“We didn’t lose – we threw it away! Four years after gifting power to Margaret Thatcher, that’s how I summed up the 1983 general election for Labour. What we in the Labour Party have to ensure is that we never throw it away again. And to do that we have to make certain that the Party never again comes under control of the left.” So begins John Golding’s Hammer of the Left (full publication details at the end).
John Golding was the MP for Newcastle under Lyme until 1986 when he became General Secretary of the Nation Communications Union. The book details how he took on the Militant Tendency and the rest of the hard left within the Labour party in the early 1980s. The book is visceral in it’s description of the left and gives an incredibly detailed insight into the internal politics and campaigning.
Do we learn nothing from history? Watching the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election you might think not. There seems to be a flat out refusal to not only ignore history but also to disbelieve the electorate. The electorate has told both the left and the right time after time that they are not interested in extreme positions, but too many activists just don’t want to listen. And if forced to choose given a choice between ideology and competence they will choose what they perceive as competence.
The Conservatives tested to destruction the idea that they needed to be a more right wing party losing a series of elections under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and then Michael Howard. In the end it was only when David Cameron (who consistently polls to the left of his party) was elected leader did they begin to win again.
For the left the early 1980s demonstrated that leftist positions (anti Nato, anti EU, unilateral nuclear disarmament, renationalisation) were outright rejected by the public in the 1983 election manifesto, also known as the longest suicide note in history. All of these positions are now being espoused by Jeremy Corbyn again!
When do political polls matter?
It should have been obvious by now that there is a problem with polls, after all according to the polls Neil Kinnock won the 1992 general election remember! This is a very well known issue in academic research which is sometime known as stated versus observed preference or social desirability bias. My favourite example of this was a street survey asking people if they bought free range eggs, 25% of people said yes, after the results were published the supermarkets stated that just 2% of the eggs bought were free range. But political polls can be useful if you look back to see who WON and LOST after the event.
Blair won three elections (invested billions in schools and hospitals which the left seems to forget) from the centre ground. His polling figures were right in the middle of the political spectrum when asked by the public to rate different political leaders consistently through his entire tenure.Gordon Brown polled consistently to the left of Tony Blair and lost (a little simplistic as there is sometimes a swing but still true), Ed Milliband consistently polled much further left than Gordon Brown and lost even more seats. Jeremy Corbyn and his backers seem to have persuaded themselves of one of two options, either
1. Labour just weren’t left wing enough to be elected at the last election or
2. The electorate are stupid,
neither is a credible position that will get the party back into power.
As an aside doesn’t Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters find it odd that both David Cameron and the Daily Telegraph want him to win? Or is it they have no interest in actually getting power to change things?
Existential threats in the UK are rising
1. Labour could be wiped out and destroyed by a Jeremy Corbyn led party in the next election. He has consistently taken anti EU positions and this will rapidly become a big issue, he will have no credibility if he suddenly changes sides which is unlikely anyway.
2. The SNP are still agitating to leave the UK.
3. The Euro referendum in 2017 will tear the Tory Party apart as nothing that David Cameron brings back from Brussels will satisfy a section of his party, how big a section is still to be seen.
We could well be in a position of a Labour leader advocating leaving the EU with a split Tory party, cheered on by UKIP in 2017. Leaving the EU would be a disaster for the country.
Towards the end of his book Jon Golding reflects on the 1983 election “We went into the general election with an unelectable Leader, in a state of chaos with a manifesto that might have swept us to victory in cloud-cuckoo land, but which was held in contempt in the Britain of 1983. We thought that things could only get better, but they got worse” (pg 297)
There is a good chance that Labour supporters will only need to change the date in that paragraph if Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader of the Labour party.
John Golding (edited by Paul Farrelly) 2003 Hammer of the Left: defeating Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and Militant in the battle for the Labour Party. Politico’s
His book was completed posthumously by the current MP for the seat Paul Farrelly.