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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A history lesson for Jon Cruddas

In today's Guardian Jon Cruddas describes Ken Livingstone as "the greatest London Labour politician ever."

I'm not about to revert to having a go at Ken, having spent the last six weeks canvassing for him, but Cruddas' description is just silly and betrays a profound ignorance of London Labour history. Given Ken's own knowledge of Labour history I think he would feel rather embarrassed by Cruddas' remark, which surely qualifies for Private Eye's OBN column.

"The greatest London Labour politician ever" was by any objective measure Herbert Morrison. Read his wikipedia biog to understand why.

Here's the Ken vs. Herbert scorecard:

London-wide elections:
Herbert: Played 2, Won 2 (1934, 1938) admittedly on better boundaries than the current ones.
Ken: Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1 (2004, 2008) - in 2000 he was not the candidate of the London Labour Party, and in 1981 Andrew MacIntosh rather than Ken won the GLC election.

Achievements in office:
Herbert: creating the Green Belt, unifying the transport system, building vast quantities of social housing, replacing Waterloo Bridge, modernising hospitals (the LCC ran many of them until creation of the NHS), school improvements, smaller class sizes, programme of building swimming pools & lidos
Ken: bringing the Olympics to London, cutting crime, improving public transport, the Congestion Charge (admittedly with far fewer powers than Herbert)

Organisational achievements:
Herbert: Set up the London Labour Party. General Secretary of it for three decades, organised Labour's 1945 General Election landslide, including deliberately moving seat himself to fight marginal Lewisham East
Ken: not really his forte

Career beyond London on the national stage:
Herbert: MP for Hackney South 1923-4, 1929-31, 1935-45, MP for Lewisham E 1945-50, MP for Lewisham S 1950-59; Home Secretary through most of World War 2; Deputy PM to Attlee 1945-51; Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1945-55; Foreign Secretary
Ken: MP for Brent E 1987-2001.

You could argue a case that Clem Attlee was also a "London Labour politician" having been Mayor of Stepney and then MP for Limehouse and Walthamstow West; or even for Ernie Bevin who despite his Bristol roots was MP for Wandsworth Central and Woolwich East. Presumably Cruddas has heard of the creater of the welfare state and the founder of both the TGWU and NATO.

I'm happy for Ken to take his seat in the pantheon of London Labour greats, but Mr Cruddas shouldn't forget that the London Labour Party he, Ken and I are active in wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Herbert Morrison.


Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Yes I would agree saying Ken was the best London Labour politician is a bit extreme.
Morrison definately deserves the acalade but for my money it has to be Clem Attlee (one of my political heroes), not only top London Labour man but the best PM, with exception of the wartime PM Churchill (not in his post war office), this country has ever had.

Three Cheers for Attlee!

11:44 am, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Mark Adams said...

Spot on! Or does that qualify me for the OBN?!

2:20 pm, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I saw Jon Cruddas' speech and he didn't say exactly that. He said something like "arguably one of the greatest London Labour politicians". I guess that the Guardian clipped it to make it sound slightly more newsy, it's fairly common journalistic practice.

3:34 pm, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the description of Ken as the greatest London Labour politician right. Ken is really a local politician, whereas Herbert Morrison was a national politician.

Ken's strength is as a local politician. He made no impact in the House of Commons, but has had a big impact as a local councillor and mayor of London. His legacy is to show that local government can be effective and a positive force for change.

Ken shows how it is possible to be popular and radical.

In comparison to most local politicians, who are now reduced to being advocates for the interests of their ward.

There are very few local politicians who are widely known. The late Richard Knowles of Birmingham who sadly died this year was another local politician who effected longlasting changes and was a well recognised public figure. Though Richard Knowles was from the other end of the Labour spectrum. He was instrumental in the renaissance of Brum.

5:53 pm, May 07, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Its interesting. The problem with Morrison's legacy was that he actually lost a lot of his arguments within the party and so his legacy was blunted.

Like his grandson, he didn't exactly make himself popular - legend has it that when someone said to Ernie Bevin that "Morrison is his own worst enemy", his reply was "not while I'm still alive he isn't"

And what he did not persuade postwar Labour to do was to embark upon a municipalist, localised form of socialism. Bevin and Bevan didn't agree on much, but they were both fabian centralists at heart and believed in a strong central state. hence, the 'official' party policy of a locally-managed health service was eschewed in favour of a national structure, for example.

I think that despite their origins being so different, what both Livingstone and Morrison shared was their belief in decentralised and active local government. In both cases, they were largely opposed by a national government that was far more wedded to a strong centre.

I wouldn't upset John Cruddas too much, Luke, if brown can't get it together, he will be the next leader.....

8:19 pm, May 07, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Jon has a remarkably thick skin and we've got on when we've met so I'm sure he won't be upset.

8:27 pm, May 07, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Herbert was London first, national after. His whole reputation was based on building the London Labour Party, his period as Mayor of Hackney, and then winning the 1934 LCC elections and running London whilst we were in opposition with only 150ish seats nationally.

It was all about using London as a testbed to prove that with good organisation and popular, moderate politics, Labour could win.

8:30 pm, May 07, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Herbert Morrison was a much better London politician than we was a national politician. (I'd be inclined to say that the reverse was true of Ken, but I realise that's controversial, and also potentially me talking out of my hat as a provincial type again).

Morrison was a great of municipal politics. Possibly the great Labour municipal figure, for many of the reasons Luke lists, plus lots more. (His organisational skills stretched into a wide array of areas, moving from 'roundhead' politics to culture and the arts - Luke's quite right, London has been quite a Labour city thanks to the efforts of Herbert Morrison).

Unfortunately, Herbert Morrison was a cumudgeonly, reactionary old sod by the time he took to the national stage and is perhaps now best remembered for devising a particular form of nationalisation which managed, spectacularly to combine none of the benefits of common ownership with none of the benefits of private enterprise.

9:50 pm, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Ken was foolish as he let his wider political plans influence the job he was employed to do.

I would say that his plans to reduce the cost of public transport was a great idea but the expansion of the congestion charge was silly. His links to communist regimes and links to muslim fascists were very damaging and it was this that lost him the election.

9:52 pm, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

History Lesson.

Question: Who instigated the lamented "Fares Fair" policy.

Was it

1/. Andrew Mackintosh

2/. David Wetzel

3/. Ken Livingstone

Answers on a Post Card please to Boris Johnston


(Or post them here) Avatar pint of Sheppherd Neame 'Spitfire' to the first Luke lets through

12:34 am, May 08, 2008

Blogger Jim Crooks said...

Will Crooks MP must be considered as one of the best London Labour politicians. He was the first ever Labour Mayor in London and only the 4th ever Labour MP. He won his Woolwich seat in a stunning by-election victory in the then Conservative stronghold. The speaker of the house at the time said 'it was the greatest by-election victory of modern times'. Crooks was a true pioneer of the Labour movement and was one of the leaders of the great dock strike of 1889. As chairman of the LCC Bridges committee he gave Londoners the Rotherhithe tunnel and the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels. He was already known as the public face behind the Blackwall tunnel. While chairman of the Public Control Committee he delivered a killer blow against one of the more disgusting aspects of Victorian Britain, Baby Farming, after the Amelia Dyer murder case that shocked the nation. Will Crooks was also largely responsible for winning the UK its national old age pension scheme, plus it was largely down to him that the unemployed actually became the government's responsibility. In parliament he was calling for a minimum wage 86 years before Tony Blair's government finally introduced one. He also humanized the whole workhouse system, not just in London but throughout the country. This is especially notable because as young boy Crooks was actually sent to the workhouse when he was a young boy. There's a recent book out on his life and achievements called 'Where there's a Will, there's a way: The remarkable life story of Will Crooks MP' if anyone is interested. There's more info on Crooks on the author of that books' website at: http://www.jimsbooksite.com/read-more-about-will--sample-chapter.html

7:18 pm, July 02, 2012


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