James Callaghan

A history lesson for Labour

With all the constitutional changes in Labour over the weekend, a correspondent points to the UK in the 80s and the similar changes made by UK Labour, and the subsequent de-stabilisation?by Tony Benn.

The hallmarks and history are remarkably similar to what we are seeing now:

In a keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference of 1980, shortly before the resignation of party leader?James Callaghan?and election of?Michael Foot?as successor, Benn outlined what he envisaged the next Labour Government would do. “Within days”, a Labour Government would gain powers to nationalise industries, control capital and implement industrial democracy; “within weeks”, all powers from Brussels would be returned to Westminster, and abolish the?House of Lords?by creating one thousand peers and then abolishing the peerage. Benn received tumultuous applause.

In 1981, he stood against incumbent?Denis Healey?for?Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, disregarding the appeal from?Michael Foot?to either stand for the leadership or abstain from inflaming the party’s divisions. Benn defended his decision with insistence that it was “not about personalities, but about policies.” The contest was extremely closely fought, and Healey won by a margin of barely 1%. The decision of several moderate left-wing MPs, including?Neil Kinnock, to abstain triggered the split of the?Campaign Group?from the Left of the?Tribune Group.

Luckily there is a documentary about all this on Youtube. It is fascinating. This is the first part of the documentary called “The Wilderness Years”

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Can Shearer do this?

David Shearer’s biggest problem is just stringing coherent sentences together. Should he master that, and Brian Edwards doesn’t think he can, then the next thing he has to do is work out how to connect with Waitakere Man:

Politicians must have the knack of speaking for people, not just to them. Sometimes this means talking, or dog-whistling, to your natural constituency. Mrs Thatcher pulled off this trick. Having spent the first 50 years of her life aspiring to poshness, she realised that it was the lower middle class that would keep her in office, so a Grantham growl reappeared in her voice. Also, she had Poujadist policies to match.

Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan aren?t fondly remembered, but there were moments when they discovered their voters??G-spots and even, at times, how to speak to the nation. Ditto John Major before disaster overtook him.