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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

In the good old days

As reported earlier this week, I'm ploughing my way through some second-hand Labour history books.

First up is "The Road to Brighton Pier" by Leslie Hunter.

This everyday story of sectarian folk knifing each other in the back makes any tensions in the current cabinet look exceptionally tame.

Synopsis so far - I've only got to 1955:

Everyone hates Nye. Except his fan club (Harold, Barbara, Footy et al) who adore him.

And except the ordinary members of the Labour Party. Who adore him but have no say in the party because the unions hold over 90% of the votes and hate the left.

The TGWU, NUM and GMWU have over 1/3 of the total vote at conference, and are run by ferocious disciplinarian commie-baiters who think nothing of shouting "shut 'yer gob" at Walter Wolfgang style hecklers and openly advocate the expulsion of Bevan and up to 1/4 of the PLP for breaking the whip (the Chief Whip at one point suspends 57 MPs from the PLP) - once - on German rearmament. They think this will help win the 1955 General Election. They also propose - over drinks in a hotel at the Margate conference - abolition of the 7 constituency seats on the NEC so that the whole thing is elected by them.

The left, led by Cripps, tries to oust Attlee as leader in 1947 but screws it up.

Rightwing PPSs try to do the same thing a year later but also screw it up.

Attlee hangs on as leader for 2 decades just to spite Herbert Morrison by not retiring until Herbert is old and past it.

Attlee stops Nye getting expelled despite Nye's serial disloyalty to him.

The right hold every key cabinet/shadow cabinet position after 1950 but can't get it together to oust Attlee because they hate each other so much. Bevin hates Morrison. And vice versa. Everyone hates Dalton.

The CLPs take out their frustration at only having 10% of the votes on policy and no say at all over leader (elected only by MPs) by voting Morrison, Dalton and Shinwell, heroes of the '45 government, off the NEC.

Next chapter ... they are all surprised to lose another General Election ...

9 Comments:

Anonymous activist ! said...

Very Many Thanks for kindly signing (and circulating) this New Downing Street Petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/AbolishGMC

8:56 pm, February 25, 2007

 
Anonymous duncan said...

Luke - now you're talking! Actually - despite the extraordinary infighting - more people voted Labour in the 1950 and 1951 elections than in any of the recent landslides.

Couldn't quite work out what side you were on in all that, Luke. It's worth remembering that Gaitskell had a habit of claiming the CLPs were riddled with Communist entryists whenever he had a public platform (a tradition which your favourite, Mr. Kinnock, sensibly rekindled thirty years later). Which didn't exactly help the public perception of the party.

If you're interested in the period I've written some articles on the party's grassroots in the 50's, about levels of organisation, etc. I might bring some of those articles into the 21st century and stick them online somewhere as nobody reads dusty history journals these days!

10:30 pm, February 25, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't quite work out what side you were on in all that, Luke. It's worth remembering that Gaitskell had a habit of claiming the CLPs were riddled with Communist entryists whenever he had a public platform (a tradition which your favourite, Mr. Kinnock, sensibly rekindled thirty years later). Which didn't exactly help the public perception of the party.

Err, Gaitskell had a point as anyone who has actually read about the Labour Party would know. Personally I don't recall the K going about Communists, but he did talk about the Militant - and he was dead right as anyone who tried to make Labour an electable party in that period knows.

12:43 am, February 26, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think it won't come as any surprise that I would have been on the anti-Bevanite site had I been around then - probably the Morrison sub-section of it rather than the Bevin bit.

I am only aware of one Gaitskell speech about Communist entryism - the Stalybridge one after the left had kicked all the ministers off the NEC - when he alleged 1/6 of CLP delegates to conference were communists or fellow travellers.

7:54 am, February 26, 2007

 
Anonymous duncan said...

No, not a big surprise, Luke :o) Yes, the Stalybridge speech was the high-profile one (absolute madness) - around the same time he repeated this completely unsubstantiated claim to anyone who'd listen.

Yes, 'anon' I was making a parallel with Kinnock's Militant speeches, and believe it or not lots of people trying to make Labour electable disagreed with Kinnock's obsession with that organisation.

5:52 pm, February 26, 2007

 
Anonymous Bevanforever said...

"I think it won't come as any surprise that I would have been on the anti-Bevanite site"

Would you have been in favour of expelling him, the man who pushed forward the NHS - probably Labour's greatest ever achievement?

6:57 pm, February 26, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Would I have been in favour of expelling him?

It depends. You can't expel someone just because you disagree with them otherwise we would end up with a very small party.

They have to have broken party rules. And if they do it doesn't matter if they are Bevan or Blair, you should disregard their politics and status and judge them on whether their behaviour means they have forfeited their membership.

In Bevan's case there were several points in his career when he had the whip withdrawn or faced disciplinary action. Without seeing the then rules he was alleged to have broken, and the evidence put before the NEC, I can't say with 100% certainty how I would have voted.

I'm fairly sure from what I've read of his speech vs. Attlee in the Commons that triggered the 1955 removal of the whip that in that instance I would have voted with the PLP majority to discipline him.

As for the NHS - yes, he deserves credit for pushing through the legislation but I think as it was in the manifesto any Health Minister from any wing of the party would have pushed it through. The NHS was Labour's creation, not one man's or one faction's.

9:54 pm, February 26, 2007

 
Anonymous duncan said...

Bevan's greatness was largely in his charisma, passion and 'authenticity'. He was very likely the least active of all the Bevanites - spoke at a handful of Brains Trusts; took (at best) a vague interest in the feverish organisational activities of Mikardo and others. He was a totem rather than a leader, with quite a different relationship to Bevanism than, say, Benn's to Bennism.

Bevanism was mostly characterised by leftish intellectuals with a wide range of concerns; Bevan was the working-class, labour movement bedrock which gave afforded them legitimacy to take on the right-wing labour establishment.

Yes, any Minister would have introduced the NHS and the housing programme, but I'm not sure they'd have sold it as well, nor defended it as passionately.

Luke - Herbert Morrison was a bit of a cumudgeonly old reactionary by the '50s. In the 1920s he was a star.

10:27 pm, February 26, 2007

 
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12:56 am, August 07, 2008

 

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