About this Archive
Historian and political activist
During the 1970s Kean had been a member of the International Marxist Group and active in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Westminster, London-wide and nationally, as well as the Socialist Teachers Alliance. At that time Kean was squatting in Stepney and, inter alia, involved in anti-racist campaigns in Tower Hamlets. She stood as a Socialist Unity candidate in a local council by-election in Spitalfields in 1977. In 1978 together with Dave Lawrence, a teacher at the Robert Montefiore school, she stood in Tower Hamlets for the Greater London Council (GLC).
By the 1980s Kean had moved to Hackney and joined the Labour Party. She was a member of West Down ward in Hackney South constituency. She was asked to stand for the council and was elected to the New River Ward in North Hackney (comparing the Woodberry Down estate and also a mainly orthodox Jewish area in surrounding streets) together with David Clark and former Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun.
At that time the Labour Party was moving to the left and in London had been encouraged in this direction by the election of the GLC with the new leader of Ken Livingstone in 1981. There was a mood generally around campaigning against unemployment and for campaigns within the Labour party to encourage democracy, including making elected representatives such as MPs and councillors accountable.
In 1982 the new council in Hackney was led by Anthony Kendall who was in favour of decentralisation of services – an idea drawn from community politics and also based on such a venture in Walsall. However this strategy was not implemented: inter alia there were difficulties with the unions and tenants associations.
In 1983 the council was involved in a dispute with NALGO Social workers since the leadership of the council opposed implementing a national agreement on pay.
Accordingly within the Labour Party there was a move to stand a candidate against Anthony Kendall for leader. Significantly the leader, deputy, and chairs of committees were not voted for simply by the Labour group but the 2 General Committees of the Labour Party and the Local Government Committee since the Party generally in Hackney was trying to implement democracy. The left slate was eclectic including Patrick Kodikara, a black activist and former Hackney social worker and head of Social Services in Camden.
Kean was elected as leader but most of the ‘left’ slate were not. The deputy leader was Andrew Puddephat from the Anthony Kendall slate. The two of them, however, worked well together.
During the council year 1984 -5 much of the focus was on opposition to Conservative government’s rate-capping. It was also the year of the miners’ strike and miners from South Wales were given facilities in the town hall. Nationally there were meetings of Labour leaders about how to oppose the Tories. There was much discussion around ‘the three noes’ no to rent rises, rate rises and cuts. The argument being that it wasn’t enough to oppose the capping as such but to get money from central government.
Hackney council resolved not to set a budget until the government gave them money. This was overturned by the courts saying refusing to do this until money was given was unlawful. This was unprecedented. Until this court decision there was no set time for setting a rate. There were various council meetings and in May 1985 an alliance of a minority of the Labour group- including Charles Clarke future Home secretary – and Liberals and Tories set a rate with cuts in the budget. Hilda Kean and Andrew Puddephat, having consulted with the 2 GCs, resigned their posts.
Mourad Fleming, a Socialist Democratic Party member who stood unsuccessfully in a by-election to the council, took the council i.e. officers and councillors to court claiming wilful misconduct. Unlike the position in Liverpool and Lambeth he was not successful and eventually the case was dropped – it fell before it reached the high court mainly because Fleming had included council as well as councillors and because the rate was set only 2 months later than usual and therefore it was difficult to show that there had been a pecuniary loss.
In 1985 Kean stood unsuccessfully for the Labour seat in Hackney North held by the elderly socialist Ernie Roberts. Diane Abbott was promoted by Patrick Kodikara for various reasons. Diane Abbott was selected.
In the election of 1986 Hilda Kean did not stand for the council but Andrew Puddephat did and was elected leader. Kean remained active in the Labour Party until the mid 1990s.
Scope and content
Minutes and papers of the Inner London Teachers Association Council; Westminster Teachers Association; Hackney South and Shoreditch Constituency Labour Party; National Union of Teachers (NUT); Socialist Teachers Alliance; International Marxist Group; papers relating to Hackney Council and rate-capping, [1971-1989].