his father's solicitors firm Eaton & Co. Also an only child, John was brought up in the family mansion "Brecon Ridge", set in the Cottingley Woodlands estate near Bingley. His mum Barbara was American and so John enjoyed dual nationality until he was 23. Fortunately his American citizenship had lapsed when he received his call-up papers for the U.S. army and he was able to avoid the Vietnam war.
When the couple met, John was impressed with Margaret's fluent German. He later proposed to her, on condition she gave up smoking. She did and the couple were married at Bradford Cathedral on August 16th 1969. Margaret was then 27 and John a year younger.
The couple moved into a large house on the Cottingley estate, next door to the Eaton’s' family mansion. Extensions were built to make room for their growing family - their first daughter Gretchen being born in July 1972.
In that same year John and Margaret teamed up with a builder and a joiner to form Goal Construction Ltd. They began building posh houses for the better off.
John Eaton was a director and his firm of solicitors acted for the company. Margaret became company secretary.
Their first scheme was to buy up land at the back of Wilmer Drive - home of one of the directors and the company's registered office. On the land they built their first small upmarket housing estate.
Their second project on Toller Drive, Heaton, was also a success, but their next project ran into difficulties. They wanted to buy up a large old house on Emm Lane, Heaton, with the aim of developing on the land. But others planned to convert the house into an Old Peoples Home.
In June 1976 planning permission was granted to one of Goal's competitors. But the Eatons' company didn't give in that easily.
They persuaded Tory councillor John Stanley King to intervene on their behalf. On August 8th 1976 King sent a long, stinging letter to the planning officers, rebuking them for their decision and insisting that "the application of Goal Construction should be approved". The letter seemed to do the trick. The officers' objections to Goal's plans evaporated and at a council planning meeting 3 days later Goal's application was nodded through without discussion by Tory committee chairman Smith Midgley.
A week later King sent another letter to the planning officers congratulating them for finally making "the right decision". The Eaton's company demolished the old house and built a small up-market estate in its place.
Goal Construction went from strength to strength and continued building expensive housing developments around Bradford and beyond - reaching as far as Harrogate.
Later John Eaton became a director, in 1984, of the Leeds based international printing company The Jarvis Porter Group Plc., for whom his solicitors' firm also acted. With a turnover in 1988 of £33 million, the company was highly profitable and John Eaton took over 200,000 shares.
He also became a director of Suffolk based Holiday Property Bond Ltd., a new company planning to move into the financing of Time-share holidays.
The Eaton duo had also built up a growing investment portfolio. As well as benefiting from government sell-offs such as British Gas, B.P. and B.T., the couple invested in a number of controversial companies such as P & O, Hunterprint and Leigh Interests.
P & O, the owners of the ill fated ferry "Herald of Free Enterprise", eventually engineered a bitter dispute with the National Union of Seamen and won a de-unionised workforce. Hunterprint, a Leeds based printing company, made much of their profit from producing pornography for the Paul Raymond organisation.
Leigh Interests, the country's biggest importers of highly toxic waste, found themselves constantly at odds with environmental campaigners like Friends of the Earth. The Eatons' investment in this company was particularly surprising because the couple were also members of a number of environmental groups - including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
However, not all the Eatons' investments were profitable. They put money into Sound Diffusion, whose collapse in 1988 led to a Department of Trade and Industry investigation.
None the less the couple enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle, with 3 bungalows and 2 shops in Cottingley. For recreation they would often perform together in cabaret, John being an accomplished jazz musician.
In 1984 Margaret made her first appearance on Bradford council when she was co-opted onto the Education committee by the Tories. Eric Pickles was chairman of the committee and the two soon formed a close working relationship. 2 years later she stood as a candidate for a safe Tory seat in the Bingley Rural ward. Once elected Margaret Eaton threw herself into council work with a zealousness that was the hallmark of the Eaton duo.
Due largely to her experience with Goal Construction she was soon Tory spokesman on the Housing Services committee. When the Tories were finally to take power in 1988 the Housing and Social Services committees would be merged and Eaton would be appointed front bench chief of the new, powerful Social Services and Strategic Housing committee. It was a job she would relish. Margaret Eaton was to be the brains behind the Tories' assault on the district's council housing, as well as the sale of the councils Old Peoples Homes.
PHYLLIS PETTIT played a largely unseen but extremely vital role in the reign of Eric Pickles.
She was by far the oldest of the group and one of the most reliable. She became Pickles' Chief Whip, responsible for ensuring that Tory councillors turned up on time and voted as required. She had to cajole disaffected members back into line and be Pickles' eyes and ears amongst the Tory ranks. It was a difficult and thankless task, but one which she performed flawlessly.
She was born Phyllis Vera Raistrick in 1925. Her father was a police constable and, unsurprisingly, this would have a big influence on her later political career. Phyllis developed a typically robust Conservative stance on "law and order" and in 1979 became a member of the local police authority as well as chairing a number of local police/community forums.
Phyllis was brought up in the Haworth area and as a teenager became active in the Young Conservatives at the time when the area chairman was Marcus Fox, later M.P. for Shipley. Phyllis worked hard for the Tory party and attended Swinton Conservative College on a number of occasions.
In February 1949 Phyllis, by then a secretary, married 24 year old Thomas Pettit. Thomas was a schoolteacher and a particularly skilled craftsman. He went on to write a number of technical books on woodwork and metalwork.
The couple had one daughter, Angela, and in 1959 they moved to Steeton, near Bingey, where Phyllis has lived ever since.
In 1970, Phyllis was elected onto the County council where she served until 1974. She also served a year on Bradford council in 1974, but then retired from political activity for a short time whilst daughter Angela finished her college studies.
1980 saw Phyllis back on the County council where she remained until it's abolition.
In 1984 she was elected to Bradford council in a safe Tory seat in the Bingley Rural ward. She was soon elected as Chief Whip by the Tory group - the only elected position besides leader and deputy leader.
For Eric Pickles the choice of Phyllis Pettit as Chief Whip was particularly important. With her long experience and her old fashioned right-wing politics, Pettit enjoyed a good deal of respect on the Tory benches. Even though in her 60's she could still be a fiery speaker, capable of verbally mauling an opponent.
She was to be extremely loyal to Pickles, who depended on her to keep a tight discipline in Tory ranks, particularly whilst his grip on power was such a knife-edged affair.
Indeed, during Pickles reign Pettit was to save his bacon on a number of occasions. Although showing a public face of unity and loyalty, the Tory group contained a number of senior backbenchers that were unhappy at some of Pickles' antics. At one key group meeting in early 1989, 4 prominent backbenchers walked out in disgust. Pettit had to summon up all her powers of persuasion in order to ease them back into the fold.
KATHRYN METCALFE was another young Tory radical whose experience in her family business and job as a personal secretary for a large national accountancy firm would lead her to take a key financial role in Pickles' plans.
But Kath Metcalfe had a special place in Eric Pickles' affections. The young unmarried Metcalfe and the portly Tory leader developed a very close personal friendship. They would dine out together and sometimes enjoyed each others company back at Kath's "bachelor" home. Being in the public eye meant that their friendship had to be kept somewhat "clandestine" in order to avoid malicious gossip - after all, Eric Pickles was a married man.
Kath Metcalfe was born in June 1957 and was brought up in the Keighley area. Her dad Chris and mum Martha took over a haulage firm in 1963 and renamed it Chris Metcalfe Ltd. This eventually spawned other family companies.
Kath spent her senior school years at a Harrogate boarding school, which she left with 9 'O' levels and an 'A' level. She eventually got a secretarial job with Yorkshire Post Newspapers, working for a while with their publishing subsidiary United News Shops Ltd.
Like most of the others in Pickles' Core group, Kath learnt her political skills in the areas Young Conservatives. In 1982, aged only 24, Kath was elected to Bradford council for a seat in the Keighley North ward. She, of course, already knew Eric Pickles, but it was whilst serving with him on the council that Kath admits she "grew up" in politics.
Kath became a major shareholder in her parents' companies. She was also appointed to the board of directors for Chris Metcalfe (Properties) Ltd. which, in 1988, was making a remarkable pre-tax profit of £54,000 on a turnover of just £81,000.
Shortly after joining the council Kath moved out of her parent's home at Larkfield Farm, Riddlesden, and bought herself a small, secluded semi in Bingley, on a quiet cul-de-sac called Springfield Grove.
By 1986 she had changed jobs, becoming a personal secretary at the Bradford Manor Row branch of top accountants Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co.
Eric Pickles, as soon as he became leader, appointed Metcalfe as his senior Finance officer. In October 1988 she would lead teams of senior councillors and officers to examine council spending and service delivery. She would also join Richard Wightman in pushing through the new Tory council's privatisation plans.
However, Kath's stardom on Bradford council would be short lived. In October 1989 she would announce that she intended to stand down as a councillor for the 1990 elections.
MICHAEL STANLEY GAUNT was to be the "working class" element in Pickles' Core group. Gaunt had come from humble beginnings and had apparently led a chequered youth. By the age of 21 he was living back with his mum Mabel in Thornbury, Bradford.
On September 4th, 1971, Mike Gaunt married 21 year old Susan Rowbottom at Windhill Parish church in Shipley. Susan had a 4-year-old son David, who was subsequently adopted by Gaunt. The couple later had another son.
The Gaunt family set up home in Denholme before moving to 33 Brae Avenue in Bradford's Bolton ward, where Mike Gaunt was elected as a councillor in 1984.
Mike Gaunt worked in the accounts department of Johnson Radley, a Pudsey based company making moulds for the glass industry. Johnson Radley had been a division of United Glass Ltd. until 1988 when it became an independent Limited company with a £2 million cash injection from large investment companies and pension funds.
Mike Gaunt described himself rather grandly as an "accountant" and gave himself the mysterious letters A.S.C.A. after his name.
In 1989 he was still describing himself as a married man and noting his wife’s employment at Bradford's National Photographic Museum on the council's Register of Interests, even though his wife Susan had apparently moved out 2 years earlier.
Mike Gaunt was well known for his short temper and abrupt style. Nicknamed "Mr. Nasty" by the opposition, Gaunt soon became Tory chief of Social Services.
In May 1987, shortly after Pickles became leader of the Tory group, Mike Gaunt was appointed to a new and challenging position. Pickles put him charge of winning back the Tories' lost seats as "Target seat and candidate co-ordinator". Whether as a result of Gaunt's work or otherwise, the Tories made a remarkable comeback.
Eventually Gaunt would go on to succeed the luckless Graham Seager as head of Education in 1989. In typical Gaunt style he would mark the first day of his appointment by announcing that:
"The bottom line is if you get a bad school and nobody wants to go to it then we will close it down and we will extend the good ones. That should force all schools to improve."
Not long afterwards he would introduce his own innovation; a number of selected Upper schools would be dubbed "Magnet schools", providing "centres of excellence" in specific fields. These elite schools would receive extra funds. But such would be the opposition to this scheme from headteachers and governors alike, that it would be quickly dropped.
Mike Gaunt would also become the first of Pickles' Core team to break Tory ranks by criticising his own group for diverting money from school repairs to other projects, leaving Gaunt the daunting task of trying to tackle a £100 million repairs backlog with only £3 million to spend.
Least prominent of the group was DAVID HESELTINE, who was also the youngest. It is difficult to see what he had to offer other than his contact with the region's Young Conservatives. One unkind journalist described him as "semi-literate". Certainly his politics could hardly be considered sophisticated; the windows of his Saltaire house bore stickers proclaiming "KGB loves CND".
He was born in Fagley in October 1961. He lived with his dad Tom and mum Dinah until he was 22. 3 years before he was born his dad had set up, with 3 others, a small printing engineers in Shipley called Norman Haynes Ltd. The company steadily grew to be a profitable small business with a good reputation. In 1988 the company was employing 15 workers and making a gross profit of £250,000 on a turnover of £750,000.
In 1981 David first started work at his dad's firm, training as a printers engineer. 2 years later he moved out of his parents' home and bought himself a large terraced house at 9 George Street, Saltaire. Property in the model village of Saltaire was becoming increasingly popular at that time.
David had become active in the Shipley Young Conservatives and in 1986 he was elected onto the council for Shipley West. He became a member of the "patriotic" Royal Society of St. George and when Pickles became Tory leader Heseltine was appointed as Pettit's assistant whip.
In February 1988 David Heseltine was finally made a director of Norman Haynes, being paid around £12,000 in director's fees. Pickles would reward him with a minor position as chairman of the Social Services' Residential and Day Care Appeals sub-committee.
Chapter 06: Planning the Revolution
With his hand picked Core group in place, Pickles began searching for detained policy inspiration. He contacted Conservative Central Office and asked if they had a model radical "manifesto" for a local authority like Bradford. The answer was "No". But Pickles was assured that plans were well underway for a central government onslaught on local authorities which would lay the groundwork for Tory controlled councils throughout the land. The plans were later made public following the Tories' June 1987 General Election victory, when Thatcher announced plans to take her policies "into the inner cities".
Nicholas Ridley was brought in to run the government's Department of Environment, with former Wandsworth council leader Christopher Chope as his junior. Ridley was set to introduce radical plans to change the face of local government.
His biggest and most unpopular move would be to bring in the Poll Tax (although this was the brainchild of Kenneth Baker). But other changes would be established to force local authorities into accepting privatisation of service provision.
Ridley was later to set out his vision for Britain's local authorities when he referred to a hypothetical American council, which met only once a year in order to award new contracts to private companies.
Ridley also encouraged local government Tories to take up the fight. In a pamphlet he wrote called "The local Right" he urged radical right-wing Tories to become more overtly and ideologically political and to begin the task of breaking down the councils "monopoly provision" role.
In the meantime, as the government was preparing it's strategy, Eric Pickles was referred to the network of "independent" right-wing organisations that were busy preparing the way for this local government revolution.
Pickles began studying various pamphlets. He coyly concedes to reading documents from "The Centre for Policy Studies, the Bow Group, the Tory Reform Group, stuff like that." But of course there was a wealth of such material available, including works from the Adam Smith Institute, Aims, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Freedom Association and the Institute of Directors. Other material included "Down with Rates" by Michael Forsyth - a Westminster councillor and consultant to private contractors Pritchard Services Group and "A long way to go" published by the Selsdon Group.
Another key document was the "Coopers and Lybrand Study" commissioned by the Department of Environment. Coopers and Lybrand are the country's largest accountancy and management consultants firm. They would later be brought in by Pickles to help sort out his own privatisation plans. Their study recommended that local authorities should sell off practically everything; markets, golf courses, theatres, public halls, vehicle and ground maintenance, cemeteries, catering, sports centres, accounting, computing etc.
But most important of all for Pickles were a series of reports produced by the Audit Commission. This body had been set up by the Tory government as an "independent watchdog" on local authority financial affairs. But it's reports went much further, bringing together many of the various ideas promoted by other organisations, and dealing with the necessary reorganisation of local government's management structures required before radical policy changes could take place.
The Audit Commission reports culminated in March 1988 with its document. "The Competitive Council" and it's recommended reading of "In Search of Excellence" - a term which would be adopted by Pickles as the slogan for his brave new strategy.
Pickles also sought practical models for his ideas. There were no large northern inner cities under Tory control and so he had to look to London. Two London boroughs in particular provided the models Pickles was seeking, although for very different reasons.
The London borough of WESTMINSTER is the richest borough in the country. It is home to the Queen and Parliament and covered the constituency of Peter Brooke MP - chairman of the Conservative Party during the period when Pickles was drawing up his plans.
For many years under Tory control the borough had been run "a little bit like a gentlemen's club... very dozy, musty, old fashioned".
In 1983 Lady Shirley Porter, heiress to the Tesco fortune, was elected leader. She immediately set about bringing the Thatcher revolution to the borough.
Her first moves were high profile stunts. They included campaigns to:
- Clean up the borough - pooper-scoopers, new bins and instant £10 fines for litterlouts were brought in.
- Crackdown on porn in Soho - a tough new licensing system was introduced.
- "Say no to drugs" - borrowed from America.
This was hardly revolutionary stuff, but Porter's up front, busy body image caught media attention and put her firmly on the map.
Then Porter started her cost cutting and privatisation campaign. She wrote to every council employee telling them; "We are not going in for wholesale sacking. To a great extent I hope we can utilise natural wastage due to retirement, but it is only right to warn the lazy and inefficient to be on their guard."
She began headhunting for a new dynamic Chief Executive to push through her programme. In 1984 she recruited Rodney Brookee - the Chief Executive of West Yorkshire county council.
But even Brookee was soon dismayed by some of Porter's moves. Westminster began privatising most of it's services; refuse collection, street cleaning, building maintenance, leisure centre management etc. When Porter sold 3 local cemeteries to property speculators for 5 pence each, alarm bells rang throughout London. There followed several fraud inquiries.
The district Auditor reported that the sale was "seriously defective" and the council had shown a lack of commercial awareness .
Porters' actions also began to alienate many of those around her.
In the local elections of May 1986 the Tory majority was slashed from 26 seats to just 4. Undeterred, Porter stepped up the pressure.
Tory councillor Patricia Kirwan explained;
"Shirley will fight as dirty as she has to. She will bully, she will do anything to keep the power she enjoys."
Council officers found it increasingly difficult to work for Porter and morale plummeted. Former City valuer George Tuchard explained why;
"I've never had to work in a climate like I worked here, ever. Have you ever sat in one of our chief officers' boards and heard Lady Porter accuse me of being the most negative officer she had ever come across? If you put up any opposition you were either not one of them, you were opposed to them politically or you were negative."
By 1989 more than 50 senior officers had left, including Chief Executive Rodney Brookee. His departure alone (including an assurance not to discuss his period in office) cost the Westminster ratepayers a total of over £1 million.
Shirley Porter was none the less proving a leading light for the radical right. In 1985 she had joined the Advisory committee of the newly formed pro-privatisation group PULSE and was eagerly pursuing their more extreme ideas.
However, as the local elections in 1990 approached, open dismay at her tactics began to surface in Tory ranks. Westminster council was rapidly becoming a one-woman show. Porter brought in her own private political advisors, like Daily Mail leader writer Roger Rosewell. She also began planning a "dirty tricks" campaign for holding onto power.
All Westminster council seats were due to be fought at once in May 1990. There were 8 key marginal wards in the district and Porter needed to hang on to most of them. Porter and a small group of loyal officers drew up "ward profiles" for the key wards. They developed a new council policy called "Building Stable Communities" which was simply a front for retaining the wards in Tory hands.
The plan was to spend millions of pounds in these targeted wards with the aim of bringing in 2200 extra Tory voters by 1990.
Included in the plan was a policy of "designated sales", where empty council flats in the key wards would be sold off to anyone who lived or worked in the borough, thus bringing in "yuppie" Tory voters. Meanwhile the borough's homeless were increasingly shifted to Bed and Breakfast accommodation outside the council's boundaries, or moved to run down housing estates in safe Labour wards. The extra cost of disposing of the Labour voting homeless was estimated at £6 million by 1990, but for Porter it was money well spent. The thought of Labour winning control of Westminster was too horrible a thought for her to contemplate.
At the same time as the council's policies to increase the Tory vote were being pushed through, Porter presented the local Westminster South Conservative Association with a strategy document called "Keeping Westminster Conservative". She proposed a number of political tactics to tackle the key marginal wards;
- Appoint 5 full time political officers.
- Cultivate good relations with residents associations.
- Infiltrate those resident associations judged to be hostile.
- Dig up any dirt on Labour candidates that could be publicly exposed to discredit them.
These proposals shocked many Tories and the local party agent Donald Stewart. None the less, Stewart wrote to Porter saying;
"We believe that you might have already succeeded in raising the money for your scheme and in recruiting the necessary personnel."
Porter decided to bypass her own party association altogether for her next move. She brought in a private PR. firm, Market Force Communications, to produce a glossy version of the Tory newsletter "In Touch". 2 of the firm's 3 directors were former leading lights in the now disbanded right-wing Federation of Conservative Students. The F.C.S. was scrapped by Norman Tebbit for being "too extreme".
The newsletter bore the imprint of the local party agent Donald Stewart, but he had never seen it before it was published.
Association vice-chairman Marc Cranfield Adams said;
"One is concerned that the role of the association is being usurped and with the various activities going on with the initiative of the current leadership, one is concerned that it ceases to be a party matter and might become a personal crusade."
Porter was dissatisfied at Donald Stewart's lack of support and insisted that the local party chairman, lain Walker, sack him. Walker refused.
At the association's Annual Meeting in May 1989 Walker's chairmanship was challenged by a loyal supporter of Porter. But by now Tory opinion was turning against Porter's excesses and the challenge failed.
However, the guest speaker at the meeting, national party chairman Peter Brooke MP, came to Porter's rescue by singing her praises and urging everyone to get behind her.
Many of Porter's "high profile" tactics and privatisation policies would be subsequently adopted by Eric Pickles, but for a more pertinent model of an urban radical right council Pickles looked elsewhere in London.
Eric Pickles had close personal contacts with another leading light in the right's onslaught on local government.
The London borough of WANDSWORTH lies on the south bank of the Thames. In May 1978 the Tories took control of the council under the leadership of Christopher Chope. Even before Margaret Thatcher came to power the Tories on Wandsworth council had lain plans to reduce both rates and services.
Wandsworth was to become the flagship of Tory plans for running councils. It was to strike out on a bold cost-cutting and privatisation exercise that would galvanise the Tory government's policies towards other local authorities.
Wandsworth, more than any other council, was to be the model for Eric Pickles - not just in terms of the results of it's policies, but also because the then Wandsworth Tory leader, Christopher Chope, was to become a close personal friend of Pickles.
The Wandsworth cuts started immediately, but gained momentum in the Spring of 1981 when reductions in the council's Rate Support Grant from the government left them with a budget shortfall of £21 million.
The council announced a 3 pronged initial strategy; £7 million raised on the rates, £7 million raised on rent rises and £7 million through a workforce cut of 700 jobs and small-scale privatisation.
There were some strikes but eventually the policies went through. However, for Christopher Chope it was just the beginning.
In July 1981 Chope announced the first of his major privatisation plans - street cleaning was to be sold off.
There followed a one-day token strike by 1000 council workers. Chope responded by giving himself "Emergency financial powers" and brought in top accountants and management consultants Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. to plan further privatisation.
In February 1982 the private company Prichards took over street cleaning. Refuse collection was next on the list.
Dustmen voted to strike and bitter industrial action followed for several weeks. At one point over 1000 workers were involved. Chope stuck to his guns, even though the elections of 1982 saw the Tory majority on the council cut from 11 to 5.
By late May the strike was crumbling with NALGO withdrawing. By May 21st 500 police were brought in to escort scabs driving council dustcarts. A few days later several dustcarts were blown up in a well-organised "guerrilla" attack. An outraged Chope threatened to sack all the strikers, but by then the strike was already collapsing. After 8 weeks a disillusioned workforce gave in.
A victorious Christopher Chope tore up the council's "No compulsory redundancy" agreement for manual workers and refuse collection was given to private contractors Grand Metropolitan.
The council then instructed the directors of all it's departments to offer every service possible to private tender. By 1989 many of Wandsworth's services had been privatised often with disastrous results.
The council's workforce had been cut by a third and even where the councils own workforce offered the cheapest tender, the services still often went to private companies. In these cases the council justified it's actions by claiming "It is impossible to achieve changes in working practice with direct labour workforces and privatisation would ensure greater accountability."
For Christopher Chope personally, the Wandsworth experiment was a great success. In 1983 he was elected Tory MP for the Southampton Itchen ward. He quickly rose to become personal private secretary to the then Treasury minister Peter Brooke MP.
Later Chope was appointed Under Secretary to the Environment minister Nicholas Ridley.
Chope also got himself a job as parliamentary consultant for the very firm to whom he had awarded Wandsworth's refuse collection tender - Grand Metropolitan.
For Eric Pickles the example of his close friend Christopher Chope was an inspiration. In the March 1989 edition of the glossy Shipley Tory Association "Constituency News", the usual front page message from Marcus Fox MP made way for "A message from Eric Pickles". Pickles took the opportunity to sing his praises for the achievements of Wandsworth council. "The principle message must be" wrote Pickles "that the Conservative group in Wandsworth has been proved right."
As his plans began to take shape, Pickles condensed each major issue onto an A4 sheet, stored on his computer. By the time he came to power he had around 25 of these sheets, neatly filed in his bulging filofax.
Backing from the rest of the Tory group was achieved as the plans developed at the Tories' "weekend retreats" held every 6 months at Ilkley College. The evolving ideas were first presented as early as July 1986 and the final plans were rubber stamped in July 1988, just 2 months before Pickles took control of Bradford council.
The plans developed rapidly. By 1987 an initial cuts figure of £8 million had been agreed along with controversial decisions such as the sale of Old Peoples Homes.
Pickles and his group, however, had not worked everything out on their own. Outside help had been sought.
Shortly after the formation of the Core group in 1986, Pickles had commissioned a study of his financial plans by a firm of accountants. The identity of the accountants and how they were paid remains a closely guarded secret. However, it is worth noting that Kath Metcalfe - Pickles' choice as finance front woman - had shortly before taken a job with accountants Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. at their Manor Row branch.
Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. are the country's second largest accountancy and management consultants firm. Their clients have included British Aerospace, British Steel Pension Fund, Town and City Properties, Tarmac, Costains and even Richard Wightman's companies. They were advisors to the London Docklands Development Board and have played a leading role as consultants to radical right-wing local authorities like Wandsworth.
One of the key "independent" pressure groups in the radical right network was an organisation formed in 1985 to push for privatisation both at a national and local level. It took the name "Public and Local Service Efficiency" - better known as PULSE.
PULSE's director was David Saunders - another right wing radical and former vice-chairman of the now disbanded Federation of Conservative Students.
PULSE had an advisory committee made up of prominent right wing MP's along with figures like Westminster council leader Shirley Porter. Also included were a number of figures from other groups such as Norris McWhirter from the Freedom Association, Lord Bellwin from the Adam Smith Institute and Baroness Cox from the Centre for Policy Studies.
Based in London, PULSE set up regional branches throughout the country with financial backing from companies set to profit from the privatisation bandwagon.
There is some evidence that PULSE first came to Bradford in 1986, but details are confused.
However, in July 1987, PULSE director David Saunders was personally invited by Eric Pickles to lecture at a weekend seminar. The "teach-in" was held at Bradford College and attended by 60 local Tory activists.
Pickles later claimed that it was this meeting which "converted" him to the policy of mass privatisation. But this is clearly untrue as Pickles missed most of Saunders' lecture. Tory deputy Richard Wightman, on the other hand, was particularly fascinated by Saunders and engaged him afterwards in a lengthy and detailed discussion.
Saunders was to observe how "the great majority of the Tory councillors are being very cleverly led by the nose by the Bradford leadership
The following year David Saunders wrote to Pickles and invited him to join PULSE's Advisory Committee, but media publicity forced Pickles to decline. None the less Bradford councils Tories soon had direct links with PULSE through rising young star Jac Beeson. Beeson, "right wing and proud of it", had become a close friend of David Saunders from their days in the disbanded Federation of Conservative Students. Beeson agreed to become the Yorkshire regional representative for PULSE.
In August 1987, a month after the PULSE lecture, a regional Conservative committee was established in Yorkshire to promote and plan for local authority privatisation. Eric Pickles was made chairman and co-ordinator.
PULSE meanwhile stepped up the pressure at both local and national level. Every Tory councillor in the land was put on its mailing list.
PULSE members were also busy in Parliament, helping with Nicholas Ridley's Local Government (no. 2) Bill. The first bill in 1982 had already established overall central government control of local authority spending. The second bill was designed to enforce councils to sell-off public services. According to Pickles there wasn't "a hope in hell" of realising his plans without this piece of legislation.
The new act made it compulsory for local councils to "tender out" 6 specific services. The act also laid down deadlines.
But the act was intended to go much further. As the bill was being debated in Parliament, 2 prominent PULSE members Teresa Gorman MP and Robert Jones MP - rose to propose an amendment. They wanted a further 33 services added to the initial list of 6. The amendment was never intended to succeed. It was a set piece manoeuvre, there to make clear the government's long term intentions.
Junior Environment minister Christopher Chope MP thanked Gorman and Jones and pointed out the government's hope that local councils would take the process much further. He said; "If councils do not apply the market test to activities not directly covered by the Bill, we will not hesitate to use the power contained within Clause 2(3) to the fullest extent."
This clause allowed the government to add to the initial list whenever they chose.
Eric Pickles was aided in the research and development of his new radical plans in 1987 when, for the first time, the council approved the appointment of political researchers to the Tory leader, paid for by ratepayers.
In July 1987 Pickles appointed 30 year old Keith Pigott, a former lecturer in politics and public administration, as his £17,000 per year research officer. 23 year old Sue Musson was appointed Tory research assistant.
But even here things didn't run smoothly. Within 2 years Musson had resigned and Pigott, at his own request, was transferred to the Chief Executives office.
By the summer of 1988, with the prospect of power just around the corner, Pickles prepared a secret document outlining the general thrust of his plans. Reduced to 2 A4 sheets, his document "Bradford council - a model for the 1990's", set out his blueprint for the Bradford Revolution (see Appendix one).
Picklesdiscussed his final plans with Environment minister Nicholas Ridley and Local Government minister John Gummer. He had maintained close contact with central government throughout the period of his evolving ideas, dovetailing his plans neatly with new government legislation. Ridley was well pleased with the final result. As PULSE director David Saunders put it at the time; "Eric Pickles is doing exactly what the Department of the Environment wants someone to do. The D.o.E. are frustrated at the general level of inactivity. Pickles is different though".
Ridley set the final government seal of approval on Pickles' plans by visiting Bradford on October 21st 1988, just 4 days before Pickles' first council meeting as leader. Ridley told journalists, in a rather confused tone;
"I am most impressed by the ideas and hope other local authorities will copy them.
"I cannot comment on the details because I do not even know what they are. But they have a very good plan to provide better services at a better cost. My ignorance of the details demonstrates that they can hardly have come from me. They have come entirely from the leader, Councillor Eric Pickles and his colleagues. And I congratulate them strongly for having thought out the proposals, and the credit for improvements they are going to make lies on their shoulders"
As well as planning policies for his Bradford Revolution, Pickles had to lay plans for gaining power.
The 1986 election had left the Tories 16 seats adrift. It seemed an enormous uphill struggle.
With their support cut right back to the base Pickles decided on a new electoral strategy; he would embark on an all out attack against Labour.
Firstly the Tories' campaigning activities would be targeted at Labour marginal wards with all grassroots local efforts concentrated on these. Tory held wards would be left largely defenceless. It was a risky strategy, but Pickles developed detained computer printouts on each marginal ward - giving him a "hit list".
Secondly, promoting Tory policies would be largely ignored and replaced by a concerted attack on Labour's failures. In this Pickles was fortunate to be faced with a disastrous 2 years of Labour control.
Flushed with success from their 1986 landslide, the Labour group had embarked on a number of ill-conceived "stunts" with maximum publicity. These included expensive council funded "rallies" set up largely to promote personalities within the Labour group, which were disasters.
The equally badly handled promotion of "fringe issues" played straight into Pickles' hands. Even though in many respects commendable and in financial terms almost irrelevant, the appointment of a "Sex Equality officer" and "Nuclear Free Zone officer" were lampooned in the media almost daily.
The 1987 elections saw the Tories begin to make gains. They finished 11 seats behind Labour, but that was early days with Pickles having been in control of the Tory group for only 3 months.
The tactics were stepped up and as the 1988 elections approached, canvass returns indicated a growing disillusionment by voters in the Labour groups' antics.
Some senior Labour councillors of the time now recognise their shortcomings. Former deputy leader of the Labour group, Gerry Sutcliffe, said;
"When Labour came to power (in 1986) we were the best prepared as far as policy was concerned but inexperienced in delivery and had misjudged the bureaucratic politics of City Hall. Officer structures and restructuring burdened us down and deflected us away from service delivery. However, there were some excellent initiatives that were started, but a failure to communicate beyond City Hall was a problem. The insecurity of the Labour group in terms of internal politics did not help and there were some in the group not able or prepared to accept the responsibility of control."
Labour councillors may now be learning lessons with the benefit of hindsight, but as May 1988 drew in it looked like two squandered years were about to explode in their face.
Chapter 07: The Johnson Defection
Eric Pickles 1988 election campaign had been a resounding success. The campaign had been fought entirely by attacking Labour's promotion of "fringe issues". Not one word of Pickles' radical plans for Bradford had been put before the mass of voters.
As the results began to come through on Thursday night it was clear that Pickles' best hopes had been fulfilled.
Out went Labour deputy leader Gerry Sutcliffe. By the end of the evening the Tories had gained 4 seats; 3 from Labour and 1 from the Liberals. The result now stood at Labour 43, Tories 42 and Liberals 2.
2 Eccleshill ward seats were not counted until the following day - both had previously been held, by Labour. When these results came through Labour had narrowly held onto one and lost the other to the Tories in a close, nail-biting finish.
This left Labour the biggest party with 44 seats, Tories second with 43 seats and the Liberals once again holding the balance of power with 2 seats.
There remained 1 seat unfilled. During the campaign the Tory candidate for one of the Odsal ward seats had died. Ken Carrol, father of Labour's chief press officer Pete Carrol, had died in his sleep on Wednesday, April 27th. A by-election was due to be held in June and the Tories were confident of winning that as well. A victory in the by-election would make them neck and neck with Labour on 44 seats apiece.
Pickles was well pleased with the result, although overall control had still just eluded him. Labour were still in charge with Liberal support and there was no way that Pickles could hope to push through his secret, radical plans. Apart from the upcoming by-election, no further elections were due for another 2 years. Bradford faced the prospect of yet another hung council.
In fact it was not to be. Everyone was about to be stunned by the events of the following week when a junior Labour councillor was to unwittingly pave the way for Eric Pickles' Bradford Revolution.
33 year old Edward Johnson had been elected as Labour councillor for one of the 3 Odsal ward seats in Labour's 1986 landslide victory.
He had risen through the Young Socialists and had impressed local constituency activists with his intelligent and honest speaking abilities. He was considered by many to be a bit of a maverick left-winger, but his main passion lay in the history and social traditions of Bradford itself.
Johnson's undoubted high I.Q. fed an impatient and somewhat idealistic desire to "get things done". He lacked many of the social skills required for the collective party political wheeler dealing that characterises local government control. He was an individualistic and occasionally obsessive character who felt that 90% of local politics fell outside petty party differences. Johnson would have been happier in a past age when Independents represented their wards without recourse to party whips. The advent of disciplined party politics meant there was no room for such independence.
Although he started with no particular desire to rise through party ranks, he was impatient to make an impact in the area that was of particular concern to him ~ the environment.
Johnson had always found it difficult to hold down a job for any length of time and when he joined the council he had to live as best he could on the allowances the council paid, which for a back bencher were very small. None the less, he worked hard and before long had drawn up a series of documents on strategies for improving the environment.
These policy ideas were met with a fair amount of indifference by the Labour leadership who considered Johnson to be an "undisciplined oddball". His ideas were judged to be of low priority.
Johnson was therefore understandably annoyed when, in April 1987, the Tories put forward a policy proposal to a council meeting on "Caring for our Environment". The Labour leadership quickly polished up Johnson's proposals and produced them as their own package in order to steal the glory from the Tories. The proposals were eventually referred to another council meeting of July 21st 1987.
Seizing the opportunity Johnson put a list of 6 items on the agenda for the June meeting of the Labour group's "Think Tank" - their Policy Advisory committee.
This was to become the crucial meeting for Johnson. His items included proposals for:
- An open-air market.
- More accountability for officers and councillors expenses, particularly with regard to "fact finding" trips.
- The erection of a plaque to commemorate the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party, and
- The naming of a new road in memory of the Swedish anti-nazi Raoul Wallenberg.
They were hardly earth-shattering or controversial proposals, but again the Labour leadership, concerned with wider strategic policy ideas, considered them of low priority. Johnson's proposals were given short shrift and a row ensued. Johnson stormed from the meeting feeling insulted and humiliated. He considered resigning but Labour councillor Barry Thorne persuaded him to take a short break and let tempers cool. Johnson thus missed the July council meeting when his environmental proposals were formally adopted.
Eventually a "Green Issues Select committee" was established and Johnson was given the chairmanship. He was pleased with his achievement and when 3 leading Tories, Kath Metcalfe, Margaret Eaton and Phyllis Pettit, came to congratulate him and offer support, Johnson was flattered.
But this support from the 3 Tory women - all central characters in Pickles' "Core" group - was not altogether what it seemed.
The Tory "intelligence" network had picked up news of the Johnson rift in Labour's ranks. Johnson had been marked down by Pickles as a potential weak spot on the Labour benches.
Identifying dissatisfied and disaffected members on the opposite side is a practice employed by all politicians. Pickles had taken this somewhat ad-hoc "intelligence" technique, refined it, and added it to his arsenal of calculated tactics. Pickles was interested in any sympathetic or friendly contact with a member of the opposition. Such contacts required careful nurturing.
Of course, the Labour group was riddled with disaffection. The difference was that other backbench rebels generally accepted party discipline; Johnson would not.
The Green Issues Select committee met on 5 occasions, the last being in March 1988. Under Johnson's chairmanship the discussions were allowed free reign and covered a wide range of topics. Little of the usual party bickering was apparent and Johnson at last felt he was making progress. He felt that the Tories on the committee, which included Phyllis Pettit and Smith Midgley, were particularly supportive.
Whatever the Tories' intentions at the time, when Pickles finally took power the Select committee's recommendations would be entirely jettisoned and the committee itself abolished. With what he thought were new found allies, Johnson felt confident to break Labour group ranks when a special council meeting was called on April 7th 1988 to discuss the controversial issue of Gypsies. The Labour group had introduced a policy of "non harassment" of unofficial Gypsy camps, coupled with an attempt to open new official sites to cope with the number of local Gypsies in the area. It was an honest and brave attempt to deal with a problem that had long been the cause of friction wherever the travellers set up their temporary encampments. But as with so many of Labour's policies, the matter had been badly handled.
The Tories used the opportunity to launch an offensive, knowing that those Labour councillors in whose wards Gypsy camps had been set up were also critical of the policy.
Johnson rose at the meeting to launch a personal attack on Mandy Farrar, who ran a council funded education project for the travellers called Roadside Stop. Pickles had pledged to close down Roadside Stop at the earliest opportunity. Johnson was later disciplined by the Labour group for his intervention.
None the less, at the scheduled council meeting 3 weeks later Johnson once again embarrassed the Labour leadership. With the councils' Annual Meeting just a month away, the Labour leadership were toying with the idea of proposing a Labour councillor as Lord Mayor for the second year running. Such a move was unprecedented and the Tory candidate, Smith Midgley, should by convention have been unanimously accepted.During the comments section of the meeting Johnson rose and said that he looked forward to Midgley taking the post. He attacked the Labour leader for dithering.
A furious Phil Beeley, Labour leader, refused to be drawn, but across the chamber Eric Pickles watched Johnson's antics with mounting pleasure.
Johnson's increasing frustration with the Labour leadership led him to consider seeking a leadership position where he might have more influence. He lodged his nomination papers for various positions on the leadership team, including the chairmanship of the Enterprise and Environment committee. Group elections were due at the Labour group meeting following the May 1988 council elections - now only one week away.
On Friday May 6th, 1988, the day after the council elections that had left a hung council, Johnson bumped into Eric Pickles in the corridors of City Hall. Johnson congratulated Pickles on the Tories' success and the two chatted amiably for a few moments. Pickles suggested that Johnson should give him a ring sometime for a further chat and the duo parted.
Johnson was confused, feeling particularly isolated at that time and increasingly bitter towards the Labour leadership. He was keen on seeking vengeance for the way he felt he had been mistreated by the party machine and so the following morning he phoned Pickles at home. Pickles was pleased to hear from Johnson and arranged to meet him in a pub for a lunchtime drink.
As the two talked Johnson felt more at ease and eventually poured out the overbearing resentment he held for the Labour group. He told Pickles of the treatment he had received at Labour's Policy Advisory committee a year earlier. He spoke bitterly of the Labour leadership's refusal to appreciate the importance of the ideas he was promoting.
Sensing the opportunity, Pickles invited Johnson back to Phyllis Pettit's house for further talks. Pettit made Johnson welcome and the three discussed Johnson's position for many hours.
The friendly atmosphere seduced the lonely and confused Labour councillor. Johnson explained how he had reached the end of his tether and was considering resigning. Pickles was particularly sympathetic. He told Johnson "If you want to resign and stand again as a Conservative, you will receive our full backing."
Pickles painted a picture of a Conservative group ready to give Johnson's talents full reign. It was a misleading picture for Tory party discipline was a much more restraining force than Labours. None the less, Johnson was now chiefly motivated by his desire to reap revenge on the Labour leadership.
Johnson considered Pickles' offer and expressed an interest. Pickles then went a step further and suggested another alternative; "Perhaps it would be simpler if you just cross the floor of the council chamber and join the Conservatives without resigning your seat."
After further discussions Johnson returned to his Saltaire home to think things through.
On Monday Johnson went to Pickles' City Hall office. There he met Pickles, Pettit and Tory deputy Richard Wightman. Johnson explained that he had thought through what Pickles had suggested and was willing to join the Tory benches. Barely concealing his delight Pickles none the less told Johnson to think again.
"If you want to change your mind, now is the time. Once you've made your decision there can be no turning back."
Johnson was adamant. Pickles produced Johnson's Tory party membership card and signed it. The Tory trio warmly congratulated Johnson and immediately began organising events. From this point on Johnson would simply be swept along as Pickles took control.
For Eric Pickles it was a coup beyond his wildest expectations. Only 3 days before, control of the council had seemed years away. Now it was suddenly within his grasp.
Pickles' first move was to contact his close friend Malcolm Hoddy, news editor at the Telegraph & Argus. Clearly this was too important a matter to be handled by an untrustworthy reporter, however senior. Hoddy agreed enthusiastically to handle the publicity personally. No one else at the T & A would know anything.
Pickles also contacted the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the news. At last he was able to fulfil his promise of 2 years earlier - he would deliver the city of Bradford into Conservative hands with a radical programme undreamed of anywhere else in the country. The Prime Minister was delighted. A question would be prepared for Shipley MP Marcus Fox to ask in Parliament, thus giving Thatcher a chance to comment on the events.
Meanwhile Pickles had told Johnson to "lie low" whilst preparations were made. But incredibly on Monday night the independently minded councillor turned up at the Labour group meeting.
It is difficult to imagine what was going through Johnson's mind at the time. The maverick councillor, now a secret member of the Conservative party, sat quietly through the proceedings of the Labour group. As the group's elections to various positions took place, Johnson rose only to withdraw his own nominations.
None of the Labour group had the slightest idea of what was going on.
Johnson met Pickles the following day. Pickles had written Johnson's resignation letter to Labour leader Phil Beeley. It read;
"Dear councillor Beeley,
"After long and careful consideration I must tender my resignation as a member of the Labour party.
"I have become increasingly disenchanted by the way in which Bradford has been run and ruined by the Labour party. Your inability to face and your cowardice against the "hard left" in Bradford ultimately means the people of Bradford will lose out.
"I am astonished after such a defeat that you are still considering taking control of Bradford. In consequence, unlike other councillors who have just walked away, I intend to stay and fight. Consequently I have joined the Conservative party and will be taking that party's whip on Bradford council.
"Yours sincerely, councillor Edward Johnson."
The letter of course gave little indication of Johnson's real reasons for his defection. But for Pickles it was another propaganda coup which gave him the opportunity to push the fictional concept of a "hard left" controlling the Labour group. This "hard left" fantasy obsessed Pickles and it is difficult to understand why. It was probably a tactic he picked up from the London boroughs.
Johnson signed the letter and a copy was handed to T & A news editor Malcolm Hoddy. Hoddy then conducted a carefully stage-managed interview with Johnson for his own personal "exclusive" to be carried in the local paper the next day.
Pickles had further arrangements to make. He had to fix police security for Johnson - he was fully aware of the fury that would follow the announcement of Johnson's defection. He also had to draw up careful plans for guiding Johnson through the rest of the media that would descend on Bradford the following afternoon.
Edward Johnson returned home to solitude that night. As he pondered, he began to realise the enormity of what he was doing. In panic he tried to contact the one Labour councillor he trusted, Barry Thorne. But Thorne was unavailable - his mother was ill.
Johnson phoned Pickles and explained his growing doubts. Pickles immediately rushed round to Johnson's house to reassure him.
On late Wednesday morning the midday copies of the T & A rolled off the presses with the front page shock announcement of Johnson's defection. At the same time the T & A's senior City Hall reporter Robert Schopen was dispatched by Hoddy to break the news to the Labour Chief whip Tony Cairns.
The Labour group were stunned.
Meanwhile Pickles had lined up the local and national media and he led Johnson through a series of interviews. Johnson seemed remarkably at ease and for a while his confidence returned. With the media circus over Pickles rushed Johnson back to Pettit's home for "safe housing". No one else knew his location.
Safely surrounded by warm and friendly supporters Johnson felt comforted. But as local Tories congratulated his brave decision, at his Saltaire home his telephone answering machine was filling with outraged and abusive messages.
On Thursday morning Johnson phoned through to his home and replayed the messages. He was horrified by what he heard.
Amongst the stream of abuse were 2 other messages; one from Barry Thorne who was trying to trace him and another from a close friend who'd just returned from London. Making excuses Johnson slipped from Pettit's house and met his friend in a pub. From there they went to Barry Thorne's home.
Johnson explained what had happened and Thorne was sympathetic. Later Labour Chief whip Tony Cairns joined them and they talked well into the early hours.
As they talked Shipley MP Marcus Fox rose in the Commons shortly after 3 p.m. to put his prearranged question to the Prime Minister:
"Will my right honourable friend take time today to consider the implications of the gains made by the Conservative party last week on the Bradford Metropolitan district council, plus the defection this week of a Labour councillor who has joined us, thus making us the largest group on the council? Is this not a sign that people in the inner cities are looking to us to ensure for them a better future by controlling government locally and nationally?"
The Prime Minister replied:
"Yes, I join my honourable friend in congratulating the people of Bradford on their wisdom. The results give Bradford new hope and a new chance. Prosperity is spreading widely all over the country, including the Bradford area."
Johnson meanwhile ended up sleeping at Thorne's house.
By the next morning Johnson knew he had made a grave mistake by his defection. He also knew that his political career was at an end.
Barry Thorne drove Johnson back to Pettit's house to pick up his things. An anxious Eric Pickles was waiting.
Pickles tried desperately to convince Johnson to see the deal through, but it was too late. As Johnson was driven away, an ashen-faced Eric Pickles was left to worry about how he would explain the turn around to the Prime Minister.
The Labour group persuaded Johnson to delay his resignation for a while and sit back on the Labour benches. Johnson acquiesced.
The following month the Tories won the outstanding by-election in Odsal.
On July 27th 1988, Edward Johnson finally resigned his seat and left politics for good. His momentous defection had lasted all of 2 days!
Pickles put on a brave face. Johnson's U-turn had once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But there was one consolation for Pickles; Johnson's final resignation would give Pickles the by-election he never thought would come. The full Tory party machine was thrown into the by-election campaign, with the region's Young Conservatives playing a vital role.
On September 15th the Odsal voters delivered Johnson's old seat into Tory hands.
The result left the Tories with 45 seats, Labour 43 and the Liberals 2. With the opposition combined they could now only muster the same 45 seats as the Tories.
But for Eric Pickles it was enough. He had carefully planned for this eventuality. On September 18th Eric Pickles took control of Bradford council.
His "Bradford Revolution" was about to begin.
Chapter 08: The Taking of City Hall
Between the council elections of May 1988 and the by-election for Edward Johnson's Odsal seat in September, when Pickles finally took power, Bradford council was hung. Labour retained control with Liberal support.
Following the May elections Labour and Liberal leaders had hammered out an agreement. The Liberals had objected to one minor point in Labour's plans; their decision to abolish the Lord Mayor's casting vote. The Liberals insisted it should remain, but that the Lord Mayor should not use it "politically". That minor issue was eventually to prove fatal for the new Lib-Lab pact.
In June, following the first of the Odsal by-elections, the Tories became the largest group on a still hung council. Phil Beeley formally offered to hand over control to Pickles, but Pickles declined the offer. He had no wish to preside over a hung council and was content to wait until September, when he was confident of winning Johnson's old seat.
Never the less, Pickles held private talks with the Liberals and reached agreement on a number of points. Firstly a "freeze" would be imposed on capital spending and officers instructed to draw up options for a £5 million budget cut. Secondly, "politically undesirable" bodies such as the Race Relations Advisory Group should be scrapped. Pickles had been particularly irritated by the Race Relations Group's discussions on South Africa. Every time Apartheid was discussed by council committees on which he'd served, he'd been forced to declare an interest - his wife's employment at Barclays' bank and withdraw. Pickles reckoned the Race Relations Group spent too much time discussing Apartheid, "rather silly little things considering our export potential there" he said.
These steps provided Pickles with the opportunity to work closely with officers in drawing up his cuts package prior to taking control. The Liberals were convinced that cuts in spending were necessary, but confident they could block any draconian proposals that might adversely affect services. However, they would soon be outflanked by the canny Tory leader when he finally took control 3 months later.
At 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 18th 1988 - 3 days after Elaine Byrom had taken Johnson's old seat for the Tories - Eric Pickles and his senior colleagues gathered at City Hall. They were now in a position to implement their plans, if only with the casting vote of the Lord Mayor. For 6 hours they fleshed out their plans for the new look Bradford council.
As well as details for their cuts package, they had drawn up plans for restructuring the authority.
These included plans to;
- Cut the number of committees and limit the number of councillors sitting on each.
- Place the most senior officers on fixed term employment contracts, with "bonus" related pay for "efficiency". If they didn't perform to the ruling group's satisfaction, they would be out of a job.
- Scrap the centralised Personnel department.
- Give council officers responsibility for the day to day running of departments, under guidelines from the ruling group, without interference from other councillors.
They also put together plans for selling off public and support services. Their "Strategy for competition" included schemes to separate the functions of service departments between "contractors" - the actual providers of the service and "clients" - the council bureaucracy. This was also a necessary prerequisite to costing the services before they could be privatised.
By 7 p.m. they had honed their package ready for approval by the full Tory group.
On Monday evening the Tory group rubber-stamped the new plans.
Once in control Eric Pickles was determined to push through his new plans as quickly as possible. Although his long-term strategy took the shape of a "5 year plan", he knew he had to push through his major restructuring of the council within 18 months, before the 1990 elections.
However, in order to achieve his objectives he needed the loyal and committed support of the council's officers.
Pickles mistrusted a number of the council's senior officers. In January 1989, following a leak of the Tories' secret plans to increase council rents for the second time in 6 months, Pickles told Core group member David Heseltine;
"Since being a member of Bradford council, I have been used to seeing confidential letters leaked to the press. However, I have a strong sense of betrayal about the rent increase leak.
"While we will do our best to ascertain the person in question, I am not optimistic that we will ever know. A sad consequence of this is that we will continue to be wary of officers and reluctant to take them into our full confidence."
For some senior officers the writing was on the wall - they feared the Conservative coup. But other, more ambitious officers saw it as an opportunity.
There is no doubt that many middle-ranking officers were dissatisfied with the "top heavy" bureaucracy that served to stifle their own efforts. The tradition of local government accountability meant that every decision deemed "important" had to be referred upwards for approval. For many officers the resultant delays proved frustrating.
But there was another factor at play in the growing division of officers into the "pro" and "anti" Pickles camps; many of those officers who were to become loyal to Pickles' plans had been involved in rows with the previous Labour administration. Of the most senior officers, the director of Social Services John Crook proved a firm supporter of the Pickles strategy. When the Social Services department and Housing department were finally merged by Pickles, Crook was made chief of the new Social Services and Strategic Housing department.
The Chief Executive Derek Holmes, on the other hand, was viewed with distrust by Pickles. Plans were already secretly being prepared to get rid of him. When Pickles became leader in September 1988, Holmes took a holiday. John Crook was appointed Acting Chief Executive and immediately began setting out the new Tory plans for rejigging the authority's management structure.
But it was amongst the authority's senior middle ranking officers that the new climate heralded by Pickles' Tory administration had the most profound effect.
As soon as he was in power Pickles began a series of informal interviews with these officers. Contrary to later accusations, Pickles was not interested in the officers' political affiliations, but in their attitude to his ideas. He spelt out clearly that responsibility was to be passed "down the line" and that they would be given more opportunity to develop and promote new ideas, so long as those ideas reflected the thrust of his own plans. Officers, he explained, were to be freed from unnecessary interference by councillors.
A number of those middle-ranking officers responded enthusiastically and began meeting together in secret, to share and plan new initiatives. Undoubtedly, their overriding motivation was personal ambition.
The activities of this group soon became known around City Hall and they were nicknamed "The Colonels". One of their favourite meeting places was the Acropolis cafe opposite City Hall.
The Colonels included Dave Morton, Graham Mahoney, Iain Copping, Philip Aspinall and Kevin Atkins, all of the Chief Executives office, along with Dave Wilkinson and Junior Rashid from the Personnel office. Rashid, although playing a minor role in The Colonels activities, was perhaps the most surprising of the group - he had formally been a leading light in the radical Asian Youth Movement.
Some of The Colonels were later to become disillusioned and drop out. But others went on to become rising stars in the Pickles empire.
A minor star was Dave Wilkinson, assistant director of Personnel. He submerged himself into the works that had influenced Pickles, such as the Audit Commission reports. By late September he had produced a hefty and detailed document "Improving management arrangements in Bradford - getting Personnel and Finance into shape".
He was also helping to churn out "Notes" for councillor Pickles, setting out a time-scale for re-organising the authority's management structure.
These notes included the passage;
"We recommend that you instruct the Chief Executive to delegate his authority for the key changes to the Director of Finance and David Morton and David Wilkinson."
The notes also proposed that the Chief Executive Derek Holmes be replaced within 6 months.
Dave Morton, Policy co-ordinator in the Chief Executives office, was of course one of The Colonels and party to the plans. Philip Robinson, the Director of Finance named in the document, was not and was furious when he discovered that he had been linked to this group of "conspirators".
When the document was leaked to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Eric Pickles was quick to deny any knowledge of the plans, particularly the plot to get rid of Holmes. However, within 6 months Holmes had been "retired" and replaced by Richard Penn, former Chief Executive of Knowsley council.
Whilst Pickles' "loyal" officers got to work on the detailed implementation of his plans, Pickles himself began making a series of public announcements through the pages of the local T & A, spelling out his intentions.
The pronouncements sent shock waves through the city. Even one of The Colonels, Dave Morton, panicked and sent Pickles an urgent memo. It read;
"Various statements have already been made in the press about the group's aims. This probably strikes fear into some parts of the authority.
"Experience shows that it is not the best way to achieve change. An organisation full of fear and uncertainty does not perform at it's best.
"The aim would be to get the message across as the exciting start of the rebirth of the authority and not as the Bradford equivalent of the French Revolution.
"If the statement is seen as dangerous and frightening, or involving only a few people, then the implementation will probably not happen efficiently."
Pickles was unperturbed. Days later he made the announcement that had so worried Morton; the Tory group would slash the workforce by a third.
Later deputy leader Richard Wightman despatched a group of The Colonels on a fact-finding trip around the country. Dave Morton, Philip Aspinall and Graham Mahoney visited several places, including the Institute of National and Local Government in Birmingham. They met senior officers at York City council and Cambridgeshire county council where they discussed "local authority performance monitoring and appraisal".
Later Tim Mobbs would be appointed to the newly created post of Assistant Director for Strategic Planning, serving under the new Chief Executive Richard Penn. Mobbs was an employee of the Institute of National and Local Government who had been working at Cambridgeshire county council.
Some of The Colonels went on to play key roles in the implementation of Pickles' plans. Dave Wilkinson and Junior Rashid set up and ran a series of seminars held at the council's Glenmoor Centre in Ilkley. The 2-day seminars, entitled "Managing for Excellence", were run primarily for senior council officers and department managers as an introduction to "managerial excellence, leadership, organisational change and customer service". They would introduce officers to Pickles' new "efficiency culture". The most successful of The Colonels was Philip Aspinall,
senior Policy officer in the Chief Executive's office. He was put in charge of the council's "Strategy for Competition", which involved restructuring the authority so that mass privatisation of it's services could take place.
This included the formation of a new company "Bradford Contract Services" (later renamed Bradford Commercial Services) to take over control of the "contractor" side of those public services likely to be privatised. Another company "Bradford Professional Services" was to do the same for technical services.
But for the vast majority of the council's employees, the "Bradford Revolution" sent morale plummeting. They feared for their jobs and the quality of the services they were providing. This was particularly acute in Education, which had borne the brunt of the cuts and faced a number of major upheavals.
Director of Education Richard Knight - a man who Pickles had distrusted since the days of the Honeyford affair later summed up the atmosphere when Pickles took over:
"The political mood was one in which you did not question decisions made. At the time you jolly well did as you were told".
Chapter 09: Stormy Mondays
Eric Pickles won power to fly the banner of economic Thatcherism in the city of Bradford. The down side of this success, from his own point of view at least, was the encouragement it gave the racist right in the Conservative party.
Despite personal leanings toward multiculturalism, Pickles found himself in a quandary. He had been forced to keep company with right-wing racist factions during the Honeyford affair in order to reinforce his position in the Tory group. In power at City Hall, he now relied on every last true blue councillor to carry out his model programme. Inevitably many felt that the time had come to make populist anti-immigrant feeling part of the Tory profile in Bradford once again.
The attempt by the Yorkshire Monday Club, in the person of Anthony Murphy, to drag the race issue centre stage created a brief but intense period of uncertainty for the Tory regime. Crassly racist leaflets, a bizarre physical conjugation of young boy and middle-aged councillor, and lies told to suppress the truth, all threatened to explode the whole Pickles project.
Enoch Powell in Ilkley
Anthony Murphy was a prominent young Tory. 24 years old, moon faced with round rimmed spectacles, this ambitious clean-cut Catholic worked as an office manager for Yorkshire Post Newspapers whilst still living at home on Bradford Road, Clayton, with mum, dad and brother Paul.
Yet Murphy was enjoying a brisk career within the Conservative party. He had worked his way up to become chairman of Clayton ward Tories and secretary of Bradford West Young Conservatives. He served as chairman of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre - a regional Tory think tank and finally won through to become treasurer of Bradford South Tory constituency association. Equally important, his political colours were all along nailed to the mast by virtue of his chairmanship of the Yorkshire Monday Club.
In May 1988 Anthony Murphy stood as Tory candidate for Wyke in the council elections. 2 seats were being contested. Murphy's Tory running mate was ex-RAF officer Ronald Warren, a good friend and staunch right-winger. Both men failed to defeat their heavyweight Labour opponents; Marilyn Beeley and John Ryan. Warren eventually found success in the first of the 2 Odsal by-elections in autumn 1988, when the Tories exploited anti-Gypsy sentiments to give Pickles a majority on Bradford council.
On Saturday, January 20th 1989, Anthony Murphy and Frank Kelly were joined by Alan Simes in handing out photocopied leaflets to city centre shoppers. Headed "Civil War in Bradford", the leaflets demanded an end to immigration and used cuttings from the T & A, Spectator and Independent to raise the fear that the Asian community would pursue their concerns through violent means.
Frank Kelly, Murphy's elderly sidekick, was a familiar face from the Honeyford days. Now posing himself as "acting secretary" of the Yorkshire Monday Club, he was a regular correspondent in the letters pages of the T & A and Yorkshire Post. Kelly's thoughtful, eccentric, grandfatherly demeanour masked a man of bitter racist attitudes who put forward repatriation as the ultimate solution to the "immigrant problem". He was a loner, a maverick, not unafraid to mount one-man demos and petitions in support of the Drummond headmaster and against the Iranian death sentence on Salman Rushdie. On the "Civil War" leaflet he had scrawled "Please help Bradford" and signed in his own spidery hand. Kelly claimed to be a Tory party member but declined to identify the precise association that entertained that membership.
Alan Simes was the youngest of the 3 "Civil War" leafleters. But for Pickles he was the most immediately worrying. Whilst still a spotty teenager, Simes had become engaged to Wibsey Tory councillor Mrs. Enid Manogue. 47 year old Mrs. Manogue was married to a senior council officer, but left both him and her 3 children to join Simes in a Queensbury lovenest. This bold departure from the strong family virtues normally espoused amongst Tory ranks naturally created a minor scandal.
The "Civil War" leaflets were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for ritual perusal under legislation against incitement to racial hatred. The CPS lawyers decided that the leaflets provided insufficient grounds for a case against Murphy and his assistants. This came as no surprise to the Asian community who have seen very few such prosecutions. But the Tory party were still deeply apprehensive. Pickles had been assiduously wooing the vital Asian electorate through friends like Dayal Sharma, secretary of the Institute of Asian Businessmen.
Not only might future election prospects suffer severe damage, but even in the immediate term Eric Pickles' grasp on power was under question. 6 of the more realistic Bradford South Tory councillors threatened to resign their party whip unless Murphy was removed as constituency treasurer.
Pickles quickly realised that a big political banana skin now littered the road ahead. He therefore condemned the "Civil War" leaflets and said that the Conservative group on Bradford council retained its "commitment to racial equality". Prudently Pickles also began to blow a convenient smoke-screen of vague untruths round the whole affair.
"The Monday Club has nothing to do with the Conservative party" he told Robert Schopen of the T & A. Of course, Pickles didn't get where he was by not knowing his way round the Tory party. A Monday Club spokesman spelled it out when a Leeds Other Paper journalist contacted their London office. Pickles' disclaimer had been totally misleading, said the Monday Club. Indeed, Pickles had been "talking out of the back of his head".
The Monday Club is, and has always been, very much part of the Conservative party. Membership of the Monday Club is strictly conditional on being a member of a local Conservative association - in other words, being a Tory party member.
Tory MP's, opposed to former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's policies, founded the Monday Club in 1961. In particular the Club opposed their party leader's acceptance of the end of the colonial age in Africa, acceptance crystallised in the historic "Winds of change" speech. They felt that Macmillan had betrayed Britain's pride and interests by giving up on any idea of a British Empire.
Since then the Monday Club has described itself as the "conscience of the Tory party". Senior Tory MP's like John Carlisle and Dame Jill Knight have proudly declared their association with the Monday Club. At the same time a parade of even less respectable right-wingers have passed through the Club on their way to or from extremist groups like the National Front, the British National Party, Tory Action and the League of St. George.
The Monday Club supports capital punishment and white rule in South Africa. It resists UK membership of the E.E.C.
Race, though, is the real lynch pin which holds the Monday Club together and provides a bridge between the Tory party and the far right.
A few days after Murphy, Kelly and Simes handed out their "Civil War" leaflets, the storm had grown so intense that Eric Sunderland, chairman of Bradford South Conservative association, announced an investigation into the whole affair. Following an "exhaustive" 6-day inquiry he came up with an astounding conclusion.
Sunderland alleged that copies of the "Civil War" leaflet handed to the press were different from those handed to the public. The press version bore the Conservative's Manningham Lane H.Q. as contact address for the Yorkshire Monday Club. These were the same premises often used by Dayal Sharma's Institute of Asian Businessmen. Sunderland declared that this version of the leaflet was "tantamount to a forgery"!
The T & A obliged with the headline "Race-Row leaflet was forged says top Tory", although the paper's leader writer indirectly chastised the Tories for the ridiculousness of this claim. But half the people who read the T & A would have seen the headline and assumed that, in reality, there never had been any such troublesome leaflet.
Eric Sunderland's contribution to the rapidly thickening smokescreen need have surprised no one. Sunderland was a recently retired senior Tory councillor who had even been tipped as a likely challenger to Eric Pickles' leadership. According to another senior Bradford South right-winger, Sunderland was also a Monday Club member. Certainly he had played a decisive role during the Honeyford affair, coming in as chairman of Drummond school governors. Sunderland's support for the beleaguered headmaster helped Honeyford escape Bradford with a weighty golden handshake and the credibility of his opposition to multi-racialism intact.
Neither version of the "Civil War" leaflet was a forgery. Sunderland's allegation was nothing but a clumsy attempt to save Anthony Murphy's political bacon. Detailed forensic examination of typefaces and photocopier "fingerprints" revealed that all the leaflets were typed on the same typewriter and reproduced on the same photocopier at the Manningham Lane Tory office. Murphy probably had to wait for Dayal Sharma to finish using the equipment before making a start on his own project. In any case, both alleged "forgery" and accepted "real" versions of the leaflet carried the Manningham Lane HQ telephone number as a contact for the Yorkshire Monday Club. This was a point that Sunderland had conveniently ignored.
Sunderland was wasting his time. Anthony Murphy was widely regarded as a major liability for the Tories and had to be got rid of. He readily announced his intention not to seek re-election as treasurer of Bradford South. But the process of ridding him from the Conservative body politic as a whole was to be much messier.
Anthony Murphy was a member of 2 constituency associations; Bradford West and Bradford South. Bradford West Tories had to wrestle with the fear of a 33% Asian component of their electorate and were thus the first to act. Murphy was suspended indefinitely at an Extraordinary meeting of the association's executive.
Matters in Bradford South moved more slowly because Murphy commanded considerable support there, as the Sunderland "forgery" episode demonstrated.
In fact the right in Bradford South were violently split. A fight took place in the corridors of Odsal Conservative club. Ivan Whaites, the corpulent fish and chip shop owner and councillor, reputedly dealt Murphy a thump or two, with "Jac" Beeson and the controversial Raymond Pearson acting as respective "seconds". For stories of such fractiousness to drip from a normally leak-proof party organisation was some indication of the virulence of the disagreements.
The dispute was a bitter one between those loyal to Murphy, including Sunderland and Pearson, and pragmatists like Whaites and Beeson who saw the need for his removal. The loyalists saw Murphy as a good and popular treasurer who had merely exercised a right of free speech over an issue of widespread popular concern. The pragmatists were not so much Tory "wets", but radicals who gave top priority to the interests of Eric Pickles and his radical right experiment in Bradford.
Ivan Whaites threatened to oppose Sunderland for the chairmanship, while Raymond Pearson declared his intention to run against "Jac" Beeson for the deputy chairman's office.
Reading the murky intrigues of Bradford South Conservatives is by no means an exact science, but it seems likely that Whaites, though historically an out and out right-winger, had developed enough political acumen since his elevation to Bradford council, to realise the stupidity of Murphy's actions and was angry with Sunderland for not condemning him out right.
Pearson, on the other hand, opposed "Jac" Beeson in support of Murphy.
In the event both were persuaded to drop their challenges at the last minute.
Beeson and his antagonist Pearson are important figures on the Conservative scene in Bradford. Beeson, himself a former Monday Clubber, was a committee member of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre when Anthony Murphy was it's chairman. Beeson was also a former chairman of Bradford University's Federation of Conservative Students - the notorious organisation which was disbanded by Norman Tebbit. FCS conferences had become more regular outings for well-heeled hooligans than England football away games. The FCS also organised package holidays to Nicaraguan contra camps and some FCS members advocated the legalisation of hard drugs. Even more seriously, the FCS was a key nurturing bed for radical right politics. Former London FCS chairman John Whittington went on to become one of Thatcher's political secretaries. Chancellor Nigel Lawson was to benefit from the advice of Mark Call, a former Scottish chairman of the FCS. Former national FCS chairman Mark McGregor became co-director of the privatisation pressure group PULSE. "Jac" Beeson became PULSE's regional representative for Yorkshire.
Despite his nationwide connections and "rising star" status within the Bradford Tory hierarchy, "Jac" was regarded as a bit of an imposition by many of his home village party members in Queensbury. He was put up in the face of local Tory opposition to fight the safe Queensbury seat following Irene Cookland's retirement. Party workers from outside the area had to be bussed in to campaign for Beeson. In the end his majority was cut from Cookland's 900 to his own paltry 150.
One of the few Queensbury Tories to join the Beeson campaign was long-time buddy Alan Simes. Indeed Beeson was reputedly so close to Simes that he accommodated Simes and "Kylie" Manogue in his own home after she had fled her husband and before the couple could find a dream home of their own.
Possibly destined to fight the Tory corner in the Bradford South Parliamentary contest, Beeson adopted a casually proletarian yet stylish name "Jac" for electoral purposes. He had been dogged by dismal, if unsurprising, failure in Great Horton ward elections under his real name - Julian.
Beeson's prospective opponent in the Bradford South deputy chairmanship race, Raymond Pearson, was already well known for his links with extreme racist groups long before he started sticking up for Anthony Murphy. He had been a council candidate for the notorious British Campaign to Stop Immigration in 1971. BCSI was a Bradford based group led by former Tory councillor James Merrick. BCSI accused immigrants of "bringing leprosy, typhoid and increased V.D." to the city. They demanded closure of Asian community centres and a start to repatriation.
Between 1971 and 1975 BCSI fielded dozens of district and county election candidates.
James Merrick stood for the BCSI in Bradford North before, like many other BCSI activists, moving on to join the National Front. Raymond Pearson stood as an "Independent Powellite" candidate for Bradford South in the same 1974 elections. He later blazed a lively trail as a Calderdale Tory councillor, even leading the Tory group there for 8 brief days.
He was adopted as Calderdale parliamentary Tory candidate, but had to withdraw after allegations of electoral irregularities. These arose because he had served a 3 month jail spell for receiving stolen goods in 1969, and then stood as a BCSI candidate at a time when he would have been disbarred from taking office under the 1972 Local Government Act.
More recently he achieved prominence on the strength of anti-gay pronouncements and won kudos for exposing the child molesting activities of the Halifax Social Services' Director.
Clearly Eric Pickles had to drum his party into line or see his plans for Bradford enmeshed in the racist's factional web. The occasion he chose was the next council meeting, one month after Murphy and co. handed out the "Civil War" leaflets.
Labour had brought a motion attacking the leaflet and condemning right-wing infiltration of the Tory party. In response Pickles proclaimed firmly that Murphy had been EXPELLED from the party, not just indefinitely suspended as Valerie Binney, Bradford's Tory agent, had announced on behalf of Bradford West constituency association.
Many Bradford South officials were taken by surprise, as they had been working on the assumption that Bradford West's decision did not compel them to do likewise. Pickles left them with no room to manoeuvre. He had checked chapter and verse of the Conservative model constitution that governed both constituency associations. Suspension from one did indeed mean automatic suspension from all other "model" associations. Bradford South deputy chairman Jac Beeson spotted Murphy entering the public gallery after Pickles had made his announcement. He dashed up the staircase to update his constituency treasurer on the fate that had befallen him.
Murphy was shocked and disbelieving, but a few weeks later Bradford South were forced to confirm Murphy's expulsion at an Annual General Meeting, much delayed by the battles which had rent the association apart.
Meanwhile, at the council meeting Pickles continued to minimise the pressure on his group as much as he could with a variety of interesting techniques.
First he spent most of the council debate discussing the literary qualities of "The Satanic Verses", rather than the Yorkshire Monday Club's "Civil War" leaflet.
He was particularly concerned to douse the flames under the bubbling emotional saucepan that was councillor Enid Manogue. Undoubtedly she had threatened Pickles with a premature finale to his performance as council leader if the good name of her beloved was besmirched. Thus, to ensure that this passionate woman would still heed the Tory whip, Pickles lied. He insisted that master Simes had taken part in distributing the leaflets without actually having read them. He even went so far as to propose that, in fact, the boy had no understanding of what he was doing at all!
Later he gathered reporters in his office after the council meeting and leaked details of the forthcoming rate rise. Next day's T & A carried a huge "5%", and not Anthony Murphy's smiling features as would otherwise have been the case.
In fact, Pickles' deliberate attempt to mislead the council was soon exposed on two counts.
Murphy and Kelly said that Simes had helped them highlight key points on the "Civil War" leaflet in bright yellow felt tipped pen, the night before they were distributed. Therefore he must have read them. Then Simes himself spilled the beans by writing to the T & A and publicly defending "Anthony" for exercising his "right to freedom of speech".
Even in exile from the party, Anthony Murphy supplied a sharp pain to Pickles' stout neck. Murphy organised a meeting of the Yorkshire Monday Club in Queensbury, where Tory MP Teddy Taylor provided the main speech. One of the people in attendance that evening was Jac Beeson.
Murphy then organised another Monday Club meeting at Ilkley, in April 1989. Guest speaker Enoch Powell addressed a gathering of 150 people. The audience sat respectfully through a Powellite discourse on the future for a Tory government, before rousing themselves to enthusiasm when racial questions were raised at question time.
That meeting attracted various eccentric far right factionalists, including members of John Tyndall's neo-nazi British National Party. One particularly bizarre creature had come up from London in order to canvass support for the Monday Club's governing council elections. He described black people in this country as "leeches, slugs and cockroaches, sucking off the blood of the country without sharing the Tuetonic traditions of the British nation".
The meeting also produced evidence of Murphy's attempts to build links between the Monday Club and other far right groupings. Leaflets for the "English Solidarity Movement", led by arch racist Lady Jane Birdwood, were made available to the audience. Birdwood is an ex Monday Clubber with links to the National Front and the British National Party.
The old Bradford neo-nazi Jim Merrick raised his head above the parapet for the first time in years as a result of Murphy's activities. He wrote to the T & A making remarks about the legality of Sikh's carrying ceremonial swords in public.
Murphy's own career was set on a parallel course to that charted by Merrick. Both had been kicked out of the Tory party and projected in the direction of the extreme right.
Murphy turned up at a British National Party rally in Dewsbury, and arrived just too late at another near Bradford. Clearly Murphy was not about to keep a low profile in order to ensure rapid forgiveness and a return to the Tory fold. Yet at the same time he talked about gaining re-entry to the Tory party by Christmas. If this was to happen it was obviously to be on his own terms.
During this period Murphy was privately expressing sympathy with the British National Party and outrage that they were not allowed to conduct their meetings in council premises. Indeed, Eddy Morrison - the B.N.P.'s regional development officer, expressed admiration for the Yorkshire Monday Club, saying that the B.N.P. itself could never have gotten away with anything so inflammatory as the "Civil War" leaflet.
Pickles' vulnerability during his initial period in power on Bradford city council was not so much to the attacks of Labour, who generally performed feebly before Pickles practised wit and cunning intrigues. It was from his own party members that the threats came.
The right obviously did not appreciate just how precarious was the Conservative balance on the electoral tightrope, or as is more likely, they just didn't care.
Chapter 10: The Rise & Fall of Graham Seager
Eric Pickles' Education supremo, Graham Seager, was the first political casualty of the new radical front bench team. For Pickles the loss was critical, even though Seager was not an initial member of his Core group. Seager had proved extremely loyal, but his performance as head of one of the council's biggest spending departments had been poor.
Seager had always sat uneasily on the Tory front bench. With Pickles and Wightman on his left, Eaton and Farley on his right, Seager cut a somewhat lonely figure in the middle. He had none of the speaking flair of the other four. He shared none of their supreme confidence or arrogance.
But his fall was an acid reminder to the others; politics can be a dangerous game.
Graham Stanley Seager was born in 1959 in Fairweather Green, Bradford. He was the eldest son of master plumber and builder Stanley Seager and his wife Doreen.
Graham studied at Rhodesway school where he later became a school governor. He made fairly unspectacular progress and went on to work for the Inland Revenue.
In 1980 Graham, who was still living with his parents and 2 brothers in Allerton, stood as a Tory candidate for Clayton alongside Ronnie Farley. He was elected and became one of the youngest ever councillors at 21 years of age.
The following year, on October 10th, he married 25 year old fellow tax officer Susan Patricia Mulligan. For Seager this seemed a step up the ladder. Susan's father Norman was a company director and the couple were married in the leafy suburbs of Menston, where the Mulligans lived.
On the council Seager joined forces with the other young rising stars including Peter Gilmour, Ronnie Farley and Eric Pickles. Seager went on to sit as chairman of the Social Services committee.
But Seager became one of the shock Tory casualties at the 1986 elections and lost his seat when Labour won by a landslide.
His wife Susan left him and a depressed Graham Seager gave up his home. He moved back in with his mum, who by now had also separated from husband Stanley and was living with her future second husband in Oakworth, close to Pickles' family home.
In December 1986 Graham filed for divorce on the grounds of his wife's "unreasonable behaviour". The divorce was finalised the following month.
But Seager was a popular figure in traditional Tory circles and was soon making his political comeback. By now a tax inspector based in Bradford, he was also chairman of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre - a highly influential group responsible for the political education of the region's Tories.
He was selected to stand for a safe Bingley seat and was elected back onto the council in May 1987 after only a year's absence.
He joined a Tory opposition under the leadership of Eric Pickles and was soon immersed in the new radical plans. His political career seemed to be picking up. He was by now chairman of the Bradford Family Service Unit and a member of the District Health Authority, and felt confident enough to set up home again on his own in Bingley.
However, things soon began to go wrong again for the hapless Graham Seager.
After a heavy session at the 1987 office Christmas party Seager set off home in his car, only to be stopped minutes later by the police. He was breathalized and found to be 3 times over the limit.
He appeared in court the following month and pleaded guilty to drunken driving. In mitigation Seager, then chairman of the Bingley Road Safety committee, claimed that there was nothing wrong with his driving and he had been the victim of an illicit random stop following police surveillance of the area. The magistrates were unimpressed and fined Seager £312. He was banned from driving for a year.
Seager tried to put this embarrassment behind him. As the Tory group gained power in September 1988 Seager was switched to chairman of the Education committee by Pickles, deposing fellow Bingley old-timer Bill Nunn who was returned to the back benches.
For Seager this was a tough posting. Education was set to take the brunt of the first phase of Pickles' cuts package, with £3.8 million slashed from its budget. To make matters worse, the Tory group didn't have an automatic majority on the Education committee, as a number of co-opted teacher representatives were likely to side with the opposition in opposing such draconian cuts.
None the less, the cuts were pushed through at the full council meeting in October 1988. They included a sharp rise in school meals along with cuts in the provision of teachers, teaching materials and school maintenance. Plans were also underway to promote Bradford's controversial City Technology College, funded by the government and high street store Dixons.
The school meals price rise proved disastrous with half of paying pupils dropping out. Soon dinner ladies and other staff lost their jobs as a direct result.
Petitions and resolutions condemning the policies began to flood in. A package of such petitions from an unprecedented 54 school governing bodies greeted Seager at an Education committee meeting in January 1989. Seager refused to discuss them and to his dismay the committee passed a motion of "no confidence" in him.
Seager was bailed out by the rest of the Tory group when the motion was overturned at the next council meeting. Immediately the Tory group drew up plans to restructure the Education committee - giving themselves a clear majority, so that such embarrassments could not re-occur.
However, it was just the start of Seager's troubles. A scandal was looming over plans to privatise the provision of school meals and Seager's private life was once more causing him difficulties.
Following a whirlwind romance Seager had proposed marriage to Christine Mockaitis, yet another older tax officer living in Bingley. Seager wanted the marriage kept a closely guarded secret.
The wedding took place on November 11th 1988 at Bradford Register office. But someone had tipped off the local paper and the wedding was given prominent media coverage.
Graham Seager and his bride, now installed at Seager's new yuppie style flat in the former Bingley College, disappeared for a long honeymoon. He returned just in time for the 1988 Christmas office party binge. Seager's drunken antics soon had colleagues gossiping again.
Sordid stories were quickly flooding through City Hall. Local T & A Education reporter Mark Whitehead picked up the rumours and began to investigate. He called Seager who fiercely denounced the stories as complete fabrications. After the call Seager panicked and rushed to seek the help of Eric Pickles.
The Tory leader, already despairing at City Hall sex scandals, phoned Whitehead and told the astonished reporter to "lay off". Just to make sure, Pickles also called on his friend Malcolm Hoddy, the T & A's news editor. Hoddy obligingly ticked off Whitehead and told him to "drop it".
But Seager's troubles were not over. At the same time as held been planning his second marriage, he had also made what he no doubt hoped would be a useful career move and secretly joined the Freemasons.
With his left breast bared and his right trouser leg rolled up, blindfolded and carrying a noose around his neck, Seager was initiated into the Eccleshill masonic lodge (No 1034) at a regular monthly meeting in the masonic temple on Manningham Lane.
Seager was well aware that Freemasonry and Bradford council was an explosive mix.
In the early 1970's Bradford council had been exposed at the centre of the biggest local government corruption scandal ever uncovered in Britain. A number of council officers and the former leader of the council were convicted of corruption for their part in the Poulson Affair. Architect John Poulson's corrupt empire had been built largely on his masonic contacts. In 1985 therefore, the Labour group were shocked when it was revealed that a number of senior Tory councillors and most of the top officers were members of this sinister secret society. The following year, the new Labour controlled council added clauses to council rules that made it obligatory for councillors and officers to declare their membership of Freemasonry on a special register of masonic interests. By 1988 all the previously "exposed" City Hall freemasons had left Bradford council and the register was empty.
Graham Seager decided that the best course was to ignore council rules and keep his new masonic membership strictly secret. But events conspired against the luckless man.
At a council meeting in February 1989, allegations of Seager's masonic membership were publicly aired. The intrepid T & A reporter Mark Whitehead challenged Seager but the ashen faced councillor refused to comment. Whitehead compiled a short piece on the allegation for his paper, but once more news editor Malcolm Hoddy came to Seager's assistance and "spiked" the story.
This time, however, the story would not go away. The following month Martin Short's meticulously researched best seller "Inside the Brotherhood" was published. The result of 4 years work, it was a devastating critique of the corrupting influence of the secret society. The book led to the formation of a Parliamentary campaign seeking legislation to force public servants to declare any masonic membership. Amongst the supporters of the campaign was Bradford West Labour MP Max Madden.
Madden was furious when he learned of Seager's alleged masonic membership - particularly as Seager was still ignoring council rules and refusing to declare it. Madden wrote twice to Seager, asking him if the allegations were true. Seager didn't reply. Madden then wrote and complained to the council's Chief solicitor, who was responsible for upholding council rules.
At the same time the Liberal leader on the council, John Wells, gave notice to Seager that he would publicly challenge him on the matter at the council's Annual General meeting due to be held at the end of May.
It was all too much for poor Graham Seager. Less than a week before the Annual General meeting, Eric pickles made the surprise announcement that Graham Seager had been dropped from his front bench job as Education chief. He was replaced by one of Pickles' trusted Core group - Mike Gaunt. Whilst relieved of many of the pressures on him, the Liberal's challenge against Seager's secret masonic membership remained a possibility. So on Monday May 22nd, the day before the Annual General meeting, Graham Seager sat down in City Hall and typed a letter on council notepaper to the city solicitor Allen Sykes. It read;
"Under the rules concerning Declarations of Interest, I hereby give written notice that I am a member of Freemasonry.
"If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the above address.
"Yours sincerely, G. S. Seager."
He took the letter and handed it to Sykes, who stamped it and quietly slipped it into the Register.
As a final irony, the expected Liberal challenge to Seager at the council's Annual General meeting never materialised.
Rumours soon spread that Seager was ready to quit the council and take a job with an accountancy firm in Barnsley. Whether the rumours were true or not, it was clear that Pickles could not afford a by-election, even in a normally safe seat like Bingley. In fact Bingley was looking distinctly unsafe at that time.
The Tory group faced mounting difficulties over their proposed sell-off of the council-owned Bingley St. Ives estate. The estate was a popular local amenity for golfers, fishers and ramblers, and residents were soon united in a well organised opposition to the plan. The strength of feeling stunned local Tory councillors.
Such was the concern, that on the day of the council meeting that was set to rubber-stamp the sell-off, Eric Pickles announced that the planned sale had been abandoned. "I cannot pretend that this is anything other than a U turn" Pickles said.
It was the first in a number of public climb downs that the Tory leadership were forced to make.
The Bradford Revolution seemed to be running out of steam.
Chapter 11: Getting Away With Bloody Murder
The first major privatisation exercise for the new Tory run Bradford council was to involve the provision of school meals. This had already been fixed by Parliament; the 1988 Local Government Act had listed 6 council services that had to be opened up to "Competitive Tendering". The school meals service was top of the list and the date for it's sell-off had been fixed for August 1st 1989.
Work was already underway to draw up "specifications" for the service when Eric Pickles took control. The new ruling Tory group were determined that the sell-off of school meals would act as a flagship for their further widespread privatisation plans.
Offers to buy the service had to be in by March 10th 1989. But as the deadline approached it became clear that only one tender was to be submitted - that of the council's own workforce, known as the "In-House team".
This looked like proving a severe embarrassment for Eric Pickles and his plans for a new "private enterprise" culture. On March 21st the Yorkshire Post announced "Top-tier buy out may be on the menu". The Post revealed that the 2 most senior managers of the council's catering organisation had proposed a "management buy-out" of the service. They wanted to set up their own private company and buy out the council's school meals service - lock, stock and barrel.
The news stunned both opposition councillors and workers, but was warmly welcomed by the Tory leadership.
It was not long before Labour leaders and local union officials were raising questions about possible corruption when they realised that the 2 catering managers who were proposing the management buy-out were the same 2 officers who had drawn up the In-House bid.
Labour leader Phil Beeley had summed up the whole exercise as "a charter for corruption" and Liberal leader John Wells said it "smacked of insider dealing".
Soon afterwards evidence of collusion between the Tory leadership and the 2 officers began to surface. Within a week Tory Education chief Graham Seager was forced to initiate an "internal inquiry" into the affair. Dissatisfied with this, Labour leader Phil Beeley and his Education spokesman John Ryan formally called on West Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse to order a full police probe into the matter.
Suddenly Eric Pickles' privatisation "jewel" looked set to turn into a sordid corruption scandal.
The councils school catering service employed over 1600 staff, providing around 43,000 meals per day. Drawing up the specifications for the service, to be given out to interested bidders, was completed in October 1988, not long after Pickles had taken control of the council. The specifications had been chiefly drawn up by the 2 most senior officers in the catering department; Derek Halliday - chief officer in the catering division - and Mike Howat - catering manager. The Tory group immediately set about "sugar coating" the school meals sale offer by bumping up the cost of school meals to 80p each - an increase for younger children of 80%! That one move suddenly made the offer of an exclusive 5 year contract to provide meals for a largely captive clientele look very attractive.
On November 22nd 1988, as the draft contracts and tender invitations were being prepared for approval, Eric Pickles and his most senior Tory colleagues gathered in City Hall to witness a private "presentation" on "Management Buy-outs", given by the Capita Group.
The Capita Group Ltd. were a London based firm of consultants who had recently achieved fame by steering through the largest ever Management Buy-out of a public service - that of Westminster council's Cleansing department.
Indeed Capita itself had been formed as a result of a management buy-out. Formally known as CIPFA Computer Services, it had been owned by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. In December 1986 CIPFA C.S. was bought out by it's own managers to create the Capita Group, with an annual turnover of £2 million. Under it's new management the company was reorganised in 1988, producing a "holding" company and numerous subsidiaries dealing in Finance, Consultancy, Computing, Training and Recruitment. The "presentation" for Eric Pickles was given by 2 of Capita's directors; Paul Pinder and Richard Benton. They dealt at length with the Westminster Cleaning buy-out. Also present was the Chief Executive, Derek Holmes, who had been invited by the Tory leader.
2 weeks later the school meals draft contract and tender invitation were approved at a council sub-committee meeting and the offer was advertised. A number of private companies expressed an initial interest, but only one - Consultant Caterers of Heckmondwike - seemed serious.
Meanwhile, the council's catering service's 2 chief officers, Derek Halliday and Mike Howat, began preparing a bid on behalf of the councils own workforce.
On January 12th 1989 Halliday issued full sets of documentation to his own In-House team and private contractors Consultant Caterers.But 5 days later the managing director of Consultant Caterers phoned Halliday and told him that his company was not interested in bidding for the service.
This left the council's own In-House team as the only runners in the field. Halliday asked Consultant Caterers to keep the decision secret. Halliday also informed other senior officers in the council's Legal and Finance departments and they too agreed to keep the news secret.
It is not known if Eric Pickles was informed, but it is almost certain he would soon have found out anyway - there was little that went on in City Hall that Pickles didn't know about.
At the same time Derek Halliday and Mike Howat began a series of secret meetings with Paul Pinder of the Capita Group, to discuss preparing their own private management buyout (MBO) bid. How they came into contact with Capita isn't known, but there is little doubt in the mind of Labour Education spokesman John Ryan. He later said;
"With the political embarrassment of the first council service operating under C.C.T. being won by the council's own workforce, councillor Pickles had to quickly find a way of stopping it. Along came the MBO. We may never know what motivated the two officers concerned, but many believe it was discussions with councillor Pickles that set the whole idea going."
What ever the truth behind the 2 officers' motivation, it is clear that as soon as they began their secret negotiations with Capita to put together a management buy-out, or MBO offer, there was a clear clash of interests with their official council work in preparing the In-House bid.Indeed, the council's own rules, set down in the "Purple book", strictly forbids such action. The 2 officers were now acting in direct contravention of practically all the council's "Section 7" rules:
"SECTION SEVEN - OFFICIAL CONDUCT.
"(a) The public is entitled to demand of a local government officer conduct of the highest standard and public confidence in his integrity would be shaken were the least suspicion to arise that he could in any way be influenced by improper motives.
"(b) An officer's off-duty hours are his personal concern but he should not subordinate his duty to his private interests or put himself in a position where his duty and his private interests conflict. The employing authority should not attempt to preclude officers from undertaking additional employment, but any such employment must not... conflict with or react detrimentally to the authority's interests, or in any way weaken public confidence in the conduct of the authority's business.
"71. Whole-time service.
"Officers above Scale 6 shall devote their whole-time service to the work of their council and shall not engage in any other business or take up any other additional appointment without the express consent of the council.
"73. Interest of Officers in contracts.
"If it comes to the knowledge of an officer that a contract in which he has a pecuniary interest, whether direct or indirect..has been, or is proposed to be, entered into by the authority, he shall, as soon as practicable, give notice in writing to the Chief Executive of the authority of the fact that he is interested therein. (Attention is drawn to the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 Sections 95 and 117)."
Even the Audit Commission, which had provided Eric Pickles with much of his inspiration, had dealt in detail with such conflicts of interest in it's December 1988 report "Competition - Advice to Auditors". The report stated categorically;
"14. Conflict between preparing In House bid and Management buy out bid.
"For reasons of probity, the managers involved in the buyout should not be involved in the preparation of the In House bid."
But Halliday and Howat continued to prepare the In-House bid whilst secretly drawing up their own private MBO bid.
By mid February all the managers of the council's Catering support services had agreed In-House costs with Mike Howat. On February 15th a letter arrived by fax in Pickles' office. It was from Paul Pinder on behalf of Capita. It was headed "Private and Confidential" and addressed to Eric Pickles in person. It began;
"Dear Mr. Pickles,
Management Buy Out Proposal
"You will recall that we met some weeks ago when Richard Benton and I talked to you about management buyouts...
We have recently been approached by two officers of Bradford M.C. with a view to Capita assisting them with a possible Management buyout......
The letter continued in some detail to outline the advantages of a management buy-out of the schools catering service. Halliday and Howat were not mentioned by name, but of them the letter said;
"From our work to date, we believe that this proposal would create a viable and successful company and that the duo in question would form the nucleus of a good quality management team. As evidence of their commitment to the project, they are each proposing to invest between £25,000 and £40,000."
Pinder asked for feedback from Pickles on 2 points:
"a) before continuing our work, it is important that we have a strong indication regarding the likely level of support that the proposed buyout would receive from the authority.
"b) in order to control the level of personal liability of the management team and as an indication of Bradford's commitment to the buyout proposal, we would like Bradford M.C. to be prepared to pay the first £25,000 plus expenses plus VAT of professional fees."The letter summed up with;"In addition to receiving Bradford's agreement in principle to taking the management buyout route, we would be seeking indefinite postponement of the date for receiving tenders for the school meals contract.... In order to have a fair opportunity at putting together the deal, we would need a "lockout" on other contractors bidding for these contracts."
Pickles subsequently dropped a copy of the letter off at the Chief Executive's office. This was later to prove a key move. Derek Holmes was by now simply waiting for his enforced early retirement. It is known he was deeply unhappy at the way he'd been treated by Pickles and was spending as much time away from City Hall as possible. It seems Holmes took little notice of the letter and simply filed it away.
Eric Pickles, on the other hand, had further discussions with Capita's Paul Pinder. The nature of the discussions remains a mystery.
Halliday and Howat were meanwhile busy finishing off the In-House bid whilst still secretly preparing their own private bid. They were undoubtedly overstretched and Howat was forced to request a 7-day extension to the closing deadline. It was duly granted and fixed for Friday March 17th.
On February 22nd another seminar was arranged in City Hall. This one was on "Compulsory Competitive Tendering" and was given by consultants P-E Inbucon Ltd.
Attending the seminar were Eric Pickles and his deputy Richard Wightman, along with a handful of senior officers involved in the tendering process - led by Mike Howat. This is particularly significant because 3 months later Pickles was to claim that he had not spoken to Howat for 4 years!
As the deadline approached, Pickles received another letter from Capita. Dated March 13th this letter began;
"Dear Mr. Pickles,
"I would like to update you on our recent discussions concerning management buyouts with Bradford M.C,." On the school meals buy-out Pinder wrote;
"I can confirm that .... we will be able to deliver the benefits suggested in my letter of 15th February .... We believe that there will be scope for you to announce a reduction in the price of junior school meals from 80p to 65p"
Pinder complained that;
"There is one area which is causing me concern however. I have yet to hear from Bradford's Legal department, concerning the authority's willingness to underwrite a proportion of Howat Halliday's costs should the bid not be supported by the authority. I would be grateful for your assistance in speeding this matter along."
The letter went on to suggest other schemes where Capita could help Bradford council; Poll Tax collections, Computer services and further management buy-outs. Pinder finished with;
"As you will see, we are working very hard to find solutions to a number of problems that local authorities are currently experiencing (for reasons of pure altruism, of course). I do hope you can spare some time to discuss these issues with me."
By this time Derek Halliday and Mike Howat had finished drawing up the In-House bid. It was intended that the team who would eventually evaluate the bid would include Derek Halliday himself. This would appear fortunate, because the in-house bid was seriously flawed.
Only much later would this fact come to light when outside consultants Greene Belfield-Smith, later called in to evaluate the bid, discovered that "the cost implications to the council are double that which we believe reasonable..." The consultants concluded that the bid, as it stood, would generate "Super-profits".
How on earth had this happened?
There would appear to be two possible explanations. The first and most charitable explanation is that the senior officers had done their sums wrong.
The other possible explanation is altogether more sinister; Howat and Halliday had knowingly jacked up the In-House bid. The result of this bizarre miscalculation meant that when the two officers eventually proposed their own private MBO bid, they could undercut the In-House bid and yet still guarantee near "Super-profits" for themselves.
On March 16th Howat and Halliday signed official council "honesty" declarations.
On Friday March 17th, the date of the deadline, Mike Howat and Derek Halliday submitted the In-House bid, sealed in an envelope. The bid - the only one received - was locked away unopened.
Then the two officers walked round to the Chief Executives office and told Derek Holmes that they intended to make a management buy-out offer. Holmes was surprised.Because the deadline had now been reached, it appeared that any later bids would be excluded. However, due to a loophole in the law, this was only true if the tendered bid had come from a private company. An In-House bid could be overturned at any time.
There was little Holmes could do. He told Halliday that he must take no further part in the proceedings. This was very much a case of closing the stable door long after the horse had bolted. However, it did mean that Halliday could not take part in evaluating the bid. Outside consultants Greene Belfield-Smith would later be engaged to do the job.
Things began to move rapidly on the following Monday, March 20th.
Howat and Halliday delivered a letter to Education Assistant Director Ken Sutcliffe, formally outlining their intention to negotiate a Management buy-out.
At the same time details of the Howat/Halliday MBO bid were being leaked, in true Pickles fashion, to the Yorkshire Post.
Elsewhere in City Hall the In-House tender was officially opened for the first time by senior officials led by Ken Sutcliffe.
As if all this frenzied activity was not enough, a letter written on council notepaper was on it's way to all the staff working in the council's catering division. The letter was signed by Howat and Halliday and entitled "The future organisation of our School catering service".
"Over the next few days it is likely that you will hear significant coverage in the "media" that the Bradford School Catering Service is subject to a Management Buyout."
The letter continued;
"Discussions are taking place between senior managers of the School Catering Service and the controlling political group of the City Council which MAY lead to firm proposals to form an independent commercial company which would enter into a long-term contract with the Authority to operate School and Welfare Catering."
That sentence really put the cat amongst the pigeons; it amounted to formal acknowledgement of the involvement of Pickles and co.
The carefully planned manoeuvres of that March Monday bore all the skilled hallmarks of the Tory leader. Yet whilst expressing his group's pleasure at the proposed MBO, Pickles was still claiming that it had all come as a surprise to him!
There was little doubt in anyone's mind that the Tory group were set to back the MBO all the way. Pickles was expecting complaints from the Labour group, but if past experience was anything to go by, he knew it would consist largely of empty political rhetoric. To Pickles this was simply water off a snake's back.
The Tory leadership didn't rate the Labour Education spokesman John Ryan very highly. Ryan was a quiet, unassuming but diligent politician, although not a fiery speaker.
However, on this occasion the Tory leadership had seriously underestimated Ryan. Ryan set about a meticulous investigation into the murky goings-on behind the scenes. It is largely due to Ryan's efforts that documents such as the Capita letters eventually surfaced.
The Labour group began a concerted campaign against the MBO, which proved to be the most effective opposition they had mounted so far.
Their call for a police probe was rejected, but it served to focus public attention on the matter. Their continued efforts soon had Pickles rattled.
On April 4th a special meeting of the Education Executive sub-committee was called.
Education chief Graham Seager didn't turn up and deputy Tory leader Richard Wightman took his place. The meeting was attended by senior council officials, including Chief Executive Derek Holmes.
Labour questioned Holmes as to why he had allowed Howat and Halliday to prepare the In House bid whilst simultaneously preparing their own private bid. Holmes insisted that he had known nothing of the MBO, or else he would never have allowed it.
But a grinning Richard Wightman pulled the rug from under Holmes feet. When quizzed by Labour about the Tory group's involvement in the affair, Wightman said;
"No approach has been made to the ruling group by the MBO team, that was not passed straight to the Chief Executive." Holmes looked stunned. Wightman had succeeded in shifting responsibility straight back into Holmes' lap with a reference to the first Capita letter that Holmes had simply filed away 2 months earlier.
In the end Holmes was ordered to draw up a report on how matters could proceed.
Meanwhile, local union NUPE mounted an unsuccessful High Court challenge to the whole process and school Dinner Ladies prepared a petition expressing their "utter contempt" for Howat and Halliday.
The following month saw the council's Annual General Meeting when Pickles could at last be publicly challenged by the opposition. After a searing attack by Labour and Liberal councillors, Eric Pickles rose to reply.
His speech was marked by none of his usual flair. It was a rambling, faltering speech, littered with untruths and addressed largely to his own benches. Pickles was clearly rattled and seemed more concerned with placating worried Tory councillors.
"I think it is necessary to be absolutely clear on one thing. There is no management buy-out proposal before us today. The Chief Executive's report is there to look into specifically the question of the management buy-out in the Education service but, much more importantly, to lay down guidelines for future management buy-outs should they come along; to be absolutely certain that questions of probity are thoroughly safeguarded. So today we are not taking a decision on the management buy-out and I want to make it clear that my hand at any future time will not go in favour of a management buy-out unless I am satisfied on questions of probity and satisfied on questions of value for money."I don't need, frankly, any lectures from people opposite on questions of probity."When I received a telex from Capita suggesting that they had officers interested in a management buy-out I was with the Chief Executive. I read that on my return, I announced it to a meeting with Management Team that evening, I gave a copy to the Chief Executive and that is where my contact with Capita ended. They did (calls of "liar") ... I really think actually, madam, with respect, that this is actually far more important an issue than for you to play a fishwife to at this occasion.
"Now, what had we to do once we'd received that formal offer and once the officers had been identified, and it was a full fortnight before I realised who the specific officers were and I also want to make it clear that it's a good four years since I had a private conversation with either of those officers."Once we'd received it, I don't want to use my words, I want to use NUPE's words when we had a meeting with NUPE. They accepted that once we'd received that offer, we had to proceed to investigate it and we proceeded to investigate it completely, without prejudice, and we will not be proceeding with a management buy-out unless it's in the interests of the council to do so.
"Now the usual half-truths and smears are produced. In those various letters from Capita they suggest various things; meetings about computers, meetings..er..er..a lockout. None of those things have happened because once that letter was received from the Chief Executive, I had no intention nor would I have any contact with this buy-out because I am convinced that the best course of action, the most proper course of action is to leave that thoroughly in the hands of professionals to deal with it and for the politicians to keep out of this process.
"I do regret, I deeply regret the snide, personal attacks on two diligent officers and one of the failings of the present system is, because of the way this has been uttered, those officers are powerless to take the people to court for the grave defamations that have been done. I never thought that I would sit in a chamber to hear two senior officers, two senior officers to be called for their dismissal and this is the party that apparently cares about personnel and discipline and appeals and fairness. Who could possibly on those benches be able to judge a matter like this any more? I think that behaviour has been outrageous and the problem is this, Lord Mayor, that the longer we have to talk .... I really really think..... the longer we go after questions of spurious probity when apparently the police are happy, the District Auditor's happy, our internal audit is happy, the High Court is happy about this, so long as we go along on this, the more we are going to avoid the real question and that is whether it is in the interests of the authority to proceed on a management buy-out or not, and that, unlike most things, the jury is well out on that particular question and we are, at some future date, going to have to decide that.
"But I'll tell you this, my hand ain't going up unless it's in the interests of the authority to do so and I am certainly not pursuing some kind of privatisation goal. What I'm interested in is not serving any vested interest, be it privatisation or the trade unions. What I'm interested in is what's good for Bradford."
Pickles survived with the Lord Mayor's casting vote. The In-House bid was accepted in the meantime but the controversy raged on as the Tory group still pursued the MBO option.
Consultants Greene Belfield-Smith were instructed to look again at the whole school meals tendering process. The consultants were, of course, familiar with Howat and Halliday's work on the In-House tender - a tender they discovered was seriously flawed.
But the MBO team, with Capitals help, had been hard at work. In May, following discussions with council officers, they put together a "scope" paper on their offer. This proposed that the new MBO company - Howat Halliday Ltd. - could be operating by July.
Howat and Halliday would each take a 25.5% share holding in the new company, with Capita taking 15% and the rest being offered to employees.
But the MBO team were still laying down conditions. Firstly they were not willing to compete against any other bidders including a new In-House bid. Secondly, they demanded that the council foot most of Capitas fees, up to the tune of £33,000, should their bid fail.
The MBO team had already arranged banking finance for their new company and had drawn up a detailed, though secret, business plan. All this material was given to consultants Greene Belfield-Smith.
On August 18th 1989 the consultants submitted their report. They rejected any plan to re-tender the school meals service to private companies. They recommended instead that the council choose between a new In-House bid or an MBO bid, but rejected any idea of a competition between the two, despite the District Auditor's recommendation.
Of the 2 options, the consultants themselves recommended the MBO option as "the most attractive".
In complete contrast to Howat and Halliday's handling of the In-House bid, the consultants spoke in glowing terms of the 2 officers' work for their MBO bid;"We have no doubt at all as to the ability of the management team to run the service..."The business plan has been properly produced, it includes cashflow forecasts and contains full and appropriate details" Finally the consultants' report added;"We are satisfied that the MBO has sufficient substance to warrant discussions with the council on the basis that a contract can be let if the negotiated price is better than the existing In-House bid......
Suddenly it looked as if Howat and Halliday's MBO team had finally won a clear run at the service. The Tory leadership were ecstatic.
But in October 1989, as Pickles and co. set off for their party conference, another consultants' report was published. The Coopers & Lybrand report, commissioned by the council in July to evaluate the council's preparations for service privatisation, proved damning.
The report summed up the councils preparations as abysmal Looking at 10 key areas, Coopers & Lybrand judged each in terms of either "Good practice", "Minimal adjustments needed", "Problem area" or "At risk". 6 of the areas were classed as "at risk". None were classed as "Good practice".Such was the shambles that the consultants warned against the council proceeding with it's own widespread privatisation. The council would need to put all it's energies into meeting the government's minimum deadlines. Of the school meals buy-out option, the report said "... we see no particular advantage in rushing to an early conclusion of the catering and refuse collection management buy-outs. Our advice is therefore to suspend negotiations on MBO's."
At the next council meeting on November 7th 1989, the council was forced to accept the Coopers & Lybrand report, but Pickles still insisted the Buy-out plans were "not dead". Once the council's new company "Bradford Commercial Services" was set up and running, Pickles was determined to revive the MBO option. But this now depended on the Tories winning the 1990 council elections. The cost in consultants fees to date for this "money saving" exercise was already proving astronomical - topping £100,000. John Ryan said of the affair: "It's been a scandal and still merits investigation." An investigation was probably the last thing Eric Pickles wanted.
Referring to the matter, Pickles had noted in his private diary: "We got away with bloody murder!"
Chapter 12: Blackmail
The early evening of April 4th, 1989, found Eric Pickles waiting anxiously in his City Hall office. Inside the council chamber a key Education sub-committee meeting was in progress, with the Labour group launching a bitter assault on the Tories' involvement in the school meals buy-out.
At around 7.15 p.m. Richard Wightman reported to Pickles on the meeting's outcome. Pickles was relieved to hear that his group had survived.
Later, with the day's business wound up, Eric Pickles and Kath Metcalfe drove to Shipley to dine at the Aagrah Indian restaurant. Pickles was in a good mood, but that was soon to dramatically change.
After the meal the couple went to Kath Metcalfe's Bingley home. Pickles left around 11 p.m. -From there, as Pickles was to later claim, he drove to Allerton, to the house of Ronnie Farley.
He finally returned to his own Oakworth home in the early hours of the following morning.
As he climbed from his light blue Renault, Pickles claims he suddenly noticed that various items were missing from his car. 2 expensive pens and his car phone had disappeared, but most worrying of all he could not find his bulging filofax which contained his personal diary. The realisation struck, that at some time during the evening his car had been broken into and the items stolen.
As Pickles sat in his bungalow a short while later, the phone rang and he answered. A young man's voice said:
"I have something that belongs to you."
The caller explained that he had Pickles' diary and would return it for a sum of money. After some discussion Pickles hung up.
Next day the young man phoned Pickles again at City Hall. He said he would return the diary for £800, otherwise he would pass it on to a newspaper.
Pickles later said of the diary;
"I would class certain documents in the diary as reasonably sensitive but nothing alarming."
He made it clear to his young caller that he would not pay such a large sum and hung up.
On the other end of the line was 18 year old Ian McMahon. McMahon was unemployed and staying with his mother on Priestman Street in the Manningham area of Bradford. He was living on about £15 a week social security at the time. He had acquired the filofax the night before and when he'd seen the name of Eric Pickles in the diary, he'd quickly realised its significance - and its potential value. On Wednesday April 5th, after the second call from McMahon, Pickles finally rang the police to report the theft and the phone calls.
Late on Monday April 10th, a week after Pickles' car had been broken into, young reporter Robin Ackroyd was doing "night duty" at the Telegraph and Argus. The night shift was generally unpopular amongst reporters, but they all had to take their turn. Usually nothing much happened, occasionally a scoop landed straight in their lap.
22 year old Ackroyd had been with the T & A only a short time, having previously worked for a local weekly. However, he was already well regarded as a capable journalist. Ian McMahon slipped into a telephone box and phoned the T & A. Ackroyd answered. McMahon didn't identify himself, but told Ackroyd. he had "something you might be interested in." McMahon explained that he'd obtained controversial material relating to the Tory leader, Eric Pickles.
Ackroyd agreed to meet McMahon. He drove to a prearranged spot on Carlisle Road in Manningham and waited. McMahon appeared with his brother, 26 year old Martin Miskell. McMahon climbed in the car whilst his brother waited outside. Ackroyd asked what it was all about. Ian McMahon claimed that at about 11.30 on the night of April 4th, Eric Pickles' Renault had been parked in the Church Street area of Manningham. McMahon then made a series of startling allegations about the Tory leader. The astonished journalist asked if there was any evidence to substantiate the allegations. McMahon produced 2 pages from Pickles' diary and gave them to Ackroyd.
"You can have the rest of the diary for £150", he said.
Ackroyd realised that the pages were genuine and asked for time to consider the matter. McMahon agreed to phone him again later.
The T & A reporter returned to the newspaper's city centre offices, agonising over what he should do next. He knew that he had a potentially explosive story, but if he was to hand over money for a stolen diary, he would become an accessory to the crime.
2 more phone calls from McMahon followed. The final call, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, ended with McMahon calling the whole deal off.
The next morning a tired Robin Ackroyd called to see his news editor Malcolm Hoddy and told him the tale. Hoddy didn't hesitate - he called the police.
Of course, when the young Ian McMahon had approached the T & A he could not have known that the news editor was in almost daily contact with Eric Pickles and had close connections with the police. Those connections had developed when Hoddy had been a news agency crime reporter. In fact, Hoddy already knew of the theft, from his contacts.
The task of handling the case fell to the Toller sub-division of Bradford North's police force, commanded by Superintendent Leslie Wilkinson. The Toller sub-division covers the Manningham area, which is probably most notorious countrywide for it's prostitutes who work along the Lumb Lane/Carlisle Road/Church Street line. Toller even has it's own 6 man "vice" squad.
The police viewed the matter as extremely serious. It was a clear case of blackmail and the victim was the most important politician in the city. But they had no idea who was behind it, or how sophisticated the would-be blackmailers were. After questioning Ackroyd, the police could do little but hope that McMahon would phone again. Their luck held.
That Tuesday afternoon, April 11th, a call duly came through for Ackroyd. It was McMahon who wanted to know if the deal was still on.
Under police instruction Ackroyd agreed to meet McMahon alone that night with £150 for the diary. The meeting was fixed for 9 o'clock at the same spot on Carlisle Road as the previous meeting.
The police had little time to organise their forces. A large number of officers, some with dogs, were hidden around the meeting point. Buildings, bushes and unmarked vans were used as hiding places. To make matters worse, the deployment had to be arranged without arousing too much suspicion in a very busy area.
The police were also concerned to collect enough evidence to ensure that any future prosecution would succeed. They knew that at least 2 young men were involved, but if officers just moved in to arrest them as they climbed into Ackroyd's car, the youths might simply claim; "We thought it was a taxi!"
Robin Ackroyd was therefore wired up with a concealed microphone, and tape recorder.
As the scheduled time approached the nervous T & A reporter, now acting as bait, set off for the rendezvous. Dozens of police officers watched from their hidden surveillance points as Ackroyd pulled his car into the side of the road and waited.
Eventually lan McMahon approached the car, but there was no sign of his brother Martin Miskell.
In fact Miskell was close by, holding the diary. McMahon had decided, after their first meeting, that Ackroyd was not to be trusted.
lan McMahon and Robin Ackroyd sat together in the car.
"Have you got the money?" asked the youth.
"Do you have the diary?" responded the journalist.
Of course neither had the goods, but weren't about to admit it.
Still suspicious of the journalists' intentions, McMahon asked him to drive around the corner onto a side street, where he claimed his friend was waiting with the diary. Ackroyd refused, fearing he was about to be mugged.
Meanwhile police officers watched from their surveillance points, anxious at their poor view. Ackroyd had been forced to park further down the road than had been intended.
Finally the police decided they could wait no longer. The order to move in was given.
Police officers suddenly poured onto the scene from all directions. Martin Miskell, waiting close by, couldn't believe what was happening. He turned and ran straight through a group of officers, still clutching the diary. The police gave chase with dogs, but Miskell ran faster than he'd ever run before in his life. He lost his pursuers.
For Ian McMahon the game was up. He was "banged to rights" and he knew it.
The size of the police operation had stunned McMahon. What had started out as a simple way to make a small amount of money had developed into a scene straight out of "Miami Vice".
The police were quick to point out the seriousness of the charges; for blackmail he potentially faced many years in prison. The police were also concerned to identify and arrest McMahon's accomplice, as well as retrieve the diary.
Records soon produced details on McMahon. He had 2 previous convictions for attempted theft from cars and was currently on bail awaiting trial on 3 other counts of car theft.
To experienced police officers it looked clear cut; McMahon must have broken into Pickles' car and stolen the diary and other items.
But it wasn't as simple as that, for although Ian McMahon was co-operating with the police, he flatly denied that he had broken into the Renault. He insisted that held been stood at the end of his street late on the night of April 4th when he'd seen 2 men that he knew throw something into a skip. He'd investigated and discovered it was Pickles' diary.
The police found this story hardly credible, but to disprove it they needed to establish a direct link between McMahon and the car. They searched McMahon's home but found no trace of the missing pens or car phone - the items that would have provided the proof they needed.
A second potential link between McMahon and the Renault lay in McMahon's allegation that Pickles' car had been parked in Manningham on the night the diary was stolen. This, however, was flatly denied by Pickles, whose own record of his movements that night took him nowhere near the Manningham area.
The police had questioned Pickles and tried to ascertain exactly where and when his Renault had been broken into. Pickles wasn't sure. He'd retraced his steps that night and the only real opportunity for the theft he could identify was whilst he was dining at the Aagrah in Shipley.
If this was true, it meant that Pickles had climbed into his car in Shipley without noticing the break-in. He had then driven to Bingley, on to Allerton and finally back to Oakworth without noticing that various items were missing.
On the face of it this seemed unlikely. However, the break-in almost certainly would not have left any obvious signs. Ian McMahon, for instance, was skilled at "jumping" central car locking systems with a half pair of scissors - always on the passenger side.
Similarly, there is little reason to believe that Pickles would notice the disappearance of 2 pens or his filofax until such time as he wanted them.
The car phone is a different matter. It is harder to imagine how he could fail to notice the disappearance of such a prominent object, particularly considering that before setting off to visit Ronnie Farley so late at night - after 11 p.m. - he might well have considered phoning him first to check that it was alright.
The police had no reason to believe that McMahon had been to Shipley that evening, or that Pickles' car had been singled out specifically. Never the less, they were forced, eventually, to accept an "official" version of events, however unsatisfactory.
The official version ran as follows:
On the evening of April 4th at around 9 p.m., 2 "persons unknown" broke into Eric Pickles' Renault in Shipley. The 2 people then went to the Carlisle Road area of Manningham. Keeping the valuables, they threw the diary into a skip. Ian McMahon saw them, retrieved the diary and then phoned Pickles "demanding money with menaces".
Even so, McMahon would still subsequently plead guilty to the theft of the diary.
As his barrister Mr. Sydney Levine was to later explain:
"The accused's plea of guilty to theft of the diary is on the basis, not that he took it from the car, which he did not, as he always denied to the police, but it was theft of the diary by finding."
As far as McMahon's further allegations were concerned, the police had to assume that these were fabricated by the youth in order to "spice up" his tale for the reporter.
In fact these allegations were never made public. At McMahon's subsequent trial only an oblique reference was made to them. Whilst presenting the prosecution's case, barrister Sharon Beattie said; "McMahon has made various untrue allegations against Mr. Pickles - (he) admitted the same."
The next morning police officers raided the home of Martin Miskell. Miskell was older and proved much less co-operative. His house was searched and in a jacket pocket was found a piece of paper with 2 telephone numbers; those of the T & A and Eric Pickles. That was enough to link him to the blackmail and Miskell was arrested.
Miskell was given a hard time by the police, who were still trying to locate the missing diary. But it soon became clear that Miskell's role had been a minor one - he had simply acted as "minder" for his brother and the diary at McMahon's request.
However, he was charged with "handling stolen goods" and was convinced he would "go down". Miskell was told bluntly that if the diary was returned then it could only go in the favour of his brother and himself. Miskell eventually told the police where the diary had been stashed - under a bush.
Although not entirely satisfied with the final story, the police were none the less pleased with a "good result".
On Thursday April 13th, McMahon and Miskell appeared before Bradford magistrates. McMahon was remanded in custody and Miskell was given bail. Pickles got his diary back. That evening Eric Pickles stayed late at his City Hall office, chatting with Kath Metcalfe. At 7 p.m. the duo, looking distinctly cheerful, left the almost deserted council building. They continued their conversation in Pickles' car before Kath Metcalfe bid the council leader an affectionate goodbye and slipped into her own car.
It is not known if they were discussing mundane matters like council business, or whether the topic of such a chirpy conversation concerned the day's developments in the diary theft saga.
2 months later on June 14th Ian McMahon appeared at Leeds Crown court. He faced the 3 outstanding charges of car theft that dated from Autumn 1988, and pleaded guilty.
He then faced the charge of stealing the diary, car telephone and 2 pens belonging to Eric Pickles. He pleaded guilty to the diary alone.
Finally he faced the most serious charge of blackmail. Again he pleaded guilty.
McMahon left it to his barrister, Sydney Levine, to plead on his behalf. Whether or not McMahon stood by the allegations he had made against Pickles, he was saying nothing in court.
His barrister said;
"...there was really no question of this being any attempt to embarrass the gentleman in the sort of way that might have been possible for anyone who was so minded, nor indeed through me does he wish to do so today."
Judge Garner, in his final summing up, accepted that the blackmail attempt "was not a sophisticated or planned offence". He added;
"I also agree that a plea of guilty in an offence of this type is cogent mitigation, and indeed the best evidence of remorse."
None the less, Garner said;
"Blackmail is always a serious offence and must always be visited by a custodial sentence. That is inevitable."
Judge Garner sentenced Ian McMahon to 15 months for blackmail, 6 months for the theft of the diary and 6 months for the other car thefts - all to run concurrently.
The sentence seemed harsh, but barrister Sydney Levine explained "It was on the low side of the tariff for blackmail which is a very serious offence." Indeed, McMahon had been expecting 3 years.
Martin Miskell had to wait another 5 months for his hearing. On October 20th he appeared at Wakefield Crown court and pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods.
By this time Miskell was a single parent with responsibility for 3 very young children. He feared a prison sentence, but Judge Garner accepted that his role in the affair was minimal and placed him on probation for a year.
Eric Pickles breathed a sigh of relief. The whole matter had been wrapped up with the minimum of publicity. Scandal had been averted, his secrets were safe.
Chapter 13: Bread 'n' Roses
Eric Pickles' Bradford Revolution set off at a roaring pace. His October 1988 package of cuts stunned the city, but as Ronnie Farley put it at the time "You don't do these things twice, that's why Eric has bunged all the most unpopular measures together at once".
A year later Eric Pickles had, by his own calculations, cut £22 million from the council's budget - almost half the total envisaged in his "5 year plan".
Initial opposition was intense. Pickles had made contingency plans for an all-out strike by council workers, but that never materialised. Opposition also came from community organisations, local pressure groups, voluntary organisations and the Bishop of Bradford. But Pickles rode the early backlash with relative ease.
On the whole the Labour opposition on Bradford council proved ineffective. Their best piece of work was, without doubt, their onslaught on the Tory backed school meals buyout plan. Even here there remain many serious questions that need to be answered. The whole business smacks of corruption and Eric Pickles' portly presence looms large at the centre of the entire scandal. Labour's Education spokesman John Ryan is right in his call for a full and open investigation into the affair.
When Pickles embarked on his "revolution" he knew he could count on the government to back him all the way. Indeed, once he had taken control, government money suddenly began to flood into the city. Government ministers made little attempt to hide the fact that this cash was made available because of Pickles' take-over. On March 15th 1989, Inner Cities minister David Trippier, on a visit to Bradford, announced a £4.5 million government grant for the city. He said;
"We believe Bradford council in the hands of the Tories will promote urban regeneration and economic development in a way that could never have been seen from a local authority controlled by the Socialists and I am now content that we are going to receive applications from councillor Pickles for City Grants to fund a number of major schemes in the city."
The government has stepped in on a number of issues to help Pickles out of his difficulties.
In July 1989 the Department of the Environment unveiled a new scheme for calculating council rents. The formula, as it stood, would have meant Bradford tenants benefiting from an average rent CUT of £7.27 a week - more than reversing Pickles' rent increases. Embarrassed D.o.E. officials were quick to add a lower limit to their formula - producing a minimum INCREASE of 95p a week.
Similarly, Pickles' close friend Christopher Chope MP, Nicholas Ridley's successor at the D.o.E., stepped in to reduce Bradford's initial Poll Tax charges from a projected £350 to around £270 per person. Even so, the majority of Bradford's citizens look set to find themselves worse off under this disastrous government scheme.
Indeed, the Yorkshire and Humberside Low Pay Unit produced a report in November 1989 which claimed that the poor will end up paying up to 4 times as much of their income as the better off. The report also stated that, in its first year of operation, the Poll Tax will result in a massive switching of resources, with the North losing £32 million whilst the prosperous South East will benefit by £780 million. Low Pay Unit director Chris Pond said; "The Poll Tax works like Robin Hood in reverse. Money is being taken from the poor to give to the rich."
Striking examples of this trend can be seen. Bradford's Asian community, who generally draw the least from the city's Social Services because of the support provided by the traditional extended family network, are set to suffer particularly acutely for that very reason. This will be compounded by the fact that the city's Asian population is generally concentrated in the poorer, low rated inner city areas. Ironically, a report of October 1989 drawn up by a council official and named "Future Trends", indicated that the extended family network was likely to break down in the coming years, consequently putting a greater strain on the city's Social Services. The Poll Tax will almost certainly accelerate that process.
But others living in the more expensive posher areas of the district are set to profit from the new tax. Calculations show that, for instance, Social Services and Strategic Housing supremo Margaret Eaton can expect a £1000 a year windfall courtesy of the new Tory Poll Tax.
The coming Poll Tax has long been a major influence on Eric Pickles' strategy to cut costs. The Tories' political future locally depends on Pickles' success.
But the Poll Tax remains universally unpopular. Along with measures like the privatisation of water, it is one of the key issues which has led to a nationwide slump in Tory support. Radical right-wing Tory ideology has long since outstripped any concept of fairness.
That national slump in Tory support is bound to be reflected in the local elections of May 1990.
On paper at least Bradford's Tory group should expect to come out of those elections with a clear majority. Of the 30 seats due to be fought, only 11 are presently held by the Tories and most of those are unassailably "safe".
Labour, on the other hand, have 19 seats up for grabs. Most of those are extremely "marginal" and include nearly all the gains Labour made in 1986 when they won by a landslide.
If the Tories don't end up with a clear majority, then it will be a disaster indeed for Eric Pickles.
Since the beginning of 1989 the Bradford Revolution seems to have run out of steam. When, in November this year, I mentioned it to one senior Tory councillor, he said; "what revolution's that then, the one we're still waiting for?"
This failure can be put down to Eric Pickles' over ambitious timetable. He had hoped to have his major council restructuring programme and his mass privatisation strategy fully operating by April 1990. The rush to succeed resulted in the shambles highlighted in the Coopers & Lybrand report of October 1989.
Pickles' management practice reorganisation and promise to pass officer decision making "down the line" has also largely failed to materialise. One disillusioned former "Colonel" told me this was because "Pickles bottled out". Yet the new Chief Executive Richard Penn was happy to use this "phantom" reorganisation to justify a further drop in public accountability. When I asked him in July 1989 how much ratepayers' money had recently been spent on hiring various outside consultants, he replied;
"...the facility to appoint consultants as contained in Financial Regulations allows each appropriate officer to exercise professional expertise based on relevant information available to them and relies on that professional judgement to obtain the best outcome. I do not have the information you request. However, concurrent with greater flexibility comes the requirements that appropriate officers in retrospect may have to substantiate the process they went through and account for their decisions."
I underline the key sentence because it takes some finding.
And what of the future for Eric Pickles himself?
There is little doubt that his actions and experience in Bradford will bring him a lucrative future in the burgeoning "consultancy" field, which promises rich rewards as public services nationwide are privatised. He looks set to follow his friends and mentors like Christpher Chope MP and Marcus Fox MP in this respect.
It has also long been suggested that the Tory party have a safe Parliamentary seat lined up for their favourite council leader. Pickles has always dismissed this - to British journalists at least.
For instance, when asked about this in March 1989 by the Observer's Paul Routledge, Pickles said he had no parliamentary ambitions and in the future "I will tend my rose garden and dream of times past". Yet 3 months earlier, in response to the same question posed by Canadian journalist John Gray, Pickles said that he certainly did have parliamentary ambitions; "It's either that or sitting back in my garden and growing roses. I certainly don't wish to be Lord Mayor of Bradford in 20 years."
In any case, there is no chance of Eric Pickles retiring to tend his rose garden. For one thing, he doesn't have one.
Epilogue 1: Updates
The new councils at a glance
(T&A May 1990)
The Conservatives lost control of the council to Labour, who gained five seats and now have an overall majority of four. Labour got a nine per cent swing in its favour, and of the 32 seats it won 24, the Tories won 8 and the Liberal Democrats and Greens won none.
Pickles fails in secret bid for safe Tory seat
Leeds Other Paper 27/7/90
FORMER BRADFORD council leader Eric Pickles failed earlier this month in his first bid to become an MP.
The controversial Tory councillor attended a selection meeting for the safe Tory Midlands seat of Halesowen and Stourbridge on July 6th.
He was one of 3 candidates shortlisted from a large number of applicants hoping to stand in the next general election when the sitting M.P. Sir John Stokes retires leaving a majority of 13,000.
Councillor Pickles, who has always publicly denied any Parliamentary ambitions, has been on the Tory Central office 'approved' candidates list for some time, it was revealed. He kept the news of his Parliamentary bid secret, even from his local Tory colleagues.
The selection was won by former Tory M.P. Warren Hawksley. Councillor Pickles missed last weeks council meeting due to an injured back, when news of his failed bid was revealed by liberal councillor John Wells.
Pickles fails MP bid again
Leeds Other Paper 3/8/90
FORMER Bradford chief Eric Pickles has failed in his latest attempt to become a Conservative MP in a safe Tory seat.
Former Thatcher favourite, Pickles, has failed to get through even the first round of the selection procedure for the North Yorkshire seat of Scarborough and Whitby. The seat has become vacant following the retirement of Sir Michael Shaw who is leaving behind a majority of more than 13,600.
Pickles was among 30 hopefuls, most of whom have been rejected. All local candidates have already been eliminated, including the three leading members of the Scarborough and Whitby Conservative Association.
Front runner is gossip columnist Lady Olga Maitland, head of the right-wing group 'Peace through Nato'.
Pickles to quit for Commons race
By Francine Lee (Yorkshire Post 26/2/91)
THE MAN who brought Mrs Margaret Thatcher's town hall revolution to Bradford, gaining her esteem and Labour's anger, is leaving local politics to pursue a Parliamentary career.
Coun Eric Pickles told Tory colleagues at a group meeting last night that he was standing down as their leader from the beginning of April and would not be seeking re-election to Bradford Council in the local elections in May.
The announcement followed a decision by senior Conservatives in the Tory stronghold of Brentwood and Ongar, Essex, to recommend him for adoption as their prospective Parliamentary candidate.
The seat falls vacant at the next election because of the decision of the sitting MP, Sir Robert McCrindle, not to seek re-election.
Sir Robert held the constituency with a Conservative majority of 18,921 in the 1987 elections.
Coun Pickles received the support of "a substantial majority" of Brentwood and Ongar's constituency executive committee when he was interviewed with other hopefuls on February 24.
His is the only name to go forward for an adoption vote at a general meeting of the constituency party on March 15.
Coun Pickles said last night that he viewed with mixed feelings his decision to quit local politics
He said: "Obviously I am very sad to be leaving many friends behind on Bradford Council. More particularly I am sad to be leaving the Worth Valley, which I have represented for a number of years and care about deeply. But I am delighted with this new and exciting challenge.
"I am very confident that there are lots of people on Bradford Conservative group who will be able to take up the leadership."
Coun Pickles has been a Bradford councillor since 1979, entering local politics on the same day that Mrs Thatcher first swept into power at Westminster.
He has been Conservative group leader for exactly four years and, during his 18-month rule, made Bradford one of the Conservatives' flagship local authorities.
He attracted Prime Ministerial approval and local Labour outrage with radical reforms, approved on the casting vote of the Lord Mayor.
Staffing levels were cut and services privatised in a programme which, he insisted, was necessary - not to cut costs, but to breathe new life into what he described as a cosy world in which town halls stifled enterprise.
He argued that local services should be run by local authorities only if that was the most efficient option.
His group's programme of changes was halted when Labour regained control of the authority last May.
Pickles is first choice
Brentwood & Ongar Gazette 1/3/91
MR ERIC PICKLES has been named as a possible successor for Brentwood and Ongar MP Sir Robert McCrindle who will not be seeking re-election at the next General Election.
Mr Pickles, aged 38, of Keighley, Yorkshire, was short-listed down from 257 candidates to the final 24 who were interviewed by the Constituency Executive Council two weeks ago. It was decided that only his name would be put forward for recommendation to the General Meeting for Adoption when it meets on Friday, March 15.
Mr Pickles is currently the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bradford City Council and the Deputy Leader of the Conservatives on the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.
He was born in Keighley and attended Greenhead Grammar School and then KeighIey and Leeds Polytechnic. He has been married for 15 years and is a keen hill walker.
He joined the Conservative Party in 1968 and has vast political experience especially in the fields of local government, the Health Service and race relations.
He told the Gazette that he was delighted at being recommended as parliamentary prospective candidate: "My first priority will be to establish myself as my honourable friend, Sir Robert has done, as a good constituent MP. I look forward to representing all the people of Brentwood and Ongar, even those who support different parties."
But, within hours of his candidature being announced, Brentwood Labour Party parliamentary candidate Frances Keohane threw down the gauntlet by challenging him to public debate on the Government's record.
"The Conservatives have selected a hardline Thatcherite," said Mr Keohane.
It's Pickles - with relish
Brentwood & Ongar Gazette, 15/4/92
IT WAS Pickles with relish for Brentwood and Ongar electorate when they made their Yorkshire-born Tory candidate the newest Essex-man after sweeping him to victory on a massive 32,145 vote rollercoaster.
There could have been very little doubt that Eric Pickles would hold on to Brentwood's Tory seat. But by the look on the faces of even the Party's most fervent supporters it was obvious that they were surprised that his victory was such a knock-out.
As the blue line of ballot papers galloped ahead of the red, orange and green on the "votes counted" table the Liberal Democrat orange line fell back and Labour's red faltered at the first jump before collapsing altogether, the Conservatives got to grips with a run-away win.
A trouble-free count at Brentwood Adult Education Centre brought acting returning officer Colin Sivell to his feet at 1.15am to deliver the body-blow which by now Liberal Democrat's Liz Bottomley knew was going to come.
Her Party's optimistic predictions of a mass Tory defection were hammered as Mr Sivell handed Eric Pickles a 40th birthday present a week early with the announcement that a massive 32,145 vote had swept him into Westminster.
Only 113 votes behind Sir Robert McCrindle's 1987 best of 32,258 Mr Pickles was among the most successful of first-time candidates, and the constituency's 84.63 per cent turnout one of the highest in Essex. Mrs Bottomley could not hide her disappointment even though with 17,000 she was 3,663 votes up on the old Alliance poll.
Earlier that evening, party faithful of all colours looked decidedly jaded and then, just over an hour into the count, Basildon happened, the first marginal of the night held by the Tories.
The adrenaline began to pump and candidates, agents and party followers were kick-started into action.
Mr Pickles immediately began to talk like a winner and his agent, Maggie MeEwen must certainly have known a wave of relief.
She had been pitched into the General Election melee only two weeks after passing her agent's exams.
Mr Pickles was the first candidate to arrive for the count. His imposing figure, followed by wife Irene, trim and eye-catching in Tory blue, arrived to a flurry of applause at 11.10, quickly followed by Mrs Bottomley.
All through the campaign her camp had predicted that she was going to give Mr Pickles a run for his money.
In the event she was only an each-way bet, struggling home behind the Tory gallop more than 15,000 votes short.
Labour's Francis Keohane was even more disappointed in third place, dropping to 6,080 - 962 votes below the 1987 total.
The Green Party lost their deposit yet again when Carolyn Bartley picked up only 535 votes.
Ex-leader takes step up ladder to power
by KERSTI MITCHELL (T&A 16/2/93)
Ex-Bradford Council leader Eric Pickles today took his first step on the ministerial ladder.
Minister for Industry Tim Sainsbury has appointed the 40 year-old MP for Brentwood and Ongar in Essex as his Parliamentary private Secretary.
Mr Pickles is now effectively Mr Sainsbury's "minder" and unpaid bag carrier.
But the new appointment will give him a fair chance of gaining a junior ministerial post within the lifetime of the current parliament.
Mr Pickles, one of the most controversial council leaders Bradford has seen, was elected as member of the authority for Worth VaIIey in 1979 - the same year Mrs Thatcher began her reign in Downing Street.
He began an 18-month rule as leader of Bradford Council in September, 1988 and radical measures to cut council jobs, sell off elderly peoples' homes and sports-centres, and raise council house rents and school meal charges made him a national figure overnight.
Pickles' key role
FORMER Bradford Council leader Eric Pickles, has been appointed Conservative Party vice-chairman in charge of local government affairs. Party chairman Sir Norman Fowler said Mr Pickles would have a key role to play in the run-up to the 1994 local elections.
Ford chief and MP in death crash
The Times 6 June 1994
THE chairman of the Ford Motor Company and a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party were hurt when their Jaguar XJ6 was involved in a fatal accident after an evening at the Glyndebourne opera.
Ian McAlIister and Eric Pickles, 42, MP for Brentwood and Ongar, were taken to hospital, along with Mr Pickles's wife, lrene, and their driver, Mario Carbonara.
The other car, a left-hand drive Chevrolet Camero, was driven by Edward Clark, 57, of Hastings, East Sussex. He was certified dead at the scene by a consultant anaesthetist who happened to be passing.
Mr McAllister was detained overnight in Eastbourne District General Hospital for observation. A spokesman for Ford said that Mr McAllisters wife, Susan, was also in the Jaguar, but was not hurt in the accident at a roundabout on the A27 near Lewes, East Sussex.
Mr and Mrs Pickles and the McAllisters, all from Brentwood, Essex, were taken to hospital along with Mr Carbonara, 52, from Chingford. All except Mr McAllister were later discharged after treatment for minor injuries.
Sports car death; Edward Clarke
The Times 10 November 1994
An inquest was told that Edward Clarke, 57, of Hastings, died instantly when his sports car hit a chauffeur-driven Jaguar containing Eric Pickles, MP, and lan McAllister, chairman of Ford, near Lewes, East Sussex. Verdict: accident.
Epilogue 2: Tory chief accused in school meals scandal
Tory chief accused in school meals scandal
Leeds Other Paper (27/4/89)
A TORY COUNCIL leader improperly encouraged two officers to take over Bradford school meals in a desperate attempt to privatise the service. Tory deputy leader Richard Wightman personally encouraged council officers to make a management buy-out bid for school meals in the city. He did so knowing that they had alreadv been asked to prepare an in-house bid for the service. He was fully aware of the potential for a scandalous conflict of interests.
Bradford West MP Max Madden is to refer these revelations to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The MP described the allegations against Councillor Wiqhtman as "alarming and very serious", calling Wightman's behaviour "extraordinary, unusual and raising important questions of ethics for a councillor in his position".
WELL PLACED City Hall sources have revealed that Coun Wightman - strongly tipped to replace Eric Pickles as Tory leader - lobbied two senior council catering officers, Mike Howat and Derek Halliday to organise a management buy-out in December 1988. This meant setting up their own company and taking over Bradford's school meals service as a private concern.
The approach took place immediately after a council committee meeting - chaired by Richard Wightman - which had asked the same two officers to draw up an in-house bid, under competitive tendering procedure, on behalf of the council workforce itself.
Plans for a management buyout remained secret while Howat and Halliday worked on the in-house bid. They failed to formally declare their interest in the school meals service until March 17th 1989, the closing date for tenders. Despite approaching them initially, Wightman did nothing to stop this conflict of interests.
The two officers were assisted in their buy-out attempt by London based consultants Capita Ltd. Capita had conducted a private seminar with senior Tories Eric Pickles and Coun Richard Wightman in Bradford City Hall.
The Tory leadership knew at an early stage that no private companies were interested in taking over the school meals service. They were concerned that this first city service to go out to tender would be won by the council workforce because of a lack of competition. Capita suggested a management buy-out as an alternative.
At the seminar, it was suggested that Capita approach catering managers Howat and Halliday. Two weeks later Coun Wightman made his approach to the two officers after the committee meeting which ordered them to make the in-house bid.
When asked by Leeds Other Paper if he could confirm these approaches, Richard Wightman said: "No I can't confirm that at all. Such an approach would have been improper". He called the allegations slanderous.
A secret meeting was arranged between Howat, Halliday and Capita at Bingley's plush Bankfield Hotel. The officers agreed to set up their own private company and attempt to buy out the service.
According to council rules the two officers should then have declared a private interest and withdrawn from preparing the in-house bid. Official council documents indicate they failed to formerly declare this clash of interests until March 7th, the closing date for the tender bids. When this became public knowledge, Labour councillors made allegations of corruption.
However, a signed statement in the possession of Leeds Other Paper indicates that Howat and Halliday told senior officers of their private buy-out plans as early as February 1989.
The statement reads: "When the two of us made our decision to formulate an MBO bid, we immediately informed the council in early February 1989 of our intentions, both verbally and followed up by letters from our professional advisers. This action was taken for reasons of probity and occured well in advance of the preparation and submission of the in-house bid".
The verbal declarations were made to senior council officers. But Education Assistant Director Ken Sutcliffe denies he was informed at the time. Sutcliffe said: "I wouldn't say that was true. I can't say that I haven't heard people discussing management buy-outs, because that would be unreasonable. I was informed on, I think, about the 17th March. The two officers never told me what happened prior to that date."
The statement made by the two officers continues: "Whilst putting together the in-house bid, as employees acting on behalf of the council, we were not asked to cease working on the bid, nor were we given any instructions to do so. In fact, to have not submitted an in-house bid would have meant, as we understand it, that the whole competitive tendering process would have had to be repeated again which would not have been in the interests of the council, the workforce, the customers or the ratepayers".
Trevor Finch of the union GMB confirmed that Howat and Halliday first mentioned the possibility of an MBO to him on February 9 1989. Mr Finch said: "Halliday and Howat had a meeting with me and John Clarke of NUPE. They asked how we would feel about a management buy-out. I said I wanted an in-house bid, but failing that I would prefer an MBO to some outside contractor like Trust House Forte getting it."
Mr Finch acknowledged that the two officers failed to tell him that no other private contractors were bidding. He said: "The two lads said that a letter of intent to pursue an MBO would be sent to the council". A letter was sent from Capita to Tory leader Eric Pickles marked 'private and confidential'. The letter did not mention the two officers by name.
Richard Wightman encouraged the two officers to make their bid. The Tory leadership was well aware of the progress of the MBO plans. As Tory chief in charge of privatisation it was his duty to ensure that no clash of interests or impropriety took place. He failed to ensure this.
Labour education spokesman John Ryan said: "If this is true, it serves to confirm what the Labour Group has suspected all along, that the Tory Group were behind the MBO. We redouble our demand for a full inquiry into the whole matter."
Epilogue 3: Currying Favours
Leeds Other Paper (7/9/90)
A secret inquiry has cleared police and top Tories of alleged corruption. Tony Grogan investigates the curry house party which was too hot to handle
AN INTERNAL corruption inquiry led by Bradford council's Chief Executive earlier this year has cleared the city's ruling politicians of any impropriety.
The inquiry followed a private party hosted by some of the city's leading Asian businessmen.
Tory politicians are trying hard to win the support of Asian voters by cultivating links with the Asian business community. But when business comes before politics, this can prove a dangerous strategy. Leeds Other Paper investigates.
On Tuesday evening, November 21st 1989, guests began arriving for a private dinner party at the Nawaab restaurant in Bradford's city centre.
Most had been invited by a trio of the city's leading Asian Tory businessmen: Dayal Sharma - the influential director of the Institute of Asian Business, Nirmal Singh - vice chairman of the Institute and boss of the Nirmal Razai Mart Co Ltd., and Choudry Fazal Hussein - the owner of several local businesses, also known as the political "Mr Fixit".
The guests included the city's leading Tory politicians: Council leader Eric Pickles arrived with his close friend and fellow councillor Kath Metcalfe, front benchers Richard Wightman, Mike Gaunt and Margaret Eaton were there along with a number of prominent back benchers. Police officers were amongst the guests, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Cooper - head of West Yorkshire's Western Area CID.
It was an impressive gathering. Food and drink were plentiful; "It was great" said one guest. "There was as much to eat and drink as you could manage, and all for free."
There was plenty for the guests to discuss. Eric Pickles' controversial Tory administration had been in control for over a year but council elections loomed in the approaching May. Fazal Hussein was already playing a key role arranging the shock defection of Labour front bench councillor Mohammed Riaz to the Tories, which was due to be announced a month later.
Dayal Sharma and Nirmal Singh were undoubtedly concerned that a council grant application for their Institute of Asian Business had only been partly realised. The council were still considering grant awards at that time. Although it was a private function, it was hardly secret. During the course of the evening Labour leader Phil Beeley and his wife, councillor Marilyn Beeley turned up at the restaurant for a quiet meal and stumbled across the party.
It seems few of the guests knew who was footing the bill or exactly what the function was designed to celebrate. A spokesperson for Bradford council told Leeds Other Paper. "Councillor Pickles and councillor Wightman were invited for a meal by a third party. When they realised the true host was someone else, they considered leaving immediately, but decided to stay so as not to cause offence."
The true host was Sarwan "Sammy" Singh, former landlord of the Belle Vue and Spotted House pubs. According to Sammy Singh, the party was simply an early Christmas celebration to which he'd invited a few friends.
Sammy was an unlikely benefactor for this particular gathering; he was a long time member of the Labour Party and a close friend of a number of "left-wing" Labour councillors.
Sammy Singh had run strip shows at his pubs since the mid 1980s, which proved a lucrative business but had also set him on a collision course with his Labour colleagues. In 1986 when Labour took control of the council, they introduced a ban on pub strip shows. Sammy battled through the courts against the decision which ended the strip shows at his pub, The Spotted House, but with no success.
However, by the time the entertainment licence for his other pub, the Belle Vue, came before a council committee, the Tories were once more back in the council driving seat. At a controversial committee meeting in April last year, the Tories overturned the strip ban and Sammy was given his licence. Labour councillors were appalled.
Late in the evening Sammy Singh rose to speak. During the speech he thanked the guests for granting his licence.
"Alarm bells suddenly began ringing" explained one of the guests. "If I'd have known what was happening, I'd never have gone to that do."
The guests had good reason to be concerned, for Sammy had been host at a function in almost identical circumstances five years earlier which had led to public allegations of corruption and a year-long top level police inquiry.
Sammy's "thank you" speech proved particularly embarrassing for Chief Superintendent Kevin Cooper, who found himself enjoying the hospitality of a man his police force had investigated five years before. According to several witnesses Cooper left the party in a furious mood.
The following morning some of the councillors, including Eric Pickles, reported the incident to the council's Chief Executive, Richard Penn. There was a very real fear that news of the meal would be made public and allegations of corruption would follow.
Penn launched his own internal council inquiry. The inquiry was conducted in secret and concluded in March this year.
A council spokesperson told Leeds Other Paper: "The Chief Executive found no evidence of any impropriety."
Penn contacted the Chief Whips of each party and a "warning" was passed on to all councillors, advising them to be careful of their associations in future. It was received by most councillors in mystified ignorance.
Chief Superintendent Cooper is also believed to have reported the events to his superiors the following day. Leeds Other Paper understands that internal police inquiries were made by Chief Superintendent Sowden of Bradford's South Division. The results are unknown.
Sowden retired shortly afterwards and in June this year Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Cooper announced his early retirement on "health grounds" at the age of 50.
Sammy Singh, who no longer runs either pub, is philosophical about the whole affair: "I can't say much, it's all water under the bridge" he said, adding that his unfortunate habit of attracting controversy was "just one of those things. That's life, life's like that, isn't it?"
The Institute for Asian Business
The Institute of Asian Business is seen by many as the focus for Asian Tory politicians in the city. The brainchild of its director Dayal Sharma, it was started in 1986 with central government backing and is an accredited Enterprise Agency, concentrating on helping a small number of trainees set up new businesses.
Initially it aimed to he self financing, achieving a membership of 700 by 1989. In fact the present membership stands at around 28. Consequently the Institute has relied on public funds, including a total of £25,000 from Bradford Council.
Dayal Sharma himself is employed by the Inland Revenue, but has been seconded on full pay to run the Institute since its formation. Sharma is renowned for his contacts, he is the Ethnic Minority Liaison representative for the West Yorkshire Police, a member of Bradford's Economic Forum, Governor of several schools and colleges, member of the programme advisory council for Yorkshire Television and a key local Tory Party member.
The Asian membership of the Institute appears to he almost exclusively Indian. A number of influential characters lend their names to the Institute, including former Bradford Tory MP, Geoff Lawler, Tory MP Gary Waller and Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who all act as Vice Presidents. The Assistant Chief Constable John Botterill is a member and the Institute's advisory council is headed by former Bradford University Vice Chancellor, Professor John West. In July, Dayal Sharma was awarded an honourary Master of Arts Degree by Bradford University for his work as director of the Institute for Asian Business.
Spotted House Inquiry
In February 1985 a council committee had granted Sammy Singh an "extended hours" licence for his pub The Spotted House, in the face of staunch opposition from the police and council officers.
Shortly afterwards Sammy hosted a celebration party at the pub where free drinks were provided. Guests included several Labour councillors, mostly members of the left wing Campaign Group, along with a number of police officers.
Some time later allegations of corruption were made to the council's Chief Executive by other Labour councillors, who claimed the free drinks party was a "pay off' for aiding the success of the licence application.
The allegation seemed difficult to justify, particularly since the committee which granted it was Tory controlled. None the less the Chief Executive passed the allegations to the police, headed by Superintendent Kevin Cooper.
The case was then passed to an officer from outside the area - Superintendent Ken Baines of the Calderdale Division.
A number of Labour councillors, including the group's leaders, were quizzed at great length by the police and the investigations were given prominent media coverage which proved particularly damaging to the Campaign Group councillors who were centrally involved in the Honeyford Affair at the time.
Indeed, police questioning seemed to focus primarily on the politics of the Campaign Group and the anti-Honeyford campaign.
A year later, in July 1986, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that no charges would he pressed.
Former top detective arrested in laundering inquiry
Money quiz for ex-chief
By Carol Mouncey and Rod Hopkinson, (T&A 26/7/93)
A FORMER senior Bradford detective has been arrested and questioned by police in the wake of an investigation into an alleged drugs money laundering operation.
And a leading member of the Asian community in Bradford has also been arrested and quizzed in connection with the major inquiry.
The developments are a spin-off from a top secret probe which has been going on for three years and has involved officers from around the force area drafted into West Yorkshire CID HQ at Wakefield.
It is also understood that another line being pursued in the complex inquiry is the 1986 murder of Bradford restaurant owner Mushtaq Hussain, which still remains unsolved.
The body of Mr Hussain, 25, who lived in Little Lane, Girlington, was found in his car in nearby Fairbank Road more than seven years ago. He had been strangled
Retired Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Cooper, who spent 23 years in Bradford's CID before moving to force headquarters in Wakefield and becoming the deputy head of the CID in West Yorkshire, was arrested at his Leicestershire home.
He was questioned by officers from Nottinghamshire police who were acting on behalf of West Yorkshire police. He was released on bail pending further inquiries.
Mr Cooper, 53, who led the investigation into the Bradford City fire, retired from the West Yorkshire police force three years ago
He is thought to have been arrested following a major undercover police investigation into allegations of drugs running and money laundering operations
Today a spokesman for West Yorkshire police refused to confirm that Mr Cooper had been arrested or to comment.
In an official statement the spokesman said: "We can confirm a man has been arrested by Nottinghamshire constabulary during their conduct of an investigation carried out
"He has been questioned and released on bail pending further inquiries."
An outstanding career
KEVIN Cooper embarked on his police career in 1962 and was to become one of West Yorkshire's most experienced officers.
The former St Bede's Grammar School pupil joined the Bradford City force and three years later became a detective.
His 28-year career saw him lead more than 40 murder inquiries to a successful conclusion.
Only one case remains unsolved - the murder in 1986 of 25-year-old restaurant owner Mushtaq Hussain, who was found strangled in his car in Toller Lane, Bradford.
Mr Cooper's work on the investigation into the Bradford City fire in 1985 was praised at the public inquiry and the inquest.
During his career he received 13 commendations
Married with two grown-up sons, he retired in 1990. He was injured on duty in Bradford in 1977 when he was head of the drugs squad and became plagued with back trouble.
Police quiz honours list man
By Rod Hopkinson (T&A 27/7/93)
BUSINESSMAN Fazal Hussain MBE was arrested and quizzed by police probing an alleged drugs money laundering operation.
The Telegraph & Argus can reveal that the detention coincided with the arrest of former Bradford CID chief Kevin Cooper, 53. Both were bailed without charge.
The men were questioned as an off-shoot to a major drugs inquiry by West Yorkshire Police. They were arrested and interviewed by Nottinghamshire police, at the request of the West Yorkshire force.
Mr Hussain, 61, owns World Wide Stores in Great Horton Road, Bradford, and is the chairman of the city's Conservative East West Association. It is understood his premises were searched by police.
He said today: "I cannot comment on this at the moment."
Mr Cooper, now living in Leicestershire, retired as deputy head of West Yorkshire CID three years ago on health grounds.
West Yorkshire Police today would not confirm the identities of the men interviewed, or what the interviews were about.
A spokesman did say: "Officers from Nottinghamshire constabulary arrested a Bradford businessman on Tuesday, July 20, and searched premises under the authority of search warrants. The businessman was taken to Nottinghamshire where he was interviewed and later bailed pending further inquiries.
"Nottinghamshire officers are conducting a detailed investigation on behalf of the West Yorkshire force into serious allegations over a period of three years."
* Mr Hussain was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List last month for his political and public service to Bradford.
Ex-chief hits back in drug cash probe
Exclusive by Rod Hopkinson (T&A 12/8/93)
RETIRED police chief Kevin Cooper today broke his silence for the first time after being arrested as part of a major inquiry and told the Telegraph & Argus: "My conscience is clear."
The ex-detective chief superintendent and former Bradford CID boss was detained for eight hours last month by Nottinghamshire police investigating alleged drugs money laundering operations.
The shock move was an offshoot of a major Inquiry being carried out by West Yorkshire police which has been running for three years and is being coordinated at force HQ.
Mr Cooper, 53, who spent 23 years in Bradford CID, hit back at "outrageous" allegations that police were probing claims about secret bank accounts holding nearly £1.5 million.
The ex-top cop, who retired in June 1990 as deputy head of West Yorkshire CID, travelled to Bradford from his Midlands home for a meeting with his solicitor.
His solicitor, John Fitzpatrick, of Clough Fitzpatrick, said: "Mr Cooper has got a full answer to the preposterous allegations made against him which are devastating for a former officer of his calibre who left the police service after a distinguished career.
Mr Coopers full statement says: "The events of the last three weeks have been particularly harrowing, not just for myself, but, also for my wife and our families. I have held my counsel until now but in view of the escalating media reports and the distress they are causing I have decided that I have absolutely no choice but to break my silence and make this brief statement.
"I have never in any way whatsoever been involved in or had anything to do with any money laundering operation and I am outraged and extremely angry that such a suggestion has been made.
"With regard to my financial situation, about which there has been a lot of distorted and grossly exaggerated comment, I will say this: Over a period of 30 to 35 years, my wife and I have saved money using a variety of building societies.
"Like thousands of other people, we have from time to time moved part of our savings into more attractive accounts offering higher rates of interest or other benefits.
"Several of the accounts we have used have by definition been for short or fixed periods of time and as a result have been closed at the termination of the agreed period.
"Other accounts we have held have been discontinued by the building societies themselves and they in turn have recommended their closure and advised the transfer of funds into newer and updated accounts.
"In the 35-year period we have as a result held many different accounts but only a handful of these have ever been current at any one time. Of the building society books that are presently being examined, nearly all have been closed years ago with the money being transferred to newer accounts.
"All the movement of money between our accounts has been fully recorded and documented and when the accounts are examined they will reflect exactly what I am saying.
"With regard to the outrageous amounts of money that have been attributed to me by the media in the last few days, and I have read figures as high as £1.5 million, I will say this - I do not have, nor have I ever had, money even remotely approaching that type of figure and all the money that I have has come from either my salary, my pension, my investments or the sales of my previous homes.
"I will not be adding to this statement or making any further comment."
Bradford: Former CID boss cleared of drugs cash laundering hits back
Ex-Chief to sue police
By Alam Khan (T&A 25/2/94)
Former Bradford CID boss Kevin Cooper is to sue police after being cleared of laundering millions of pounds of drugs money.
Leading businessman Fazal Hussain, who was linked to a three-year probe into the accusations, is also to take civil action, a solicitor revealed today.
Mr Cooper may sue West Yorkshire police - who he served for 23 years - or the Nottinghamshire force which arrested him, but his solicitor would not give further details.
An inquiry is now being carried out into the way police conducted the affairs of Mr Cooper, who ended his career as deputy head of West Yorkshire CID in 1990, and 61-year-old Mr Hussain.
Mr Cooper, 53, was arrested and questioned last July by the Nottinghamshire constabulary in a top secret probe on behalf of West Yorkshire Police.
Mr Hussain, of Great Horton Road, Bradford, who was honoured with the MBE last year, was also quizzed as part of the investigation. Both men were released on bail without charge.
Now, after considering the report by Nottinghamshire police, the Director of Public Prosecutions has fully exonerated both men.
Bradford-based solicitor John Fitzpatrick said: "The DPP has concluded that there is no evidence which would justify any prosecution in respect of either man."
It has been revealed that senior officers from Leicestershire police have been investigating aspects of the original inquiry since October.
Mr Fitzpatrick, of Clough Fitzpatrick Solicitors, who is representing both men, said: "I do not wish to elaborate further at this time, but I have already placed on record my serious disquiet about the investigation into Mr Cooper and I can confirm that an inquiry is now taking place. Mr Cooper, who retired three years ago on health grounds, continually protested his innocence and said the allegations against him were totally false.
The former pupil of St Bede's Grammar School, Bradford, who is married with two grown-up sons, received 13 commendations during his police career.
He said today he was relieved he had finally been cleared.
Mr Hussain is the chairman of the Conservative East-West Association and owns World Wide Food Stores. He was awarded the MBE last June.
He said: "I am relieved the matter has finally been dealt with and I have been cleared. It has been a trying time."
Epilogue 4: "Class War" Review
Class War (Jan 1990)
ON TUESDAY OCT. 25th. 1988, THE NATIONAL MEDIA AND THOUSAND OF DEMONSTRATORS DESCENDED ON BRADFORD'S TOWN HALL.
The event was the beginning of what the Tories called 'The Bradford Revolution'. But this was not a revolution by, or for, the people. This was about the Introduction of a callous and brutal attack on Bradford's working class.
It was a Tory revolution in that it marked a milestone for them in their attempts 'to wipe-out Municipal Socialism forever'. That is to change, through privatisation, the way local authorities operate.
Essential to all of this was one man, Eric Pickles, The Bradford Tories leader. Following the life of Eric Pickles and the 'revolution' in Bradford to date is the subject of a new book, 'The Pickles Papers'. I thought it a very worth-while book (although I'm biased what with having family there) but I think it would be an enlightening read for anyone, especially those in Inner city areas because it gives an insight Into how local authorities (City Hall politics) works.
In this Instance the Tories wheeled, dealed, lied and cheated their way to 'a majority' (based on the casting vote of a Tory Lord Mayor) to win through their 'revolution'. And how since gaining power the Tories, and especially Tory leader Eric Pickles, have tackled the problems over their radical plans.
It is not a boring Intellectual book, though the large number of names mentioned are a bit hard to take in. It is written in an 'easy-read' way without being slow and over simplified. I thought it worthwhile tracking down the author to ask him a few questions about the book.
It says in the book that it is a story of intrigue and double dealing, ambition and power, sex and money. There are elements of all these in the book, but weren't some of the facts made up? It does sometimes read more like fiction.
"No, nothing has been invented, It was well researched over 12 months. Key characters went under surveillance, secret documents were intercepted and top level moles probed."
In the chapter entitled 'Blackmail' it seemed you were implying that Eric Pickles was visiting a prostitute. You could certainly have made a good guess that this was the case, why didn't you?
"For legal reasons we couldn't be more specific than this. But remember he was being blackmailed for something, by events that centred around Bradford's notorious red light district."
You say that to the Labour Party and Unions he was 'a puppet of Central Government'. To the Tories he was a 'Hero'. To Journalists he was a 'man of mystery', and that to protesters against him he was, at best, 'a Fat Tory Bastard'. Which description of him do you think is most accurate?
"I'm amongst the protesters against him."
The 'Pickles Papers' is available from 'One In Twelve Publications' 21 to 23 Albion Street, Bradford, W. Yorks. Price £5.00.
Appendix 1: Bradford - A Model for the 1990s
THE NEED FOR CHANGE
Conservative control of Bradford Metropolitan District Council will shape the form of local government in Bradford for the next decade. The institution of local government requires swift and radical reform. Bradford Metropolitan District Council is no exception to the rule.
The services we provide need to be managed more effectively. The harmful monopoly we have established in the supply of many non-essential and ancillary functions must be broken down. The people of the District must be allowed an effective choice in the nature of the services they receive. And the Council must divest its powers to allow new forms of accountability and public participation in the policy arena.
What is wrong with local government? Put simply, local government provides services at too great a cost and with too little reference to what people actually want or need. Local government fails because it is a bureaucratic system lacking proper mechanisms of accountability.
In particular, the present system of local government financial accounting, which hides the true cost of excessive local government spending, provides every incentive for both politicians and local government officers to maximise growth instead of better managing existing resources. Moreover, local government officers have grown accustomed to measuring success by the rate of expansion in the programmes of their departments and not by the efficiency and effectiveness with which they deliver their services.
The Government has recognised the inherent weakness of current local government practice. Reforms in local government finance and in the provision of services in housing and education, alongside the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering, are timely. However, further reform of local government must come from within. The Conservative group is committed to such reform.
THE CONSERVATIVE AGENDA
The Conservative programme for Bradford Metropolitan District Council has two inter-related parts. First, the organisation itself must be recast and the management processes within reshaped to meet an exacting new environment. Second, the extent and character of the services delivered must be made relevant to the real needs of the people of the District.
MANAGEMENT: STRUCTURE AND PROCESS
The present structure of the Authority acts as a constraint on change. Too many functions are directly controlled by the Authority. It will be necessary to involve the wider public in determining the nature of Council services. The Council must allow direct control over many activities to devolve to other forms of community organisation. These may include:
- public/private partnerships (e.g. community trusts)
- direct user organisations (e.g. school governing bodies or housing co-operatives)
- private associations (e.g. housing associations)
By implication, the role of the Council as the direct provider of many of its services is to be challenged. Furthermore, competitive tendering will allow private companies the chance to compete with the Council's in-house team for the opportunity to provide services to the public.The management process within the Authority reflects the growth oriented budget maximising ethos still prevalent within local government and remains too firmly geared to the static and formal organisational structures of committees. Under Conservative control, the management style of local government officers in Bradford is set to change. A new breed of manager, one who can manage resources, personnel and relationships with external organisations, is required. The Conservative group will create the framework in which the new manager can effectively operate:
- top managers will be placed on performance related pay
- managers will be obliged to operate within cash limited budgets
- managers will be free to determine conditions of employment for their own staff
- budgetary control will be devolved to the level of Service Delivery Units
- financial and personnel management will be decentralised
- services provided between organisations internal to the authority will be put on a contractual basis
- the financial burden on service providers of central establishment charges will be reduced
POLICY: A RELEVANT PROGRAMME
Changes in the structure and management style of the Council are necessary to meet the Conservative policy agenda. The Conservative programme is radical, and relevant to the needs of the people of the District in the 1990's.
Local Government Finance
Members and officers of the Council should look after the interests of the local community which they were either appointed or elected to serve, maintaining and improving essential services at a price people can afford.
The Conservative group has pledged to:
- reduce the growth in council spending
- redirect resources to essential services
- ensure value for money
- make local government more accountable to those who finance it
The entire system of local government finance is in need of reform. There is no credible alternative to the Government's proposals to introduce a community charge and uniform business rate, while simplifying the grants system. These reforms shall be implemented with the minimum of fuss, minimum of delay and minimum of expense.
The practice of competitive tendering will be introduced throughout the Authority.
The Conservative group has pledged to:-
- phase the introduction of competitive tendering, but accelerate the schedule recently announced by the Government
- extend the regime of competitive tendering beyond those activities defined in Government legislation
- ensure that the tendering process reflects the need for this Council to get the best service at the best price.
Education Reform Act
- Lobby for the establishment of a City Technology College in the District
- respect the freedom of parents to send their children to fee paying schools
- end the influence of political dogma in the teaching of our children
- review the role and purpose of the Authority's Education Advisors
- support measures to increase the links between schools and industry
- devolve power to school governors and give them the training to be effective
- free college principals from the restraints of City Hall
The future prosperity of the District will be based on the quality of education currently provided to children in our schools. We will ensure that parental expectations of teaching and teaching methods are respected. We are determined that every child should fulfil his or her intellectual potential.EnterpriseThe Authority's role is to create the framework within which enterprise can flourish in the District. Enterprise is needed to stimulate further economic growth, maintain and expand the provision of recreation facilities and improve the District environment. Encouraging the enterprise of others is the primary objective of the newly created Directorate of Enterprise and Environment.
The Conservative group has pledged to:-
- seek private investment in Odsal Stadium, Richard Dunn Sports Centre, and other recreational facilities
- put the management of prestigious leisure facilities out to tender
- be fully involved in the new Adult Training programme
- provide the necessary resource management crucial to the success of the I.D.O.
- create and support a Community Trust with responsibility for the funding of the voluntary sector
- explore the possibility of establishing trusts to manage the art galleries and museums in the District
- reduce the Council's involvement in "municipal services"
- preserve the Green Belt
The Conservative group will continue to support the work of officers in developing tourism, liasing with business and central government on development projects and maintaining the service infrastructure of the City.
At the same time we will insist that the role of the Authority is limited to the provision of those services which cannot be adequately provided by the private sector. Sustained economic growth and environmental improvement can only be guaranteed by the industry of private individuals and private companies.
A MODEL FOR THE 1990s
The Conservative group has recognised the need for fundamental change in the practice of local government.
A new model of local government to fit this Authority for the next decade has been developed. Bradford Metropolitan District Council will revert from being primarily a direct provider of services to being an enabling authority with a strategic overview of the needs of the District.
The Authority will have a new management style and be capable of relinquishing its monopoly of service provision to allow the people to choose for themselves. Above all, the Authority will be leaner, better able to manage its resources and better equipped to ensure the effective delivery of essential services.