Posts Tagged ‘Phillip Gould’

Labour must overcome its innate conservatism and keep on modernising

10/09/2012, 07:00:13 AM

by David Talbot

Settling into the settee at the Labour leader’s house in Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, in the aftermath of a disastrous general election defeat, the friends mused about the future of their party.

There was little or no concrete thread to the discussions that flowed that night, though clause IV and changes to the party name were indeed discussed, amongst many more beside.

The Labour leader privately rejected most of the more radical suggestions, but was convinced yet further that Labour needed to adapt. The only action agreed was that a member present would put the thoughts expressed down on paper and duly, on the Sunday following the defeat, an article appeared.

The piece created a furore. The party should abandon its historic commitment to nationalisation, rebrand its image beyond its working class base and should consider changing its name to “Labour and Radical” or “Labour and Reform”. However, this was not a cosy bunch of Blairites writing abstract policy pamphlets in the 1990s, but the triumvirate surrounding Hugh Gaitskell, the then Labour leader, in 1959.

Gaitskell recognised that the party was creeping towards irrelevance as a political force. The high tide of Labourism had seemly passed with the Attlee governments of 1945-51; inertia, infighting and tradition had taken hold of the party. Gaitskell saw the manifest dangers in refusing to change the party, which could lead to electoral disaster, if not outright extinction.

The day after polling Gaitskell privately remarked to Richard Crossman, a prominent socialist intellectual and former editor of the New Statesman, that another defeat would be final for the Labour party. The inevitability of Labour’s decline began to be predicted.

Four decades before the emergence of the personnel most synonymous with the revival and modernisation of the Labour party, Gaitskell and his cohorts first recognised that modernisation had to be front and centre – and accelerated. They openly recognised what has, truth be told, been at the heart of Labour since its formation – its innate conservatism.

This is most vividly illustrated by Philip Gould, the seminal Labour pollster, in his work “The Unfinished Revolution” which charts his involvement, and struggles with, Labour from the mid-1980s to his untimely death.

Gould describes, in quite the most excruciating detail, how Labour had abandoned the very people it had formed to represent. The Conservatives, he argued, dominated the last century because they continually modernised – whilst Labour did not. In their brutal lust for power the British Conservatives had become the most successful political force in the democratic world. This highlights the central paradox of British politics; namely, the party of conservatism held power for much of the twentieth century because of its ceaseless modernisation.

The party of supposed radicalism succumbed to its conservatism, surely no more exemplified then the deification of clause IV, originally written in 1892, and was thus systematically overlooked at the ballot box by the British electorate.

Gould details how the party’s conservatism dragged the party to the brink. The party became intrinsically, and violently, resistant to change. This conservatism is the ultimate explanation for Labour’s failure to dominate the British political landscape.

The myriad of failures of the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s was due in large measure to the party’s inability, or unwillingness, to modernise the party. But the ultimate encapsulation was the 1980s, which Gould chillingly describes:

“To millions of voters Labour became a shiver in the fear of the night, some unsafe, buried deep in the psyche, not just for the 1983 election campaign or the period immediately afterwards but for years to come.. Labour looked downwards; ‘Clawing back; turning the clock back; for Militant; anti-home ownership; strife; strikes; inflation. Not for me.’”

Gould, like Gaitskell, would spend his political life attempting to forge a new consensus in the Labour party; one of unremitting modernisation.

In his opening speech as Labour leader, Ed Miliband declared that “the era of New Labour has passed”. This is self evident. If his first conference speech was one of surprise, his second was a seminar. For the third, we need sustenance. But whatever words tumble from the leader’s podium in Manchester, Miliband cannot, and must not, reach for the party’s comfort in conservatism. The modernising zeal that Gaitskell started, and Gould sculpted, Miliband must now strive for.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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When I die: Lessons from the death zone

19/04/2012, 09:30:56 AM

In November 2011 Philip Gould, Labour peer and strategist, died from oesophageal cancer.   In the final two weeks of his life Philip completed a book and his quest to find purpose and meaning in what he called the “death zone” was also documented by Adrian Steirn in a short film, “When I Die”. This is the film; the book “When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone” is published today and all proceeds from the book will go to the National Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Fund.

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