Greater London Council

From Academic Kids

GLC is also an abbreviation of Goldie Lookin' Chain, a British rap group.

The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to its abolition in 1986.

Prior to the GLC, London had the Metropolitan Board of Works (1855-1889) and the London County Council (LCC, established in 1888).

Council Chamber of the GLC, from the majority benches
Council Chamber of the GLC, from the majority benches


The Labour Party had controlled the LCC from 1934 and by the 1950s the Conservative Government considered that elections were becoming one-sided, since the LCC covered only the inner (generally Labour-voting) city. The government sought to create a new body covering all of London.

A Royal Commission was set up under Sir Edwin Herbert in 1957 and reported in 1960, recommending the creation of 52 new London boroughs as the basis for local government. It further recommended that the LCC be replaced by a weaker strategic authority, with responsibility for public transport, road schemes, housing development and regeneration.

The recommendations were accepted in most part, but the number of new boroughs reduced instead to 32. Greater London covered the counties of London and Middlesex, plus parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey, and the county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham. Some areas on the boundary of the area fought successfully to be excluded from it (notably the Spelthorne and Potters Bar districts of Middlesex), fearing increased local taxation. Other areas in the Report that were not eventually made part of Greater London included Epsom and Ewell, Caterham and Warlingham, Esher, and Weybridge.

GLC councillors elected for the LCC area became ex officio members of the Inner London Education Authority, which took over the LCC responsibility for education; in outer London, the London Boroughs ran education services.


The GLC was responsible for running services such as public transport (through London Transport), the fire service, emergency planning, and flood prevention.

The GLC shared responsibillity with the London boroughs for providing roads, housing, and planning and leisure. Other functions were the responsibillity of the London boroughs.

Political control

The first GLC election was on 9 April 1964, with each of the new boroughs electing a number of representatives. Despite Conservative hopes, the first GLC consisted of 64 Labour and 36 Conservative councillors and Labour Group leader Bill Fiske became the first Leader of the Council.

At the next election in 1967 the unpopularity of the national government produced a massive Conservative victory with 82 seats, to 18 for Labour. Desmond Plummer became the first Conservative leader of London-wide government in 33 years. The Conservatives retained control in 1970 with a reduced majority.

In 1972 the electoral system was reformed to introduce single-member constituencies for the election after the 1973 contest, and extend the term of office to four years. Labour fought the 1973 election on a strongly socialist platform and won with 57 seats to 33 for the Conservatives. The Liberal Party won two seats.

The GLC's hopes under the Labour administration of Reg Goodwin were badly affected by the oil crisis of 1974. Massive inflation combined with the GLC's 1.6 billion debt led to heavy rate increases (200% in total before the next election in 1977) and unpopular budget cuts. Some months before the 1977 elections the Labour Group began to split. A left group, including Ken Livingstone, denounced the election manifesto of the party.

The Conservatives regained control in May 1977, winning 64 seats under their new Thatcherite leader Horace Cutler to a Labour total of just 28. Cutler headed a resolutely right-wing administration, cutting spending, selling council housing and attacking London Transport. In opposition the Labour party continued to factionalise: Goodwin resigned suddenly in 1980 and in the following leadership contest the little-regarded left-winger Livingstone was only just beaten in a intensely tactical campaign by the moderate Andrew McIntosh. However the Labour left were strong at constituency level and as the 1981 election approached they worked to ensure that their members were selected to stand and that their ideologies shaped the manifesto. The eventual manifesto topped out at over 50,000 words.

Missing image
The Greater London Council in session, 1981

The May 1981 election was presented as a clash of ideologies by the Conservatives - Thatcherism against a 'tax high, spend high' Marxist Labour group, claiming that Andrew McIntosh would be deposed by Ken Livingstone after the election. McIntosh and Labour Party leader Michael Foot insisted this was untrue, and the Labour party won a very narrow victory with a majority of six. At a pre-arranged meeting of the new Councillors the day after the election, the Left faction won a complete victory over the less-organised Labour right. McIntosh lost with 20 votes to 30 for Ken Livingstone. Livingstone, dubbed 'Red Ken' by some newspapers, managed to gain the guarded support of the Labour deputy leader Illtyd Harrington and the party Chief Whip and set about his new administration.

Livingstone was able to push through the majority of his policies and became surprisingly popular (only 16% of Londoners wanted the GLC abolished). The increased spending of the council led the national government to reduce and eventually end the GLC's central government grant as punishment.

Abolition and replacement

Livingstone's high-spend socialist policies put the GLC into direct conflict with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Livingstone proved to be a thorn in the side of the Thatcher government, with actions such as posting a billboard of London's rising unemployment figures on the side of County Hall, directly opposite Parliament).

In 1983 the Cabinet agreed "in principle" to abolish the GLC and devolve its functions to the boroughs, the arguments for which were detailed in the White Paper Streamlining the cities.

The government argued that the GLC should be abolished because it was inefficient and unnecessary, and that its functions could be carried out more efficiently by the boroughs. However, critics argued that its abolition was politically motivated, as it had become a powerful vehicle for opposition to Margaret Thatcher's government.

The Local Government Act 1985, which abolished the GLC, faced considerable opposition from many quarters but was narrowly passed in Parliament, setting the end of the council for 31 March 1986. This turned the last term of the GLC into an attempt to find employment for their 22,000-strong workforce and for the distribution of the council's assets to 'friendly' boroughs. GLC assets were assigned to the quango London Residuary Body for disposal, including County Hall.

The Inner London Education Authority continued in existence for a few years, and direct elections to it were held.

Upon its abolition, London was left as the only major city in the world without a central administrative body. Most of the powers of the GLC were devolved to the London boroughs. Some powers, such as the fire service, were taken over by joint boards made up of councillors appointed by the boroughs. Others, such as London Transport, were taken over by central government.

It was argued by many people that this situation was chaotic and un-coordinated and a new London-wide body was needed to co-ordinate the whole city.

Tony Blair's Labour government was elected in 1997, and was committed to bringing back London-wide government. In 1999 a referendum was held on the establishment of a new London authority and elected mayor, which was approved by a two to one margin.

The new Greater London Authority (GLA) was established in 2000. The GLA has a very different structure to the GLC, consisting of a directly elected Mayor of London and a London Assembly. The Mayor of London elections were won by the same Ken Livingstone.

Leaders of the GLC

Elections to the GLC

See also


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