After the fall of the Callaghan administration in 1979, we got it in the neck. It was the trade unions, led by ‘firebrand’ left wing general secretaries (oh, if only) that created the chaos of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ and brought down the government. If only those on the left had encouraged trade union members to accept Healey’s pay cuts and IMF redundancy packages, everything would have been alright.
In 1983, it wasn’t the Falklands War that turned Thatcher from the most despised Prime Minister in history to the glorious war leader and gave the Tories a seciond term they hadn't expected. It was the left, of course. All that guff in the Manifesto about ‘a fundamental redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families’, that’s what turned the voters against us. I mean, why would working people and their families be interested in that sort of rubbish. It was described (by Hattersley, I think) as “the longest suicide note in history”. It was, of course the left that got the blame for splitting the Party and driving those prototype Blairites, Owen, Rogers, Poppins and Jenkins into the SDP.
When Kinnock lost hopelessly in 1987 and (to a lesser extent 1993) it was the infighting in the Party by the left, the Militiant in particular, that took the brunt of the blame. The left’s insistence that MPs should be reselected each electoral cycle instead of having a job for life was clearly divisive. The notion of giving members a say in policy, and who their leaders should be was clearly absurd and designed to split the Party and alienate the voters.
When Blair won the leadership, he carried on the theme. It was Clause 4 that turned off the voters, despite the fact that probably less than one in 10,000 could tell you what it was or what it said. It was Clause 4 that lost us those elections, and it had to go. It was the debate over Clause 4 that gave Blair the power he has exercised over the Party ever since. He continued his ‘modernisation’ New Labour pro-business right-wing agenda from that day onward with a renewed vigour. That was the moment the Party and the trade unions should have stood up to be counted and said, “you’re talking crap”.
But… they didn’t. The unions (oh yes, those left-wing barons, now re-invented as the Party’s saviours) battered and bruised by Thatcher, Tebbit and Heseltine for all those years, backed off from supporting the left, and Blair’s Clause 4 moment cemented his power over the Party.
However… it is still the left who are to blame. Despite not having a vaguely ‘left’ led Party since Attlee’s Government nationalised the major industries and created the NHS nearly 60 years ago (when they were rewarded by a record number of votes, despite a much smaller electorate than we have now) we are still to blame.
I’ve had e-mails in the last couple of weeks from various eccentrics who obviously don’t understand the interactivity of the ‘comments’ box, and a fair amount of abuse from people who usually hide behind ridiculous blog names such as ‘Dick Cheney’ … at least, I think it’s an invented name, but who knows. Their argument is that it’s the left’s fault (highly original, hey?). If only we resigned from the Party and left it to the Blairites… that would do it. You see, by staying in the Party we are legitimising Labour and Blair. If we left, and did nothing (Lordy, that would really upset him) we could sit by our computers, invent silly names for ourselves, and call Tony Blair names until we were blue in the mouth…. And hey presto, he would resign.
I’ll try, one last time to explain. It’s my position, not that of others on the left, so don’t blame ‘the left’ for it. My roots and background are in the trade union movement. The trade unions, as the only organised force of the working class, are intrinsically linked to the Labour Party. The day they go, I go too. I could take individual action, spout exactly the same views, and because I am well known locally, I might win as an independent and I could still represent people round here. All my instincts, however, are collective. Yes, I support the concept of individual liberties and freedoms, but I also believe in collective action. When my brothers and sisters in the labour movement finally judge they have had enough of fighting inside Labour, I’ll go with them.
Those that don’t like it, just lump it, because calling me names behind your computer screen ain’t gonna work. We’re used to taking the blame.