Posts Tagged ‘Harold Wilson’

If Labour is to win the next election, we must answer the big questions that Tony Blair posed over a decade ago

14/06/2017, 06:35:27 PM

by Tom Clement

As good as our result was last week, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we did not win. Earning the trust of 41% of the population is a magnificent achievement but it still leaves us sixty seats short of being even the largest party. Our choice now is to either complain about the unfairness of the voting system; or we can equip ourselves to win an election.

And to do this, we must claim the future.

It is the only way we win. In 1945, Atlee realised the need to win the peace following the Second World War and led our most transformative government so far. Wilson won in 1964 after embracing the ‘white heat’ of the technological revolution and liberalise our country as a result. And through facing the Millennium, Blair was able to win in 1997 and deliver the longest period of Labour government to date.

So how do we do it today?

We must face the future and embrace the difficult questions that we have avoided for so long. In fact, if you go back to Tony Blair’s final conference speech as leader, he poses some clear questions that we have still yet to answer.

The question today is … how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.”

We live in uncertain times. The recent election result only serves to highlight that. With Brexit, Trump and the chaos in Downing Street, it is impossible to predict what will happen over the next five years.

But that doesn’t mean that we have no control over it. Quite the opposite. The future is very much in our hands but only if we reach out and embrace it.

Our test, put simply, is Brexit. It is no good to just wait for the Tories to make a bad deal and then complain about it afterwards.

We have to lead. We have to be bold about our decisions now and fill the vacuum that Theresa May’s insipid leadership has left.

Corbyn should announce the formation of a cross-Party convention to decide our negotiating strategy for Brexit and invite all parties to it. We should force the debate to be about priorities, not process. We should make clear how a Labour Brexit would be different to a Tory Brexit and we should shame them into sharing their priorities.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Then and now

01/05/2017, 07:55:36 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Jonathan Todd looks at then and now with an eye to the Mayoral votes coming this Thursday

“I don’t know what I was hoping for.”

I don’t know for how many people the words of Nick Cave’s beautiful We Came Along This Road apply to Labour’s 1997 victory.

My family have never been political. I cannot comprehend childhoods snatched under tables in committee rooms. I spent my first 16 years kicking a ball against a wall.

As a sixth-former in Barrow-in-Furness, the hopes that I had for Labour in 1997 did not reside in family inheritance. They did, though, grow out of family circumstance.

While Ken Clarke delivered macroeconomic improvement in advance of May 1997, unemployment was a spectre that ever more encroached on my ball kicking.

In the north of my youth, people were made redundant in middle age and never worked again, youngsters left school to go on the dole. This created a pervasive sense of thwarted hopes.

In the same way that 1945 was about saying “no more” to the economic depravities of the 1930s, my Labour hopes in 1997 grew out of unnecessary economic injustice.

While I was specific about the unemployment that I wanted to leave behind, I was vague about how Labour might fulfil these hopes. I enjoyed A-Level Economics – and was much more Keynes than Friedman – but neo-endogenous growth theory did not much illuminate, at least as I recall my youthful mind, the intensions of Blair and Brown.

1997 is as far removed from today as the second year of Wilson’s premiership was from 1945. By the mid-60s, while Attlee’s achievements, such as the NHS and the welfare state, were immense, they’d long been banked by the public. As much taken for granted as the minimum wage now is.

In 1945, 1964 and 1997, Labour was a breath of fresh air, defined as a vanguard of national renewal, not by what it had done decades previously. Blair will be as irrelevant to the next Labour government as Attlee was to 1964. Or Wilson was to 1997.

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Labour has a leadership vacancy but no takers

15/07/2016, 06:53:13 PM

by Robin Thorpe

The Labour party is always at its best when it is seen as a modernising force; a movement that has the capability to tangibly improve the lives of people across the UK. This was true for Prime Ministers Atlee, Wilson and Blair. This is perhaps why the current crop of Labour MPs sees Corbyn, a representative of a historical aspect of Labour, as the problem rather than the solution. But the complete lack of any ideas from the challengers, let alone principles, means that any coup was doomed to fail before it had begun.

The launch of Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge typified the earnest but empty hand-wringing that is all the vast majority of the PLP seemingly have to offer the country. The speech was full of platitudes and expressions of dismay over Corbyn’s lack of leadership, but utterly devoid of any vision for a brighter future or strategy of how to achieve this. Her argument is that she is better than Jeremy because Jeremy failed.

Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Corbyn has accomplished this to some extent with the Labour membership and the leaders of the trade unions. He clearly hasn’t with the PLP and opinion polls suggest that he has failed to influence the wider electorate. Angela Eagle has set out her challenge for the leadership by offering a more cohesive party. But leadership is not about better management; it is about providing direction. Defining what an organisation is about and where it will take its stakeholders.

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If Osborne still wants to be PM, he should get out of the Treasury

23/03/2016, 05:42:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Harold Wilson’s often tritely-invoked dictum that a week is a long time in politics certainly does seem to sum-up George Osborne’s terribilis autem sabbati (if my Latin for ‘terrible week’ is indeed accurate).

From all-conquering chancellor with a ‘long-term economic plan’ to yesterday’s man, forced into a screeching U-turn over disability payment cuts. Will he survive? It’s fashionable to write-off the Chancellor’s prospects of succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister, but he is resilient, and come the Armageddon, its likely Osborne will ride out of the nuclear shelter atop a giant mutant cockroach, the last two species to survive.

More prosaically, it’s worth looking at the batting averages of previous post-war prime ministers who took over from their predecessors while in government. What did they do immediately beforehand?

Tellingly, each of them either served as foreign secretary or chancellor of the exchequer.

Foreign secretary Anthony Eden replaced Churchill in 1955. Chancellor Harold MacMillan succeeded Eden in 1957. While Alec Douglas-Home, another foreign secretary, followed on from MacMillan.

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Fifty years on, Harold Wilson’s triumph offers important lessons for Ed

14/10/2014, 10:12:31 AM

by Rob Philpot

The similarities between Ed Miliband and Harold Wilson, who became prime minister for the first time fifty years ago this week, are not immediately obvious. While Wilson’s father had been an active Liberal, his Huddersfield upbringing had little in common with the north London childhood, steeped in politics, of the current Labour leader. Wilson’s studied ‘man of the people’ persona – the Yorkshire accent, Gannex raincoat and pipe, love of HP Sauce, and support for Huddersfield Town – is hardly one shared by Miliband. And few would currently wager a bet on Miliband challenging Wilson’s record of four general election victories.

Nonetheless, Wilson’s premiership offers some important lessons for Miliband. When Labour returned to power in October 1964 it did so with a majority of just four. Miliband could face similarly tricky parliamentary arithmetic in six month’s time. With the arrival of fixed-term parliaments, he will not have the luxury afforded Wilson of governing for 18 months before going back to the country and asking for a majority to ‘finish the job’.

But Wilson’s strategy of reassurance during the short parliament of 1964-1966 – the focus on making Labour the ‘natural party of government’ and the determination to reach out to middle-class voters whose support was crucial if a bigger majority was to be attainted – is instructive. It was one which paid rich dividends: fighting on a slogan of ‘you know Labour government works’, Wilson went back to the country in March 1966 and won a majority of 97, secured seats that have only ever fallen to the party in 1945 and under Tony Blair, and, at 48 per cent, polled the party’s second highest ever share of the vote. As Ben Pimlott suggested, Labour had been rewarded for ‘a sense of movement and freshness, and a reforming zeal limited only by a tight economy and a very tight majority’. Wilson’s government had ‘ceased to alarm the electorate, yet succeeded in remaining the party of promise’.  Crucially, he continues, ‘not only had the Labour government handled the economy better than the Tories, its proven ability in this field was the real point of the election.’

Miliband should, though, balance a reassurance strategy with a willingness to take tough decisions early. Wilson’s determination that Labour should not again be seen as ‘the party of devaluation’ – he had been central to the debates in Attlee’s cabinet when it decided to devalue in 1949 – led him to postpone that painful but necessary decision for three years. Devaluing when Labour had first come into office could – with good justification – have been laid at the door of the policies of the outgoing Tory government. By 1967, Labour was landed with the entire blame. The fallout from that contributed to the party’s defeat in 1970.

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Canny Harold’s lessons for the two Eds

14/02/2011, 07:00:16 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Clem Attlee may be lionised as a great prime minister. Tony Blair revered as an election winner.

But you need to cast a backward glance to the swinging sixties and sagging seventies to see that it is Harold Wilson (Labour leader between 1963 and 1976, serving as prime minister for eight of those years) who has the most to teach Eds Miliband and Balls.

For Ed Miliband, Wilson’s successor-but-seven, there are three main lessons to be learned.

The first is in managing the party. This was no mean feat back in the 60s and 70s. Wilson led during the golden age of Labour dissent. He had to contend with a cabinet containing some of the hugest egos British politics has ever produced: Crossman, Jenkins, Healey, Callaghan, Castle and George Brown.

Wilson sat pre-eminent amid this mass of turbulent, squabbling, brilliance; partly, it has to be said, through the involuntary tactic of being distrusted by just about everyone.

But Wilson used talent effectively. His Gaitskellite chancellors: Callaghan, Jenkins and Healey – each loathed Wilson and were all strong potential replacements; yet Wilson co-opted their brainpower and political brute force for the good of his governments. (more…)

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