Posts Tagged ‘Roy Hattersley’

It is indeed Labour’s greatest crisis. This man should know

07/12/2017, 09:58:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, Labour’s Deputy Leader during the terrible 1980s, published a piece entitled “Labour’s greatest crisis. Time to fight back”. It is not a bad summary of Labour’s current troubles.

The trigger for the article was the Militant-style takeover of the Haringey party this week, providing uncomfortable echoes for those of a certain age of what happened in Liverpool and many London boroughs in the 1980s.

It is fair to judge that Hattersley, like his old colleague Kinnock – although, as he writes in his autobiography, “we were never soul-mates”, one traditional right, one soft-left – might have erred a little in their eagerness to embrace the Miliband years. Perhaps because both of them instinctively reacted against the New Labour years as evidence that the pendulum of Labour policy had swung too far towards the Tories for either to bear, they did not seem to see the creeping rise of the far left he facilitated as a real threat, more as a natural correction back to a world they understood.

They surely do now. And, as someone at the top table during the rise of Militant, it is instructive to read the former Deputy Leader’s practical comparisons of Militant and Momentum. That is, Hattersley – and no Blairite he – should surely know.

  1. In the 1980s, moderate MPs fought back. The central pillar of Hattersley’s argument is that, during those years, there was an organised resistance to Militant among the PLP. It was there on Corbyn’s election, but seems to have all but evaporated two years later.
  2. Militant “commanded less support and was active in fewer constituencies”. In the activist base at large, that is certainly true; Momentum now has a national penetration where Militant’s was in pockets, such as the London and Liverpool parties.
  3. Militant had no trade union backing. Momentum has the backing of Britain’s largest union, Unite, with the second and third, GMB and Unison, being actively organised within to achieve the same support. Within the union movement, only a few, smaller and traditionally right-wing unions such as Usdaw and Community, are resisting.

We might add to this perhaps the most obvious point: Militant did not have a leader sympathetic to them – indeed, in the end, what is Momentum, other than a fan club for Labour’s leader? – nor a Leader’s Office happy to work the voting arithmetic in the NEC towards that organisation’s goals.


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All Labour members should watch the Wilderness Years, particularly those thinking about voting for Jeremy Corbyn

15/07/2015, 06:21:14 PM

by Frederick Cowell

In late 1995 the BBC produced an incredible four-part documentary entitled Labour the Wilderness Years. All Labour party members should watch it, particularly if the party is contemplating electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

What makes it an astonishing documentary is that by 1995 the Tory government were exploding – in the summer of that year Major had infamously resigned and fought and leadership battle with John Redwood as the Conservative parliamentary party fell apart. Off the record briefings given to Hugo Young between 1995 and 1996 showed that top ministers knew that a Labour party led by Tony Blair was about to annihilate them. Yet this documentary was produced and it told in excruciating detail Labour’s long civil war after its 1979 defeat. What makes it wonderful is that is a documentary told without out the subsequent teleology of Blair and his victories. This makes it the most vital piece of political introspection ever produced.

Listen to Roy Hattersley’s doom laden assessment of the period after 1979 – “for a number of years the Labour party was in opposition to itself” – and you get a sense of just how disastrous things became. The divisions were so bitter during those years that the party ceased to be a meaningful force in British politics.

It is Peter Shore’s assessment at the start of the first episode, that the Labour party must take “responsibility for its own failure” and he was clear that Thatcher and Thatcherism, was a result of the Labour party being ridiculous. This is perhaps the most damning verdict. Shore was a veteran left-winger but even he could see that the endless internecine warfare had created a world where Thatcher was free to win election after election by essentially being the only meaningful political choice on offer. As Hattersley continued, “we must feel some guilt” about not coming to the assistance of the most disadvantaged in society.


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Moral reform: what it should mean for Labour

26/09/2012, 10:08:14 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The moral reform that I see as vital to Labour would not abandon the traditions of mechanical reform that politicians like Roy Hattersley upheld. It would, however, recognise and adapt to the limitations of this mechanical approach. Matthew Taylor’s concept of pro-social behaviour and Marc Stears’ of active equality could be crucial to this adaptation.

But what is not needed is preachy piety. Moral reform might conjure notions of Labour politicians reaching for self-appointed hallows and demanding that others do as they say. There may be latter day Beatrice and Sidney Webbs who think they know best what people really want. This isn’t how I see Labour’s future. Nor I do hanker for my political leadership to come from the “moral arbiter of the nation”.

I do, though, think it matters that parents support their children in doing their homework and take seriously their other family responsibilities; that we take sufficient exercise and eat well enough to be physically well; that we take the actions needed to be mentally well; that we take up employment when we are physically and mentally able to do so; that instead of littering we reuse and recycle where possible; and that we avoid anti-social behaviour and destructive drink and drug taking.

It matters, in sum, that we adopt pro-social behaviour, which might be thought of as behaviour that minimises or eliminates where possible the social costs of our behaviour (“the negative externalities”) and maximises the social benefits (“the positive externalities”). The blunt truth is that we will not have the thriving schools or safer neighbourhoods or any of the things that voters say they want until more of these voters or citizens themselves behave pro-socially and become the change that they profess to want.

To recognise the responsibilities that we all have to build change is not to extricate the state of its responsibilities. Roy Hattersley noted Douglas Alexander’s praise for the minimum wage when reviewing The Purple Book, while claiming that the minimum wage is “a product of the ‘heavy-handed centralist approach’ that many other contributors to The Purple Book excoriate”. But would any of these contributors favour the abandonment of the minimum wage?


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Labour needs to choose freedom

25/09/2012, 05:18:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The success of Thatcherism did not lie in the immediate popularity of its programme, but its ability to command the cultural landscape of Britain … The most enduring threat faced by the left is not only to be perceived as an incompetent manager of the economy, but to be out of touch with major cultural advances and the contemporary zeitgeist.”

Roy Hattersley was one leading Labour figure in the 1980s with some sense at the time of the Thatcherite threat identified by Patrick Diamond.

Freedom was coming to mean whatever Margaret Thatcher wanted it to mean: freedom from regulation; freedom from taxation; freedom from any “interference” by the “tentacles” of government.

It was all about freedom from the state and, in terms of Isaiah Berlin’s well-known dichotomy, a wholly negative concept. Taking no account of what individuals were free to do, it lacked any positive content.

The alcoholic may be capable only of begging, steeling and borrowing to their next drink. But, as long as they are unhindered by the “long arm” of government, they are free. And the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose yuppie owes them nothing. They, too, are free and the freedom of all is maximised when the role of government is minimised.

Obviously, a culture that comes to understand an idea as powerful and widely attractive as freedom in such terms is predisposed to policies that are contrary to Labour’s ends. Hattersley appreciated this. As distasteful as the yuppie and as troubling as the alcoholic are, they weren’t directly his target. This was the Thatcherite account of freedom that legitimised their conduct and circumstances. What was necessary was to reconceptualise freedom.

The freedom Hattersley articulated in Choose Freedom (1987) was a Croslandite freedom. This recast freedom in positive terms and aligned it, not with a minimalist state, but with equality: enough equality of opportunity for all to be free to achieve their potential; enough equality of outcome for all to be full social participants. There is such a thing as society and a redistributive, equalising state is needed for all to be free.


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We need to stop talking to each other

04/02/2012, 12:00:32 PM

by Charlie Cadywould

David Miliband’s response to Roy Hattersley in New Statesman represents a problem that seems to be endemic to parties of the centre-left. As soon as they are voted out, parties of the centre-left have an identity crisis, and spend years discussing to whom precisely they are to try to appeal.

Hattersley tells us that Labour must go back to its roots, talking explicitly about social democratic values and the morality and efficacy of the central state. Miliband does not disagree on the importance of the central state from a policy perspective: he agrees that there are things that only government can do, and other things that only government can do fairly.

What he objects to is that narrative that Hattersley wants to construct. Miliband wants to talk about making government better, but he agrees that the state needs to do more, he just doesn’t want Labour to frame the argument in that way. Hattersley, no doubt, agrees with Miliband that government can be better, and that local government has an important role to play, but he would prefer Labour’s narrative to be unashamedly about morality and the central state. (more…)

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Common sense socialism

12/10/2011, 09:19:56 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“We are signposts of the modern kind, electronic ones flashing on the motorway, changing as the traffic or weather changes. And the people interpreting the conditions, deciding what to write on the signs, should be guided above all by common sense, by the axioms and attitudes of the people in the cars”.

Siôn Simon’s variation on Tony Benn’s dictum that there are signposts and weathervanes in politics is worth keeping in mind as the Tory-led government crawls from crisis to crisis.

While Bennites are signposts of a certain kind, “old, wooden affairs, pointing in the wrong direction, to a way through the woods so overgrown that it can scarcely be seen”, the modern Labour signpost is an altogether more interactive and adaptable affair. This ceaseless revisionism applies to both means, switching from wooden to electronic signage, as technology allows, and the contemporary meaning of our ends. (more…)

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