A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lessons from history

Currently showing on the BBC Parliament Channel the full 1983 General Election night coverage.

Labour supporters should switch it on and watch and learn the lessons of history. Never again!


Blogger Hughes Views said...

Some of us are 'mature' enough to recall that night without the aid of telly! And I only get a tiny picture on BBC Parliament on freeview. Now there's something worth campaigning about ...

11:21 am, October 06, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm old enough to remember seeing my dad crying about the result.

New members of the Labour Party should have to watch this and the BBC documentary "The wilderness years" before getting a party card so they understand the consequences of wish-list manifestoes.

11:43 am, October 06, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I prefer to remeber 1997, personally!

12:15 pm, October 06, 2006

Blogger Flying Here said...

I agree, Luke. Never again should front bench spokespeople turn up on television programmes denouncing their party's manifesto or saying, like Denis Healey, that they would not introduce the commitments it contained. Such disloyalty to a party renders it unelectable. If we ever again have a socialist manifesto, I trust the front bench will promote it and not attack it, if they have watched and learned as you suggest.

5:26 pm, October 06, 2006

Blogger Theo said...

Top viewing. Watching swathes of Britain covered in blue that should put paid to those pundits and hacks who argue that Labour needs a healthy period in opposition.

5:41 pm, October 06, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

"Flying Here", what planet are you from?

Are you referring to the Manifesto that NEC moderates like John Golding sat back and allowed to contain every last mad proposal from the Bennites so that it would demonstrate how unpopular the policies of the Hard Left were?

Without Healey and Callaghan demonstrating there was still a place for traditional moderate Labour values in the party, we would have come third behind the SDP.

5:48 pm, October 06, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Sorry - I hadn't realised I'd posted as 'flying here'. Obviously you would consider me a 'mad' 'bennite' (and I only resent the 'mad' bit!). I simply can't agree with your analysis Luke. There was lots wrong with the '83 manifesto but I am unaware of any election that has been won or lost on the content of a party's manifesto, and '83 certainly wasn't one of them. The image of disunited party however, did do a lot of damage, and it takes allsorts to sow disunity. I'm prepared to accept that the inflexibility of the Clause V process at that time contributed to our difficulties: I believe a Bennite front bench could have sold the key policies with conviction, but to expect those who don't hold such convictions to sell them is difficult. But it is a problem inherent in party democracy, and one which we need to resolve on a more serious level than predictable left-bashing abuse.

Losing those elections throughout the 80s and early 90s was a tragedy, but it is far too simplistic to pin the blame on the left or on 'wishlist manifestos'. There was an obsession with itself in the party which was at least as evident on the right as on the left. The attempt to expunge Marxists from the party was both self-indulgent and self-destructive. The attempt by the party's own leaders to paint its members and footsoldiers as the worst kind of extremists was absolutely insane. The decision to expel long-standing members, many of whom had devoted their whole life to our party, was and was seen to be cruel and spiteful. I say this as someone who is as unimpressed by Trotskyite organisations as anyone.

6:28 pm, October 06, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't think it's simplistic to point out that the individual policies and personalities associated with the Hard Left were as unpopular as the infighting and the overall manifesto. Every time we moved to the centre in 1987, 1992 and 1997 we won back more votes. I hate to break it to you Duncan but there just are not many people in this country who want to live in the kind of society you want to create.

9:44 pm, October 06, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

But it is over-simplistic. Unless you think that Britain in the 1980s was a country that was in love with the bomb, enthusiastically europhile, yearned for cuts in public services, adored privatisation and loathed workers in traditional industries. Now you and I were only young at the time, but I don't think that was the country I grew up in.

In fact polls show a much more complex picture, suggesting that Britain's love affair with Thatcher was a much less clear-cut business.

Yes, Labour recovered psephologically through the later 80s and 90s, but again I think it is simplistic (and complacent) to put that down to changes of policy, or of personality.

There was a vicious campaign against the left from both within the party and outside (in the media) in the early 1980s. This was because parts of the establishment were frankly terrified by the prospect of a genuinely radical government of the left (many of the same parts of the establishment that contemplated a fascistic military coup against Wilson - these are no friends of the labour movement; after all some who had moved to the right, like Kinnock, didn't escape the media assassination attempts).
By 1992, Tony Benn was probably one of the most popular labour movement figures with the general public, from being painted as a democracy-hating demagogue in the early 80s. His views had changed very little (and any change was leftward). Conversely Thatcher had gone from being a popular war leader in '83 to being an enormously unpopular figure. To put these seismic changes down to red roses, abandonment of unilateralism or Militant expulsions is nonsensical.

Once the 'threat' of a democratic socialist government had been eradicated, by the campaigns against the left, against the miners and against the labour movement - left-wing personalities could once again be publically presented as amiable eccentrics. While they were dangerous they had to be painted as dishonest.

Luke, there are many changes I would like to see in society, but I don't stand waving some utopia and believing the people would love it if only they could shed their false consciousness, etc. In fact, if you take things policy by policy, large parts of this country appear to be with me on a hell of a lot of issues. There are other arguments where I'm in a minority, of course. That's politics. That's democracy. But I don't believe Thatcher's hegemonic control of common sense really changed people or their wishes so very much. I think most people want to live in a society that is fair, that works together to further the interests of those who would suffer alone, and not in the interests of the already powerful. I think most people want to live in a society that is honest and want a politics that is honest. That's the society I want to live in too.

12:37 pm, October 07, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

No I don't think Britain ever embraced Thatcherism (though I think certain aspects of it like the early privatisations, trade union reform and the pro-US line on the Cold War were certainly popular). I think it's always been a country where there is a majority for a social democratic domestic agenda combined with a fairly robust foreign/defence policy - most of the electoral movement was between Labour and the Alliance and back again as Labour regained its sanity. At the same time as we lost support to the Alliance a whole swath of aspirational working class voters were made an offer it would have been economically perverse for them to refuse by the Tories - tax cuts, own your own council house, own some shares.

Labour put a lot of people in the position in the '80s where they could not vote for the party which was supposed to represent them. Part of the blame for 3m unemployed and the wrecking of communities lies with us for not providing an electable opposition.

Thatcherism was enough of a nightmare - the trainwreck of a country we would have become if by some bizarre accident we had got elected and left the EC, unilaterally disarmed, and implemented the semi-command economy implicit in the Alternative Economic Strategy doesn't bear thinking about.

8:29 pm, October 07, 2006

Blogger Bob Piper said...

Yes, all that crap about a fundamental redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families, no wonder the electorate rejected that after they had spent the night poring over their 1983 general election manifestos. If you or anyone else think that anything other than an obscure war in the South Atlantic and all the flag waving shite patriotism that emerged from it won that election, you are either out of your minds or young enough to imagine your 'dad crying'. Never mind reality, just make it fit into your mindset.

10:52 pm, October 07, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Bob, I'm not as old as you but I do know that the phrase "a fundamental redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families" was from the 1974 General Election Manifesto that we won on, not the 1983 one. I'm in favour of "a fundamental redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families" and don't see how nationalisation, leaving the EU or unilateralism would have contributed to it.

If it was all about the Falklands (which I wouldn't dismiss as "an obscure war") then how come we also lost in 1979, 1987 and 1992? (the latter of which I campaigned in). And what's wrong with "flag waving ... patriotism"? If you can't be a flag-waving patriot and Labour then we can kiss goodbye to most working class votes.

In 1983, I was a Bennite. I had the excuse that I was 11 years old and Benn's simplistic messages make sense to 11 year olds. I also believed Russia were the good guys in the Cold War and that the USSR was a workers' paradise. Luckily I grew out of it by the time I took my GCSEs. No offense, but isn't it time you did?

12:06 pm, October 08, 2006

Blogger Hughes Views said...

I'm quite old and my recollection is that it was the SDP/Liberal alliance rather than Labour who were on track to win in 1983 until the Falklands factor did the business for Maggie.

I also recall meeting an SDP PPC a few years later on the day after the Liberals had voted at their conference for unilateral nuclear disarmament and thereby sunk the alliance's hops for 1987. He wasn’t impressed.

I know it's hard for the hard left to accept (I was one of them once briefly) and may be in their eyes the result of a wicked press, the evil influence of American cultural imperialists or perhaps even an ineffective education system, but the majority of Britain's don't like their policies very much at all.

8:28 pm, October 08, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ex Bennite the dread 'Red' Dawn Primarolo has been boasting of her 'special relationship' with Gordon Brown allegedly suggesting to colleagues, who she fears may regard her as an inept , disaster prone liability, that she has earnest of success with the promise of a VERY BIG JOB in any future Brown administration. Dawn, remember, led the disgraceful coup against Michael Cocks and is, incidentally the traitorous Tom Watson's "favourite Minister". History repeats itself.

9:34 pm, October 08, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

"Disgraceful coup" - what nonsense. Nobody denies that Cocks (or more especially his idiot henchmen) had fixed it against Benn before '83 - so he just reaped what he sowed. You can fix a selection conference against a popular sitting MP, but the people you parachute in are the first to leave, and your left relying on the people you shafted.

Not that I think Dawn would get much from Brown, actually.

10:12 am, October 09, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Hughes views - Memory is a strange thing. While the SDP made a splash in some areas of the broadsheet press, they made no particular impression on the British public at all - and polling evidence from the time suggests your 'recollection' is a tad off.

Luke - I agree that Britain never embraced Thatcherism. Unfortunately a part of the Labour Party did.

You starkly show the inbuilt advantage the Right have in our party: we on the left will always end up conceding that ANY Labour government (even this one!) is better than ANY Tory government. This keeps us reasonably in line and keeps us parading the streets and lying to voters. The Right never admit anything remotely similar, though Luke's admission here is the starkest I've seen: that he'd rather the brutally right-wing Thatcher regime than a left-wing Labour government.

I'm not shocked by the sentiments - but I am shocked by the honesty. We on the other hand will keep voting for you and providing you with the platform from which to attack us. When the right split they are forgiven and welcomed back (see the parade of SDPers - many of whom are now in faux left groups like Compass!) The double standards is extraordinary.

10:19 am, October 09, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Duncan, I didn't say I'd "rather the brutally right-wing Thatcher regime than a left-wing Labour government". I'd rather the left had never taken over the Labour Party in the '80s and that Dennis Healey had been Prime Minister, which is something quite different.

You are also wrong about double standards in welcoming back "prodigal sons" - Blair, in one of the few decisions he has taken which I have disagreed with, welcomed back Ken Livingstone. The list of leftwing splitters: Scargill, Tatchell, Livingstone temporarily, Liz Davies, Galloway, perhaps Short now matches the SDP in scale, though it has been a drip-drip process rather than all in one go.

10:31 am, October 09, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Well, I'd rather the New Labour parasite hadn't taken over the party in the 90s and turned us into Thatcher Lite. It didn't stop me brow-beating people into voting for us.

You said: "Thatcherism was enough of a nightmare - the trainwreck of a country we would have become if by some bizarre accident we had got elected and left the EC, unilaterally disarmed, and implemented the semi-command economy implicit in the Alternative Economic Strategy doesn't bear thinking about."

I think the implication is clear enough - you (and you are only speaking the truths that others kept quiet) were happy for Thatcher to win.

Incidentally, the idea that unilateral disarmament would have been a disaster for the UK in the 80s is just absurd, and has no basis on the planet earth. I can forgive people for thinking it was wrong at the time, but to still think that with the gift of hindsight is simply bizarre.

And the AES was never meant to be popular. Crisis management rarely is. Massive public spending cuts were unpopular too (and that was the alternative to the AES, along with structural unemployment).

2:48 pm, October 09, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think it's pretty insulting to suggest that just because I can see that Labour's programme in the 1980s was unpopular, bad for the country and the party, and in large part just mad, that I or anyone else on the right of the party wanted Thatcher to win. I just lament the utter, utter tragedy and waste of having presented our people with a programme that many of them couldn't bring themselves to vote for.

As for your defence of unilateralism, I remember the argument at the time was that we had to ban the bomb or we would all be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust. We weren't because deterrence works. And Western spending on Cruise and Trident had the direct effect of bankrupting the Soviet Union as it tried to keep pace so that it collapsed and several hundred million people are now living in free countries.

3:03 pm, October 09, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Well you seemed to suggest it, not me. If you're withdrawing it, then I'm very pleased to hear it.

See elsewhere on your blog for my thoughts on the deterrence myth. The spending on Trident, etc. does not account for why there was no holocaust. If it was the case, why wasn't Sweden or Germany, or Japan attacked? The fact that such weapons cannot be used kept us 'safe'. But what is true is that the more of such weapons that come into existence, the greater the danger that something will go wrong.

That is clearly the thinking behind the non-proliferation treaty, and that danger does not only come from their existence in states like North Korea, but also their existence here.

As for defence spending leading to stagflation and the fall of the Soviet Union. Are you suggesting it was a deliberate policy? If so, there are less happy conclusions to the process than the ones to which you refer: a great deal of crippling poverty, and a great deal of political and social instability in areas such as the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya.

Anyway, I think it's quite important, internationally, that we make it very clear that the deterrence doesn't work. After all, it is only the strength of the detterent argument that makes countries like North Korea and Iran want to have them. If you threaten a country and then show that you will attack 'weak' countries and negotiate with 'strong' ones - every country is going to want to become 'strong', and we prop up the international ideology that nukes make you strong.

3:29 pm, October 09, 2006


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