Posts Tagged ‘Neil Kinnock’

Election 1997 20th anniversary: Euphoria for political anoraks, but many were indifferent

01/05/2017, 05:09:02 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Kevin Meagher was the campaign co-ordinator in Bolton South East

I have a very specific recollection of the morning after Labour’s 1997 election victory.

Back then, I was working as a hod-carrier for my dad during the day and studying for my Master’s at night. (Campaigning for Labour took up every other waking minute).

Like every other political anorak, I’d stayed up for Portillo – and long after.

But I had work the next day.

We arrived at the site and parked up. It was only 8am, but the sun was already beating down and the sky was clear blue. The road were were working on was a haze of fine dust with a gentle breeze blowing towards us.

We took the tools out of the car and set off towards our block.

Brian, a ground worker in his mid-50s, (whose misanthropy was already well-established), was walking towards us, chuntering away to himself.

“So what do you make of the election result then?” my dad asked him cheerily.

Brian screwed up his face and without pausing simply said: “They’re all the fucking same.”

They’re all the fucking same.

The point, I guess, is never to be carried away with the euphoria of the political moment.

To misquote WB Yeats: the best were full of passionate intensity while the worst lacked all conviction.

Yes, May 1st 1997 was a joyous and thrilling experience for Labour supporters. The end of an appalling 18-year losing streak. A moment laden with opportunity.

Millions, however, were not enthused.

After all, John Major still won more votes in 1992 than Tony Blair managed in 1997: 14,093,007 to 13,518,167.

As a psephological factoid, it should throw a pale of cold water over our selective memories. Yes, it was a tremendous, landmark victory, but turnout fell from 77.7 per cent in 1992 to 71.4 per cent in 1997.

In office, competence and moderation were Blair’s guiding principles. Britain is a small ‘c’ conservative country. He instinctively recognised that. He knew his mandate was for ‘Labour men and Tory measures.’ But the hope was that once your bona fides are established you can bend the consensus your way.

Like all governments, positive things were achieved and some opportunities were missed.

In 2001, turnout fell to just 59 per cent. By 2005, Tony Blair won 4.5 million fewer votes than Neil Kinnock managed in 1992.

This accounts for the ‘missing’ five million Labour voters that Ed Miliband used to talk about. They remain lost. Missing in Inaction, so to speak.

The challenge for Labour’s next leader is to find them and rebuild a similar consensus to the one Blair and Brown first managed to assemble in 1997.

Something tells me I should not hold my breath.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Everyone wants to be Tony Blair, not Neil Kinnock

29/01/2017, 06:26:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Tristram Hunt is off to run a museum rather than fight for the soul of the Labour party. We should not be surprised. He is one of a band of would-be leaders who would rather like to be Prime Minister, but don’t want to put in the work required to get there.

Labour’s shiny leadership hopefuls don’t want to get their shoes wet in the swamp of party reform. They want someone else to deliver them an electable Labour party to lead. So they’ll go and sit on the hillside until that happens.

They will be waiting a long time.

Here’s the hard reality. No Labour MP over the age of 45 is ever going to be Prime Minister.

The party will do less badly than many predict in 2020 (the Labour brand is stronger in its heartlands than the chatterers and scribblers of Westminster presume) but it will still be bad. The earliest Labour recovery is at the election after.

It’s easy for those on the right to daydream that they will rub the Left’s nose in the manure of defeat in 2020, snatch back ‘their’ party and march to victory, but it’s an idle fantasy.

Even if Corbyn makes way for a more centrist leader, no-one is going to be given carte blanche to reform the party the way Tony Blair was. The late Labour MP Tony Banks once said his members were so desperate for victory after the party’s fourth successive general election defeat in 1992 that they were willing to ‘eat shit to see a Labour Government.’

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What comes after Corbyn?

20/08/2016, 11:16:34 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Assuming Labour loses the 2020 election (or any election called before that date), what happens next?

Of course, optimists will claim it’s all still to play for and the future is unwritten. But beyond the faith-based politics of the Corbynite Branch Davidians, the party’s immediate to medium-term outlook is bleak.

This week, the UK Elections twitter feed reported that at its current level in the polls, Labour will lose another 56 seats taking it down to 176 MPs. Much lower, even, than the 207 it managed in 1983, (and from which, it took 18 years to get back into government).

Even so, Labour would remain the second largest party in Parliament and with the left chalking up defeat as ‘eight and a half million votes for socialism,’ as Tony Benn infamously did in 1983, they are likely to learn nothing and forget nothing.

A formal break-away at this point is possible, with the post-Blairites and other moderates having a collective flip-out and trouncing off to set up a new centrist party. However, it is more likely than there will be an all-out civil war first, with the trade unions playing a central role in proceedings.

With the sole exception of the GMB, the main affiliates are currently happy to pander to the left. Tellingly, the GMB balloted its members about who to back in the leadership race, with a resounding victory for Owen Smith, beating Jeremy Corbyn by a 60/40 per cent margin.

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Labour cannot return to the days of “no compromise with the electorate”

11/08/2015, 10:04:27 PM

by Tal Michael

A winning slogan? You wouldn’t think so, but it seems many in the Labour party have decided that this is the approach they want to take. Twenty five years ago, in the piece of academic work I took most seriously during my time at Oxford, I wrote an essay on the rise and fall of the Labour left. Conventional wisdom was that “the left” was at an all-time low as Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley crushed a challenge from Tony Benn and Eric Heffer.

My analysis was slightly different. I argued that following defeat in 1987, most of the left had concluded that it is far better to propose a modest programme of reform, and when in government to put it into practice, than to go into an election and either lose, allowing the Tories to make things worse rather than better, or to win power, but discover that the economic situation makes it too difficult to deliver on the promises made.

When Neil Kinnock lost in 1992, most of the Labour party agreed to accept the leadership of John Smith and then Tony Blair not because those of us on the left had redefined our own personal views of utopia, but because we recognised that a moderate platform of reform was more likely to secure electoral success.

Whether the 1997 Labour platform was moderate is a matter of contention. A national minimum wage, devolution, investing in health and education, getting young people into jobs, halving child poverty and tackling poverty in old age were all a radical departure from the previous Tory government. The introduction of a minimum wage was going to bankrupt the country according to the Tories – yet now they are pretending they are going to raise it to a living wage.

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

01/08/2015, 01:07:24 PM

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.

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Why is Miliband struggling where Kinnock prospered?

04/11/2014, 04:40:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

On 4 February 1975, Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in a leadership ballot among Conservative MPs. The Spectator showed the way the wind was blowing four months earlier. It would seem to be of the first importance; it reported on 2 November 1974, that Mr Heath’s successor should be someone who is not ashamed of being a Conservative.

Similarly, during summer 2010, it was felt of the first importance that Mr Brown’s successor should be someone not ashamed of being Labour – except Brown has rarely been so ashamed. He was invariably more unashamedly Labour than his predecessor, Tony Blair. The ex partner that the Labour lover wanted to get out of its system had been playing the international field for three years by the time the opportunity came around to do so.

When Neil Kinnock reacted to Ed Miliband’s election as leader by saying, “we’ve got our party back”, we might presume that Blair was the primary kidnapper. But Miliband was himself a minister under Blair and new Labour was not an imposition on an unwilling party but something that grew out of its belly. As no kidnapping occurred, Kinnock was confused.

Nonetheless, reflecting on who the “our” in “our party” are may tell us something still relevant. In the view of David Marquand, Kinnock’s “skill in manipulating the symbols of tribal loyalty made him leader”. We might speculate, therefore, that “our” are those who recognise and value in these symbols.

“Labour needs its soul back,” I was told in 2010 by someone now working for Miliband. Kinnock connected with this soul via the second of the two dimensions that, as Marquand recalled, Henry Drucker saw as forming the ideology of the British Labour movement: ‘doctrine’ and ‘ethos’. “That ethos,” Marquand observed, “is almost indefinable … Perhaps Richard Hoggart caught it best with his famous evocation of the world of ‘them’ as seen from the point of view of ‘us’”: (more…)

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Neil Kinnock in his own words: On devolution, #indyref and Welsh independence

24/07/2014, 04:42:21 PM

by Julian Ruck

In the second part of my interview with Neil Kinnock a great many issues were discussed, indeed far too many to go into detail here on Uncut. I have therefore tried my best to distil things down to bit-sized paragraphs whilst keeping an eye on the matters that I feel may be of particular interest to Uncut readers.

On devolution and independence:

“JR: I must quote from Martin Westlake’s ‘Kinnock, The Biography‘ where the author states, ‘From the beginning, Kinnock opposed these moves to devolution with a vehemence hard to appreciate today.’ Do you still hold this view?

NK: I was against a form of devolution, not devolution in itself. No democrat can be against de-centralisation, it’s just that we made a bloody mess of it back in the 70’s.

We’ve got it and we’ve got to make it work. But it still begs the question that we had always anticipated back in the 70’s, in Whitehall and Westminster as well as Wales, and I repeat it without fear but with realism : There is or can be, a government that owes nothing politically to Wales or Scotland or a party, say UKIP or elements in the Conservative party, that can impress English voters with the slogan ‘If we didn’t spend so much, certainly more than we gain, from Wales and Scotland, we would have billions to renovate Yorkshire, the Midlands, Merseyside, Inner London, wherever.’

Now, this is one unresolved question and it will continue to be until we have a great deal more force and growth in the economy, where Wales is concerned anyway. This is the real danger implicit in the potential for antagonism, especially when you get a combination of ant-Conservative governments, be it in Wales or Scotland, and governments that are anti-Welsh, or politically dismissive about Wales, in London.

They might not be overtly anti-Welsh or Scottish but a government dominated by ‘do we really need them? Politically they’re a bloody nuisance to us; they are a constant drain on public resources, we can get votes by saying, ‘well, if you want to go off by yourselves, you do just that,’ especially if they nominally accept the monarchy.

There is no case for independence – for secession – in Scotland and the same can be said for Wales It’s just plain daft. We live in the permanent era of globalisation, where size does count. We must be effectively engaged in the European Union because this is the way the world is heading, and the same argument applies to sustaining the UK.

To come back to Wales, if you get an almost permanent drudgery of insecurity, low economic advantage, low incomes, a sense of exclusion socially, it’s not difficult for a populist to say ‘we have never accepted this government in London; let’s elect our own government; let’s accept that our own poverty may be marginally deeper, though not that you’d notice, and make the break.’

I’m not saying this is probable or anything so defeatist. I’m saying that it’s not impossible that the argument can be postulated and get some support if there’s a sense that, in the centre in London, at the core of power, there’s not much enthusiasm for retaining the union, particularly if the message got through that a Conservative government owes Wales nothing politically, in other words, ‘you go off if you want to, you’ll save us a lot of money.’

JR: You must accept that a vibrant and flourishing democracy demands change. We’ve had 90 odd years of Welsh Labour in Wales, this cannot be a good thing, surely?

NK: Yes it does. I agree. The function of an effective politician, especially on the left, is be  ahead of the curve, what we’ve got to do is respect the past, make the present better and design and build for the future.

JR: Yes, but that isn’t quite answering my question. You must know that Wales is now run by a Welsh speaking elite, intent on an undemocratic and unaccountable Welshification process, regardless of what the majority in Wales want.”

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Letter from Wales: The Neil Kinnock interview pt1

11/07/2014, 02:39:34 PM

by Julian Ruck

I recently interviewed Lord Kinnock at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff and within minutes it was clear that his political passion and socialist instincts were well and truly intact. Indeed, his parting shot to me was, “Julian, what did you expect, I’m a bloody socialist!”

Not much to argue about there then.

Neil looked good. Trim, well preserved and still full of pulpit Welsh hwyl, as a couple of lady guests at the hotel were soon to comment. It was Neil’s deep Welsh brogue that seemed to send them into a swoon and as far as they were concerned, to hell with politics!

Anyway, the old war horse, never short of a word or two, was generous with his time. 1hr and 50 minutes to be precise, so readers of Uncut will understand that in order to do Neil and the interview justice, I have decided to break his observations and my take on them into two Letters.

So, let’s begin with Neil’s view on Ed Miliband:

“I’ve supported him from before day one……I said to him if David has got the guts to run against his brother who are you to back down? Ed showed nothing but courage in taking his brother on.”

As the interview progressed Neil’s loyalty to Labour’s leader became more explicit, and who can criticise loyalty, where would politics be without it?

“If you watch Ed closely and believe me I have, particularly when he is talking to the man in the street or grassroots, he is totally engaged; they get his full attention and interest. David now, he lacks people skills, for instance when talking with someone and whilst not intending to be discourteous, he scans the room to see if there is someone of greater significance. It’s a misfortune if anything, not a desperate character flaw, he’s a nice man.”

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Unite’s confused kulturkampf

08/07/2013, 07:53:52 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Len McCluskey began his article in the Mirror over the weekend by stating:

“If your son or daughter fancies becoming a Labour MP, forget it. They have more chance of cleaning in the Commons than being elected to it.”

Who is he addressing?

The mother who has worked in the NHS all her life and the father who served his time as an electrician? They’ve never been active in politics or known any university besides the Open University. They have no friends in high places, whether in the “posh part of Stockport” or elsewhere.

Or is McCluskey warning off Oxbridge educated, ex-ministerial advisors and Demos associates? The thing is: Those are my parents and this is my life.

Perhaps my background is working class enough to get over the Unite acceptability threshold. But having checked my privilege, I’ve damned myself by having the temerity to get as good an education as I could and make the most of the opportunities this created.

It seems to me ever harder to be sure what class you are. By most measures, I’m probably becoming more middle class as I get older. But life isn’t a bowl of strawberries. Property prices, childcare costs, pension saving. They worry me as much as the next dad to a young family. I believe there is a term for this: the squeezed middle.

I don’t feel that any superior virtue or wisdom attaches to me through membership of the squeezed middle. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, whatever our class. While class membership seems to me more perplexing than ever, all Labour members can agree with the famous Neil Kinnock line: “The real privilege of being strong is to help people who are not strong.” And caring enough about other people to want to help them is a matter of empathy, not class allegiance.

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Is Labour doing well enough?

29/05/2013, 03:52:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Having had a couple of months which have not, frankly, been pretty for Labour, this is the question its leaders must surely be asking themselves in the wake of the local elections.

The question is, will they ask it of robust friends who might level with them? Or others who might well-meaningly equivocate, in the name of keeping them motivated?

First, it is easy to base our hopes of success on this or that transitory effect, but that seems rather like building one’s house on sand. There may be a UKIP effect come the election, but history has shown that such things are not usually that big. Yes, there may just have been a fundamental realignment, but things may just as easily go against Labour (Tory voters returning and narrowing the gap) as for Labour (remaining UKIP voters splitting the right-wing vote and letting Labour in). And, in any event, it is a fool who bases his strategy on the failure of others. Stop it. If there is a boost from UKIP, that’s a bonus.

Second, Labour’s poll lead is anyway soft and has been for some time, as Atul Hatwal has shown here at Uncut. Most exasperatingly, many seem to be still extrapolating that poll lead out to 2015 at the same level, when history has shown, time and again, that polls will narrow, as I wrote here, based on the fine time-series research of Leo Barasi. You cannot, and should not, judge polling on week-to-week changes, which are meaningless, but over long periods you can see trends and these are worth looking at.

Although many have compared its current situation with 1992 – when, of course, Labour lost – even that seems rather an optimistic reading; its current polling gap is also comparable with that of Labour’s in 1981, which is not exactly encouraging news, when you think how Labour was destroyed in 1983. By the way, Tory hegemony was by no means consolidated in 1981, many viewed Thatcher’s leadership as shaky and Labour maintained a respectable poll lead all through that year.

Third, the softness of the party’s positive polling in historical context becomes more deeply worrying when we look at our leadership polling in historical context. And no, before you start, this is not an agitation for a challenge to Miliband, which would be of no help whatsoever to Labour. But the worryingly low polling he is experiencing is not a help either and we should not pretend otherwise.

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