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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Labour's heroes

The Guardian is running a poll to find out who Labour's all-time heroes are.

The shortlist was drawn up by MPs - frankly it doesn't say much for the grasp of Labour history of the PLP, which appears to be superficial and romantic to say the least. They've come up with Clem Attlee, Nye Bevan, Keir Hardie and Barbara Castle.

I would grudgingly accept Attlee, though he was about the 6th or 7th most talented person in his own Cabinet, and stayed on far too long after defeat in 1951 in a sour attempt to block Morrison as his successor.

Bevan's creation of the NHS ought to be cancelled out by his subsequent record of nutty leftist sectarianism which helped keep us out of power for most of the '50s and was so extreme he was temporarily kicked out of the PLP. I am frankly shocked that Ed Balls is speaking in his favour at the Guardian's debate at conference.

Castle was never more than a middle-ranking figure in the Wilson governments, and to my mind memorable for her slavish support for Wilson himself (not a recommendation) and completely inept handling of the unions over "In Place of Strife".

Hardie's inclusion I think is just people coming up with a name from so far back in the mists of time that it's a cop-out option.

My shortlist would have been:

Herbert Morrison - built the organisation and ran the campaign that won us the 1945 landslide, and built much of London's social housing when he ran County Hall.
Ernest Bevin - founder of the TGWU and NATO.
Hugh Gaitskell - saw off Bevan's loopy followers to save Labour in the '50s.
Neil Kinnock - saw off Benn and Militant to save Labour in the '80s.
Tony Blair - won three general elections.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"slavish support"? PMSL

8:45 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Chas said...

Trouble is, if you examine the history of the Labour Party it has essentially been one of failure. And every Labour government has ended in disaster.

My short list:
George Galloway
Derek Hatton
Arthur Scargill

Twats all.

8:55 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

And Luke, I’m ‘frankly shocked’ at your derogatory remarks about Clem Atlee and Nye Bevan. Each coming from distinctly different parts of the Party, they each made possibly the greatest two contributions in the whole existence of what was Labour.

Firstly, Clem Atlee due to his performance in wartime coalition Government helped re-establishing the credibility of the Labour Party (after the awful inter-war years) and its subsequent post-war election. It was then his premiership that made possible the great reforming agenda enacted by the 1945 Labour Government.

Part of that reforming agenda was the creation of the NHS of which Bevan overwhelmingly was the champion and driver. In particular, the creation of the NHS remains as possibly still the most important single legacy of the Labour Party. To cite, subsequent internal party decisions and brawls in which he was but one of several major brawlers is to betray a lack of history that you accuse others of.

A lack on your part that is further evidenced by your comments about Keir Hardie - if any individual can have been said to have made the Labour Party a practical, political and intellectual possibility in his time, then Keir Hardie must be in the running for the accolade.

Incidentally, if I were minded to also start using subsequent erroneous behaviour to decry great achievers in the Party, I could have cited Atlee’s unfortunate decision to start the practice of wholesale, falsehood, lying and subterfuge against his own colleagues and the Labour movement on the matter of the UK and its pitiful attempt to stay in the big league’ by secretly creating its own nuclear bombs… a deplorable practice of subertuge 'against their own' practice that continued to and behind the Blair type of deceit on WMD.

But instead, I do not use that subsequent behaviour to detract from the man’s original great achievements.

9:18 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed Balls on Bevan makes me cringe, what a transparent attempt to 'bat left' for the comrades.

9:29 am, September 19, 2008

Blogger Bill said...

Surely Ramsay MacDonald deserves some recall, despite his later performance with the national government malarky, he:
1) resigned the Labour leadership over WWI.
2) Called for workers & soviets in the UK in 1917.
3) Basically built the Labour party as an electoral machine, and made the key decision on how to behave in office (wearing the Privy councillors monkey suit and all that).

9:40 am, September 19, 2008

Blogger Robert said...

I know Nye Bevan wanted to many things all at once, once he died of course he was called the greatest politician of his time, sadly by the Tories not Labour. Bevan's worse attempt to get a better life was his fight with Labour not to put a charge on prescriptions glasses and dentures, of course Blair did it. but also Nye spoke at one meeting I was at, about the need for a social wage a min wage that nobody should be paid less, that was it he was kicked out, but sadly Labour knew as an independent he would be worse, and he was brought back in.

Yes Nye Bevan was not a great politician, Thatcher was hence her imagine at the Welsh Assembly, the greatest of our leader, with Nye Bevan next to her as the greatest politician somebody got that wrong then.

10:01 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Hughes Views said...

I'm amazed at the high esteem in which Atlee is held - time dims the memory I guess. His government paid over the odds for the industries they nationalised to appease the City; it took us into an unpopular far-Eastern war to appease the USA; it borrowed fearsome amounts of money from the US because its economic management was so flawed; it utterly failed to unite the Party and, worst of all, it squandered a huge majority and failed to get even a full second term.

Some hero...

10:48 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Labour Government's advances in education appear not to have trickled down into the head of Mr Akehurst. You silly little man.

11:26 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

Luke after your excellent defence of all-women shortlists a while back, I am disappointed by your dismissive method of criticising Barbara Castle:

"Castle was never more than a middle-ranking figure"

Oh yeah, all the other women politicians of her day achieved so much more didn't they?

She moved mountains in every government department she ran, and inspired generations of Labour activists.

11:33 am, September 19, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

I think the list was right the first time. Luke's list is a pretty good list of political fixers (or in more recent times, people with loyal fixer friends) and I can understand why they might be his heroes, but can he not understand why the de facto founder of the Labour Party, the man who led Labour to our first proper government, the woman who more than anyone else broke down sexist barriers to achievement in the party and parliament and the man who built what are still the best council houses in Britain and invented Labour's finest achievement and biggest electoral asset might inspire current and future Labour activists?

12:03 pm, September 19, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think they are good choices, although Anthony Crosland would certainly have been there in my judgment.

Attlee: speaks for itself - he was actually a very successful PM who carried out genuinely bold policies. Remember that it was electoral arithmetic which defeated him as much as actual votes!

Bevan: the conscience of the party, Labour could do with his like today. And a very sharp strategist - who else has managed to so convincingly win over the medical establishment?

Castle: if Labour had listened to her with regard to in Place of strife, the Thatcher regime may never have happened. The unions carry much of the blame for this. Naturally, Luke's wing of the party would regret this as they dote on the free market and ridiculously high defence spending (more money for immoral warmonger consultants, too)

Hardie: should be obvious - without Hardie, there would have been no Labour party. Many were reluctant to move along the path of a new party - he wasn't.

As for your choices. Morrison was a proponent of the sort of damaging boss-politics which has proved so unpopular and left the LibDems in control of many major cities. A somewhat bitter under-achiever.
Bevin would have found Morrison's inclusion amusing. despite both being right-wing, he was known to have said on response to being told that Morrison was 'his own worst enemy' - 'not while I'm alive he isn't. he was undoubtedly a very effective minister
Gaitskell: it is hard to say as he died too soon. I think he was fundamentally mistaken on the EU and should not be considered for that reason alone
Kinnock: yes, I think its a great shame he was never given the chance to be PM.
Blair: won three general elections but largely squandered the opportunities he had for real change, and largely continued Thatcher's mistakes. Which have now come home to roost.

4:51 pm, September 19, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Morrison's good work and achievements COULD be outweighed by him turning into such a reactionary old cumudgeon in his later years...

But - just as your suggestion that the NHS can be wiped out by Bevan's decision not to put up with Gaitskell's crap is a trifle ridiculous - Morrison's achievements are not really effected by what came after.

However, he probably wouldn't make my list, but he might were I a Londoner.

7:03 pm, September 19, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Labour should look after the working classes, (who are the essential ones) as well as the Tories look after their own class-That being the non-essential ruling parasitic classes, (who live off the backs of the workers.

4:37 pm, September 20, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

To those who may still doubt the appropriateness of categorising Keir Hardie as a Labour Hero, have a look at the accolade in todays Guardian:


11:52 am, September 23, 2008


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