Friday, 3 June 2011

History Lesson Cancelled, Class Revision In Progress

The “loony left” were responsible for torpedoing Labour’s reputation and sinking the party’s chances with their puerile antics in Labour councils up and down the country and through their reckless control of the party’s policy-making machinery. Fringe causes were put before mainstream concerns, with many in the party seriously accepting the flawed logic that stapling together a collection of special interest groups would create a counterweight to Thatcher’s electoral coalition of aspirational voters.

However, he conveniently overlooks a number of facts. Firstly, that the most obvious cause of Labour’s defeat in 1983 was not the left, but the cynical disloyalty of those who split from labour and formed the Social Democratic Party in 1981, and which boosted the Liberal/SDP alliance to 25% of the vote in 1983. There is an exaggerated folk-legend in the Labour Party about how dangerous the Militant Tendency was, but it was the centre-right group within the Labour Party, the Social Democratic Alliance, who went to the Tory press with lurid accusations that eleven members of the NEC were communists (including Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot), who campaigned against Labour in the 1979 European elections, and who announced that they would stand candidates against Labour in the next general election, leading to their expulsion in 1980.

The snarl behind the smile comes as no surprise to some old acquaintances. There are Labour MPs who have never forgiven Kilroy-Silk for the way he abandoned his seat of Knowsley North in 1986 at the height of the party's bruising battle with the Militant Tendency. As a rightwinger who held lavish parties at his grand house in Burnham, Kilroy-Silk was an easy target for the Trotskyite group, which launched a bitter and bloody battle to deselect him as the Labour candidate in the seat he had held since 1974. The Labour high command, under the direction of Neil Kinnock, piled resources into Merseyside to help him. The party's efforts saved his neck, only for Kilroy-Silk to announce that he was leaving Westminster to present his own television programme.

Neil Kinnock is widely seen as having done much of the groundwork to make the New Labour project possible. As Labour leader he fought hard to remove the left-wing Militant tendency from the party and attempted to modernise its image and policies.
He hired TV producer Peter Mandelson to oversee Labour's next election campaign. Under his guidance the red rose symbol - rather than the red flag - was adopted. Mandelson also talent-spotted Blair and Brown, to whom he became a friend and mentor. 


W. Kasper said...

Note to foreign/younger readers, my two penneth:

The 'loony' councils condemned by Kinnock actually scored some success challenging Thatcherism, in a way that so little opposition did during the 80s, including Kinnock - loser of two elections in a row. Through tricky financial maneuvres and a certain degree of tenacity, they managed to sustain some repair to the devastation of her policies; with popular mandates in their respective areas to build housing and supply jobs, training and services according to the wishes of local electorates. They also made significant progress incorporating more 'new' left polices regarding racial minorities, the disabled, gays and women (at the time was targeted as their most 'loony' aspect in the press). Implementing the rights of the above was led by local 'loony' councils and eventually adopted by the NEC - not the other way round.

Kinnock's obsession with pleasing the media and the City arguably kept them out of power for two more terms, and directly led to the horrors of Blairism. It was a slow process of destroying the party from within. Although popular mythology likes to assume otherwise, Labour's leadership did Thatcher's job for her - especially if we also consider their ongoing neutering of unions, both in opposition and in power. With the emergence of New Labour, the strongest pockets of resistance to neoliberalism had effectively been expelled from the party. It's current leadership seems as keen to rewrite recent history as the tabloids they so shamelessly court.

W. Kasper said...

PS. the Soviet collapse has been wildly overestated as a factor in the decline of the British/west European Left, IMHO. Union beauracracies and the right-wing of centre Left parties CHOSE that path, dragging the 'centre' to the right. Similarly with academics like Giddens and any number of 'third wayers' or 'post-structuralists'. For a good while, Thatcherism wasn't as 'iron' as many believe.

Feels weird to be commenting to myself here, but there are certain false axioms that that refuse to go away. Media history is at odds with many people's actual memories. Current Labour 'thinkers' are working with cliches, not facts. Here endeth the lecture.

ASHDAV said...

I don't doubt that much damage was caused by the vapid Shirley Williams and the smugly preening Owen, but as someone who briefly flirted with Militant back in the 80s I know from personal experience that they indeed were not only a clueless rabble but also dishonest, totalitarian bullies who were constantly banging on about how the revolution was just round the corner. A sitting duck for the Tory press, so much so that I sometimes wonder if it wasn't all a rather effective MI5 honey trap. My sympathies are entirely with Kinnock on this one.

W. Kasper said...

I agree with most of what insults, but they did get some results in their clueless rabble-rousing (Kinnock won nothing). And I think Kinnock put too much energy into attacking Militant when he should have been attacking Thatcher. Most of the tabloid stuff was utter lies anyway, and if I remember rightly the 'loony' left were largely attacked for subversive things like gay rights and building houses. The right of the party were just as 'bullying' and 'totalitarian', when they weren't stabbing each other in the back. A habit they kept to the present day.

And M15 were lurking around lots of things opposing the government, so I wouldn't just single out Militant. The curious career of David Owen has the fingerprints of security services all over it.

ASHDAV said...

I actually meant the MI5 thing as a joke, though they probably did have a few agents sniffing around. Militant hardly needed a conspiracy of the security services to discredit it.

With the "loony left" I agree it was almost without exception a right wing media fabrication, and that the alleged loonies did have some successes in terms of getting their agenda into the mainstream over time. These people however were not always one and the same as Militant. There were plenty on the left who kept a good distance from Militant, with good reason.

Also, though I'm no fan of Kinnock, I think you're being a bit harsh on the old boy: that he didn't attack Thatcher enough - I remember him pursuing her pretty actively, if not always effectively; that he achieved nothing, and that he was the godfather of New Labour (in which case he did achieve something, albeit something we might not like). I rather take the opposite, and no doubt more mainstream view - that for all his faults he did restore some much needed credibility to the Labour Party, and was probably not aware of what a monster he was creating. Roy Hattersley, his right hand man at the time, has in fact been scathing about Blair.

My basic point is that you don't have to be Kilroy Silk, Blair or some kind of right wing revisionist historian to be turned off by the antics of the far left.

W. Kasper said...

OK point taken about Militant hubris and their 'revolution' fantasies - but, but: If you watch a Labour conference now, its tragic how compliant and stage-managed (and corporate-sponsored) they are compared to the bad old days of Militant. They now of course arrest elderly dissenters as 'terrorists'. Blair's (and to a lesser extent Kinnock's) disemboweling of the party left it with either talentless yes-men or Machiavellian creeps like Mandleson. This was reflected in the pathetic choice of candidates in the recent leadership election, or the various careerists who abandoned Brown within two years.

I think Kinnock did know what he was doing - he was obsessed with press hostility - an unfortunate trait that continued to Murdoch's pal Blair. He was also quick to denounce strikes to please forces that destroyed him anyway. I don't consider 18 years in the parliamentary wilderness a success, especially as the party was unrecognisable by the time it finally won. 'Loony' or Militant Labour councils tried to keep to socialist agendas (and managed reasonably well under very adverse circumstances), but Kinnock put his energy into denouncing them as soon as he became leader. his protoges were Mandleson, Brown and Blair - all catastrophic in the long run, for Labour, the UK and definitely foreign policy.

And just anecdotally, I've lived in cities that were once Militant-run, and others that were just 'soft' Labour in the 80s. No prizes for guessing which cities still have humane livable housing, community cohesion, and significant public-sector employment...

ASHDAV said...

Fair point, and I hope it's entirely clear that I despise New Labour. On the other hand, even if they are to the right of me I can't help having some residual sympathy with the Kinnock/Hattersley school when I put myself in their shoes. The Tory press is indisputably powerful and influential and hard left policies, whilst they may be electable in more deprived boroughs, are as polarising and unelectable as Sarah Palin on a national level, which is what Kinnock had to think about. Whether it's possible to be electable without becoming New Labour I don't know, I wish I had an answer to that. Forgive me if the experience of the 80s has crushed my optimism somewhat.