We’ve been here before with Bennites like Corbyn. It will end the same way. In blood and vomit

by Paul Richards

Labour’s last double-decade in opposition started with a winter of discontent, and this one starts with a summer of seppuku. What could have been the start of a process of healing after a disastrous election result, is instead descending into viciousness not seen since the early 1980s. There will be those old enough to remember what it was like back then. For those who don’t, it was no tea party.

The Bennites’ strategy was simple: to set up a series of positions on everything – Nato, the EEC, Trident, the monarchy, the civil service, the Lords, the banks, the media, and businesses – and then denounce anyone who deviated from this position as ‘a Tory’. This epithet didn’t include the actual Tories, but instead any Labour party member, MP or trade unionist who didn’t agree with state control of Marks & Spencer, kicking out the Americans, and support for Sinn Fein. Denis Healey? Tory. Barbara Castle? Tory. Harold Wilson? Tory.

A booklet was circulated amongst local activists called How to deselect your MP, which explained how to use the new rulebook to get rid of any Labour MP who failed to meet the same ideological tests. It was waved under the nose of any MP who dared to support non-Bennites for the national executive or vote for non-Bennite motions at the GC. These were times of fear and loathing, when Labour Party meetings were unpleasant places to be, characterised as small groups of activists firing resolutions at each other from across the room.

The greatest opprobrium was reserved for anyone who had served in the treacherous Wilson and Callaghan governments. Ministers were traitors, and should be treated with contempt. In his memoir, Denis Healey recalls Jim Callaghan being subject to a “barrage of the most offensive personal abuse both in public speeches, and perhaps even more wounding, in the private meetings of the National Executive Committee.” This was a former Labour home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary, prime minister and leader of the Labour party: being bawled at by nonentities, paper-sellers and placemen.

During the 1980 deputy leadership contest Healey talks of “orchestrated attempts to howl me down by extremist mobs of Trotskyists and anarchists, whom Tony Benn did nothing to discourage or condemn.” Benn’s supporters, according to Healey, included the “Posadists” who believed socialism would be brought to earth by creatures from outer space.

It might be reassuring to think that this time it might be different. But the evidence points the other way. The groups now signing up as £3 supporters are the political heirs to those smashing up Healey’s meetings. Dave Ward of the CWU’s description this week of a “virus” in the Labour Party, to which Jeremy Corbyn is the “antidote” is straight from the early 1980s playbook. Leaving aside the obvious fact that viruses don’t have antidotes, the idea that underpins the metaphor is that Labour’s right wing and soft-left are roadblocks on the true path to socialism. Cast out the traitors, and all will be well.

The ideas are the same: withdrawal from Nato, the EU, nationalisation, nuclear disarmament. Even some of the people are the same. There’s Jeremy Corbyn himself, obviously, who has been a hardcore Bennite for 30 years, writing for the Morning Star, rubbing shoulders with terrorists, and never sullying his political purity with a single minute on the front bench. And people like Jon Lansman, who ran Benn’s 1980 campaign and is behind Corbyn’s. And many of the other Campaign Group members like John McDonnell and Michael Meacher. For them, this must be a most delicious form of revenge on New Labour.

But the substantive point – this is cannot be emphasised too strongly – is that back then the Bennites didn’t win, and Corbyn might. Benn’s campaign failed. Neil Kinnock led a small group of abstentions in the deputy leadership election, which cost Benn his victory by 49.6 per cent to Healey’s 50.4 per cent. This was the moment when the soft-left broke with the Bennites and the glacially-slow path back to power (17 years later) was begun.

At the party conference in Brighton in 1981, Kinnock was jostled and heckled for his perceived “betrayal.” His biographer Robert Harris writes how Kinnock “was surrounded by a hostile group of Benn’s supporters. There was some brandishing of fists and pushing, and, as he turned to leave, someone spat at him.”

On the Friday lunchtime of conference, Kinnock was kicked by a young man in the toilet in the Grand Hotel, and the future leader and peer is quoted as saying “then I beat the shit out of him.” Afterwards, it was reported there was “blood and vomit” all over the floor.

Blood and vomit, people. That’s how this ends.

Paul Richards is a Labour activist and author of Labour’s Revival 

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28 Responses to “We’ve been here before with Bennites like Corbyn. It will end the same way. In blood and vomit”

  1. paul barker says:

    So why wait for it to happen ? Why not just accept that you have lost this fight & move to a Party (The Liberal Democrats) where you would be welcome ?

  2. Pete says:

    Brilliant article. I can see that at least someone in the Labour Party has watched the Wilderness Years documentary and is trying to learn the lessons from the dark days of 80’s. It’s sad to see that the far left seems to be completely oblivious to these lessons, principal and ideological hygiene are everything, and electability is a complete afterthought. Can people not see that the failures of the 80’s weren’t down to simple questions of party leadership or credibility, but amounted to nothing less than a categorical rejection on a national scale of the far lefts entire agenda? Hopefully sensible heads will prevail in the leadership race, but I’m not holding out too much hope.

  3. Paul,

    “State control of Marks and Spencers” ??

    Do you mean Nationalisation? I don’t remember this from the 80’s. Did I miss something or are you just making it up?

  4. So Ian wants Corbyn crushed. Paul talks fondly of Kinnock beating the shit out of someone in the toilets. Seems there isn’t so much in the way of debate anymore on Uncut.

    Paul why don’t you try and convince some youth to get enthused over whoever your candidate is, or have you given up. Seems to me that Corbyn is pulling most of the soft left to him.

  5. “withdrawal from Nato, the EU, nationalisation, nuclear disarmament.

    Not all supporters of Jeremy Corbyn want these policies. Maybe we’d favour renationalising the railway franchises, and the Royal Mail, and leave bank ownership as it is but we wouldn’t go much further than that.

    We would like to see a move to repudiate what was known as monetarism under Thatcher as has since come to be known as neo-liberalism and austerity economics under the Tories. The whole of the Labour Party were against it under Thatcher and we’d like to get back to the position and argue in Keynesian terms once more.

    We’d like to talk about how to achieve full employment. Remember that term? We’d like private employers to play their part in achieving that. Withdrawal from NATO is an irrelevance at the present time.

  6. Ross Beadle says:

    Amongst the people heckling Kinnock was Margaret Beckett I believe. Altho she later said sorry – bit like her nomination of Corbyn.

    The trouble is that apologising is no substitute for being electable

  7. Tafia says:

    Candidates selected to be MP have to accept that they are there to do what their CLP says. They do not have and nor should they have, carte blanche to persue whayever they want, how they want. They are selcted to represent that CLP and that CLP above all things.. If they aren’t willing to do what their CLP wants then they are breaching trust in them and serve no purpose, fit only to either stand aside or be discarded.

  8. Phil Hove says:

    NUTSHELL – Bush Blair (massive Labour lies/spin) = vacuum Iraq/Afghan.
    – Infection Arab Spring Egypt/Syria.
    – Cameron/Sarky create vacuum North Africa.
    – ISIS fill vacuum. Millions displaced/dead/wounded/radicalised.
    – EU Ferry service to Italy, (backing up traffickers).
    – Calais.
    Entryism = Labour/Tories counting them out – UKIP counting them in.

  9. Dan says:

    Either through ignorance or through spite or most probably a mixture of both, you fail to appreciate a few very basic facts:

    1) Corbyn is not as leftwing as Benn, and in fact many of his political positions are very popular – especially those traditionally considered leftwing. e.g. nationalisation of the railways, energy companies who have been proven to rip us off, etc

    2) this is not the 1980s anymore. So, for instance, labour are less threatened by other left of centre parties than they were back then.

    3) An anti-austerity message is proving very popular across all of Europe, as parties like the SNP have shown.

    4) 76% of the electorate didn’t vote for the tories so why try mimic them? And for those who do want austerity then why not vote for the real thing?

  10. Ian G says:

    Have you thought about how we might have got to this point as a consequence of extremes of the right having held sway for so long that people are desperate for change.

    Look at Tony Blair, reported to have demanded over £300,000 to give a speech at a world hunger conference.

    Look at Luke Akehurst, former arms industry lobbyist now fronting the ‘Labour First’ campaign for ‘anyone but Corbyn’ to be elected leader.

    Look at Rachel Reeves, on record numerous times with statements about welfare that exacerbate the Tories’ demonisation of benefit claimants, even before Harman’s shameful cowardice on the Welfare Bill last month.

    Finally, look at Chuka Umunna, who betrayed a contemptuous attitude in his Newsnight interview in which he compared Labour members and supporters to ‘petulant children’.

    The right-wingers in the party have brought this on themselves by taking the support of the grass-roots for granted, when in reality the gap between the party bigwigs and the people on the ground was growing ever wider.

    The presence of Corbyn in the leadership contest has brought the division to light. The challenge for the ‘mainstream’ is to respond to that in a way that will help heal the division. So far, they’ve failed dismally.

  11. Douglas says:

    Tafia: no, MPs are not there to do what their CLP says. They are chosen by the people and have a mandate of their own. The British people don’t elect their CLPs – they elect their MPs. That doesn’t mean that MPs shouldn’t talk to, explain themselves to and be challenged by their CLPs – but they’re not delegates from their local group of activists, and nor should they be in a parliamentary democracy.

  12. Dave G says:

    No, MPs are not there to “do what their CLP says.” They are there to represent the interests of all their constituents and not take instructions from a clique. And I say that as a member of the Labour Party for over 40 years. I do not want to ‘instruct’ my MP but allow her to make up her mind about how best to implement our policies.

  13. Peter Scott says:

    Kinnock was leader of the Labour Party that lost Parliamentary Elections because he did not offer true alternative to either Thatcher or Major. Now he thinks he is Labour Royalty and lords it over the rest of us. We can only vote for a Leader he approves of or else!

  14. John P Reid says:

    Phil hove, how can losing labour votes not m Myers being Entryism
    Peter Martin2001′ in 1974 the NEC voted to nationalize the 25 biggest industries Wilson junked it straight away, but it was brought and Kept in 1980′ anger it wouldn’t be junked this time, lead to even Foot disagreeing,but having to keep it

    Although Corbyn would be a disaster and the underhand way of m Myers who’ve never done a thing turning up to CLPs voting to nominate him, the bullying of Kendall, via sexism on the Internet, by Corbyn supporters and the £3 donors voting in masse.

    I hardly think Corbyn is Benn after 1983 Benn said we lost as it wasn’t left wing enough, and the electorate were wrong not to vote for us, if Corbyn led us to 20% in 2020 he’d at least take the home, although livungstone would blame the Blairites as usual like he did in 2012

  15. Corbyn is just rebalancing the political spectrum and a natural progression from both being at just one end – The Tories and a carbon-copy Tory Party. Democracy has to have open views and where these have been closed down under ‘New Labour’. So it is not surprising that Labour have decided to go back to their roots and support the majority (90%) who are not within the wealth bubble of the top 10% that the Conservatives and New Labour predominantly serve. For the top 10% have increased their wealth four-fold over the Blair and present administration and where, taking inflation into account over the last 18 years, 90% of the people have seen their wealth decline substantially and poverty rise with food banks et al.

    Therefore a vote for Corbyn, is a vote for an alternative, which cannot be any worse financially than they currently are and where most probably under another 5-years of Tory rule, will see their wealth decline further and their poverty increase. That is based upon historical facts and where nothing due to austerity is really changing for the majority – http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/vote-for-jeremy-corbyn-people-politics.html

    And a vote for Corbyn is not that much of a risk, for in reality, Whitehall physically runs the show behind the scenes and provide all the reports that ministers decide upon on their policies, mostly skewed towards what Whitehall wants to see happen anyway if truth be told.

  16. Gman says:

    To the poster who demanded a more keynsian attitude. The thing about Keynes was, you can have the deficit spending in the recession, but you are supposed to pay it back during the boom, not borrow loads during the boom and borrow even more during the recession.

    It seems Osborne might be the most ‘Keynsian’ Chancellor we have ever had.

  17. Madasafish says:

    Dan said ”
    4) 76% of the electorate didn’t vote for the tories so why try mimic them? And for those who do want austerity then why not vote for the real thing?””

    Sorry but quoting statistics like that has no relevance and ignored the facts that Tories + UKIP got 50% of the votes cast.

    And HOW do you know non voters would be anti Tory? Did you personally ask them? How long did that take you? 20 years? As they did not vote you do not know.

    People who quote that statistic to backup their argument lose all credibility.. It’s wrong, and shows the user cannot argue logically..

  18. Tim says:

    The problem is that Brown massively ramped up spending using Keynes as an excuse, and he did exactly what you say: “you are supposed to pay it back during the boom, not borrow loads during the boom and borrow even more during the recession.”

    As such, many more people are now reliant on the teat of govt spending, whether it’s through jobs (massive increase in public sector employment under New Labour), and also an expansion of benefits.

    And the Torys were faced with this perfect Labour electoral gambit. Cut any of the spending and be seen as the nasty party as they will be held responsible by those who are newly reliant on public spending.

    The problem is that this narrative did not work out, and those who are still sucking on the govt teat want Corbyn to protect their interests.

  19. Gman says:


    Your explanation (if that is the right word) of Keynesian deficit spending by Govt is generally made by those who have either never read Keynes or have never understood Keynes.

    Deficit spending by government is one way of getting more money into the economy. Generally to reflate it. Taxation is one way of removing money. This has a deflationary effect. Then there is export inward spending by our overseas customers which is reflationary. And, spending on imports by home consumers which removes money from the economy and so is deflationary.

    We have to consider all money flows. Germany, being a net exporter, has inward money flows from trade and so a balanced or even a surplus budget is required over the trade cycle. The UK is a net importer so requires a deficit -on average over the trade cycle.

    So, by all means lets work towards reducing the budget’s deficit. But we need to understand what we are doing and the nature of the money flows. That means bring the trade into balance too -probably with the help of a significant £ devalutation. Otherwise we’ll just end up crashing the economy and having 20% plus unemployment.

  20. I mistakenly typed in Gman’s name instead of my own in the above comment.

    Sorry about that!

  21. Tafia says:

    Douglas and Dave G, The CLP selects the candidate after interview and CLP voting. That candidate is selected specifically because they reflect the CLPs wishes and vision.

    Voters in an election are supposed to (and presumed to) enquire and find out what the individual candidates believe. Constituency based politics is based on the presumption that voters understand that they are not voting for a party, they are voting for a named candidate (one of the reasons Corbyn is opposed to PR and in favour of Constituency-based).

    It really isn’t that difficult to follow.

  22. John P Reid,

    Yes I do remember the resolution in question. Presumably Marks and Spencers came in at number 25 at the time? I don’t believe the intention of the Labour left has ever been to nationalise the retail industry. It really not a priority.

    I despair at the tone of the debate. The accusation from the right is that anyone who objects to the principle of economic austerity must be some kind of Stalinist or Trotskyite. The accusation from the left is that the right are a bunch of Tories.

    Hang on a minute. Where do I fit in? I don’t want to nationalise Marks and Spencers or Tescos, or leave NATO, or live under a system of forced collectivisation, but I would like both wings of the party to have a better grasp of economics. It’s all very well to call for deficit reduction but the empirical evidence is that this leads to recession and unemployment. That happened under Margaret Thatcher, it happens all over the eurozone (except in the net exporting countries) and we all wonder why.

    We don’t understand what we are doing! That’s obviously why! And yet the economics isn’t that difficult as I’ve tried to explain to Gman above.

  23. Madasafish says:


    So you object to austerity?

    Tell me what austerity is? It’s spending less than you receive in taxes.

    We are spending £75b a year more than we receive in taxes.

    We do not have austerity.. and to say we have is the hallmark of the disingenuous or the ignorant.

    You wrote:
    “We don’t understand what we are doing! That’s obviously why! .

    I assume you were speaking for yourself…:-)

  24. You request: “Tell me what austerity is?”

    OK. In economic tersms, it’s spending less and/or taxing more than is required to maintain an economy at close to its full potential and close to its full growth potential.

    The government is an issuer of currency. It’s physically impossible for any currency issuer to collect more in taxes than it issues -other than for just a short period of time. All currency issuers have to be in debt. Even Norway which has more money from oil than it knows what to do with has a National debt.

    The UK government has only rarely achieved a budget surplus in our lifetimes. That’s quite normal. Penny for penny, a surplus for government is a deficit for non-government. That’s the rest of us. Of course the government realises that its doesn’t sound that good to seek to put us all in deficit! So they don’t usually put it that way, But they should!

  25. John P Reid says:

    Peter Martin 2001
    The CLPD was set up after the NEC in 74 proposed nationalizing the 25 biggest industries which Wilson said wouldn’t be in the manifesto,so come the 83 manifesto when it was Accepted by the NEC Foot felt he couldn’t public ally disagree with it, even though he did t agree as the CLPD was too big, in that manifesto was a policy to scrap riot and armed police, in 1986 the GLC proposed scrapping those two things plus 95% of the other police,which was voted at conference,but Kinnock said it wouldn’t be in the manifesto, so proposing things unrealistic, because it’s voted for has seen the leadership not accepting it, but it made the CLPD even stringer by pointing out democracy

  26. Madasafish says:

    I have just read the link which David Hill refers to in an above post. Apart from being a long rant, it contains the following text:

    So it does not matter if you have a monkey as prime minister living in no.10 Downing Street, as things will just run as they were if someone like Blair was still in power. That is a fact

    Which is demonstrable rubbish.. After all, if true, then Mrs Thatcher had no impact and the collapse of the banks was not teh fault of poor regulation but the Civil Service.

    and then its says:”Indeed, you only have to look at what the Labour Government did to 90% of the people by allowing the banks to get totally out of control.

    So there you have it: the Government has no power and does nothing, but it was the Government’s fault the banks collapsed. !!!!

    I would be ashamed to post a link to such rubbish…

  27. Joe Whyte says:

    It was the New Labour policy of taking controls of the banking sector and being puppets for the Murdock media (remember Prescott on numerous occasions stating on Sky News ‘I heard if first here’) then it all came back to bite them and there long term supporters deserted them because they had deserted those who had voted for them.

    Now I see Mr Burnham is following in Blairs footsteps;

    Exclusive: A lobbyist with a string of drugs company clients has been appointed by Burnham to help run his Labour leader campaign.

  28. AW1983 says:

    I’m not sure the author is right about ‘Corbynmania.’ I suspect it has more to do with a recognition that New Labour’s reputation is in tatters after the financial crisis and that Old Labour left and Old Labour right must work together to provide an alternative to a politics that no longer resonates with the public but still dominates the PLP.

    If we look at what the Socialist Campaign Group had become by 2015, before a series of retirements before the election, there were a few faces there who would have fought the rise of Tony Benn in the 1980s but then got marginalised by Tony Blair in the 1990s. The heirs of the groups shouting at one another in the 1980s seem to have joined forces to replace New Labour.

    The Blairites will fight their corner but in truth I suspect they’ve become all too reliant on voters who are to the left of them. No political movement can sustain itself on borrowed votes forever, as the Liberal Party discovered in the 1920s. New Labour has been squeezed out by Cameron on the right and need too many votes from would be Greens on the left to have a hope of ever winning again. New Labour is over and warnings from Campbell, McTernan and Blair are the desperate attempts to preserve a legacy that the British people have lost interest in.

    My hope now is for a dream ticket Labour Party of Old Labour left and right, working together as they did in the 1960s-70s. Corbyn is a genial figure who I think can unite the party, provided he balances his own socialism with the views of others in the party.

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