Film ID: YFA 5841 Video of CONFRONTATION AT CLAY CROSS 1974 Visitor TabsDescription Austin Mitchell looks back to 1972 and the town of Clay Cross in Derbyshire which refused to follow the Housing Finance Act introduced by the Conservative government. This Socialist town governs itself by ignoring Conservative policies and ideals. The documentary uses footage of the protests to illustrate how the whole town was united on this issue. The programme was first transmitted on 10 January, 1974. Austin Mitchell looks across a view from high up at what he calls “the independent republic of Clay Cross, “A funny place.” He states that ten men and one woman have built a defiant socialist Jerusalem. As he drives through the town, he notes some of the benefits coming to those who live in Clay Cross as a result of the stance being taken by the Council. For example, Corporation workmen got a 33 1/3 % pay increase despite the wage freeze, pensioners get free TV licenses, and council rents are half the average of the country. He states that 14 pits have closed in the previous ten years and unemployment has hit 20%. But when the Council started to replace the old two-up-two-down houses with new homes they got into debt, and this produced unhappy rate payers who had to pay for three quarters of the debt - a quarter being paid for from council rents. There is an interview with a man who has left the Labour Party because of this policy. The situation came to a head in October 1972 when the Government’s Housing Finance Act came into force. A councillor states that they will not implement the Act. The District Auditor, Mr Lacy, arrives to a rowdy reception and gives a press conference, declaring his intention to continue the audit. There is an interview with a man condemning the government, and more protests are seen. The council appeal to the High Court and lose, with David Skinner being interviewed outside the Court declaring an indefinite rent strike. He is joined by children and women holding placards and banners in support of Clay Cross. Another councillor states that they are prepared to go to jail. A government housing commissioner arrives in Clay Cross. David Skinner gives a talk to a group of dustmen in their rest room. In the Council offices the Town Clerk wanted a minute to say that he was acting under duress in disobeying the law, and is confronted by Skinner, claiming that this request is the result of pressure from the press. But the council officials go on strike, and win. A council worker states that the council had to back down otherwise families would be punished, and several locals air their views on the council’s position Mitchell cites rebel councillor Dick Taverne, who claims that the council are playing into the hands of the right, and Mitchell claims that the conflict between the two sides poses the question of how far people should obey a law they can’t stomach. David Skinner speaks to the camera as he walks along the street by the council offices setting out his position that their election has given them a mandate to defy the law. He walks through a poor housing area, and in a school playground, explains that they have given children free school milk despite Thatcher stopping this in 1970, using the penny rate product. This money then run out, and fellow councillor Graham Skinner explains that they increased the Chairman’s allowance to allow the milk to still be given out. Coming out of Danesmoor Post Office David Skinner states how they were able to provide free TV licenses to pensioners using Section 31 of the National Assistance Act of 1948. He also castigates the government on their housing policy. Mitchell talks to Dick Taverne, the Democratic Labour MP for Lincoln, who accuses the councillors of refusing to debate with him. He complains most about the council’s methods as being bullying, and he points to other problems with their logic of picking and choosing laws, comparing them to Oswald Mosley. Mitchell speaks to the camera on 10th January 1974, saying that attempts to increase the rents by a £1 have failed. Back in the Council offices a minister reads out William Temple’s 1940 prayer, In the ways of justice and peace, and the film finishes with shots of rundown parts of Clay Cross to the tune of Jerusalem being played by a brass band. Directors - KEITH HULSE, PETER JONES, MIKE ALLDER Producer - SID WADDELL Executive Producer - JOHN FAIRLEY Presenter - AUSTIN MITCHELL YORKSHIRE TELEVISION Context Among the many battles that were fought against governments of both Labour and Tory during the 1970s, the one at Clay Cross stands out both for the wide range of issues it involved, and in being led by a local council. Here the battle is followed from its beginning to its end, from council chambers to demonstrations outside law courts, with both sides of the argument getting an opportunity to fully air their positions, and with Austin Mitchell holding the middle ground. The Conservatives became opposed in principle to council housing in the mid-1950s, well before the Housing Finance Act became law in 1972, at which time Councils owned 29 per cent of all homes in England and Wales. The Act would raise rents by 25% (on average) and remove the freedom of local councillors to set the rents. By that date the great majority of local councils were under Labour control, and it took the threat of legal action to force all but Clay Cross to back down, although there were mass protests in many other areas. The eleven Clay Cross councillors were disqualified from office and personally surcharged and new elections ordered, resulting in the return of another council pledged to resistance.