The explanation for that generation in the wilderness is familiar enough: the party’s pitch to the country was tone deaf. On the economy, law and order, defence and a hundred other issues Labour had nothing to say that chimed with what people wanted to hear. The party was more bothered with pleasing its own fissiparous cliques; the wannabe Dave Sparts, the bedsit revolutionaries, the local government crackpots who refused to set a rate, the headbangers of Militant.
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.