History consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions.
History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.
I don’t propose to give any credence to the full gist of Polly Toynbee’s ridiculous article, but there are a couple of points I would want to make. Firstly, I disagree with my MP, John Spellar, on many, many issues. However, his loathing for the Lib Dems is one of his plus points, and I’m pleased to see that he still reserves more bile for them than he does for the Labour left.
The second point is the throwaway remark by Toynbee at the start of the article that “in 1981, despairing of the ability of the leadership of Michael Foot to halt the Bennites' wrecking tactics and the many Militant coups, the Gang of Four - Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers - split away to offer a better social-democratic challenge to Margaret Thatcher.” There you are, that was the reason, they had a “social democratic vision” and wanted to stop the left wrecking the Party they loved (or should that be controlled).
Did they? What were these ‘Bennite wrecking tactics’? Oh yes, I remember, they were about democracy in the Labour Party. Following the defeat in the 1979 General Election the Party in the country became embroiled in an intense debate about how the Party was run. These constitutional arguments centred around extending the franchise for the election of Leader and Deputy Leader rather than just MPs having a vote, mandatory reselection of MPs to try to ensure accountability (before this ‘wrecking’ measure was introduced an MP in a safe Labour seat held the job for life as long as s/he could sweet talk a couple of dozen people on the General Management Committee) and allowing the Party NEC control over the election manifesto (both Wilson and Callaghan claimed they had a personal veto over elements in the manifesto that they did not support.
Now, there is a valid argument about how New Labour has been successful in reclaiming the power of the leadership over the Party, but the fact that a number of right-leaning Labour MPs around David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Poppins and Bill Rogers decided to throw their rattle out of the pram because they may be held accountable to the wider Party, can be continually dressed up as “wrecking tactics” by their opponents is just utter rubbish. The reality is the founders of the Social Democrat Party formed their own organisation because they were frightened of …. Democracy.