Author Archives: Pete Radcliff

My speech to 2015 Party conference on restoring trade union rights

Pete Radcliff , Broxtowe CLP speaking in favour of Composite 3 into which the motion of my constituency was incorporated 

Our trade union movement faces a battle for its life over the next few years. It is likely that we will again see trade unionists facing criminal charges and imprisonment for trying to defend their members.

But the problems of our trade union movement don’t only lie in the future they also lie in the past.

For years they have been trying to defend their members with their hands tied behind their back.

We have had to keep our union databases up to date with our members addresses and exact location of work – the smallest discrepancies have been used to discount the results of our costly postal ballots.

We have had to dodge any categorization of our strikes as political even though our members needed to defend themselves from the political actions of the government and their employers.

We are denied taking action in support of other workers, even though they may work alongside us and we share their problems.

Sympathy action, solidarity action, political action should be the democratic right of our trade unionists. Instead they are all currently illegal.

It is our duty to support workers who have difficulties defending themselves because of their responsibilities.

One of the proudest actions I ever took as a trade unionist was to have taken strike action – in the steel industry before Thatcher as near as damn destroyed it – in support of nurses and hospital workers in 1981.

The right to take such action was taken away from us during Thatcher’s onslaught on our rights.

We should celebrate the desire of workers to demonstrate solidarity in our movement.

We should not allow it to be remain illegal.

Our trade union movement should have had – and should have again – the right to question and take action against the political actions of their bosses.

Whether it be the privatisation of our services or the provision of arms and support to the prisons of the fascist, flogging and beheading Saudi Arabia -our trade unionists – our trade unions should have the right to take action.

And on that matter, can I applaud the actions of Jetemy Corbyn for speaking out against the Ministry of Justice’s contract to supply the Saudi prison system. For ISIS are not the only ones beheading and crucifying in the Middle East. Today, tomorrow or soon we may see yet another such atrocity on another young opponent of the Saudi regime.

Our trade unionists have the right, if they choose, to take solidarity action.

Democracy is not just votes in parliament – democratic rights, trade union rights should be the right of every worker.

Our trade unions as they move forward against this insidious Trade Union Bill need to know that this Party is behind them – and that we will restore the rights taken away from them in the days of Thatcher as well.

Let’s be clear in our support for them today. Please unanimously pass the motion.

Solidarity

Advertisements

Labour Conference 2015 – halfway house 

IMG_2068The annual Labour Party conference takes place in Brighton from 27th-30th September. It comes just 2 weeks after the dramatic winning of the Labour leadership by Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour Annual conference over the years has changed away from anything recognizable as a working class political conference. The preparation and the documents were mostly drafted before the Blairites were aware of their forthcoming defeat. So in the official programme there are dozens of business-sponsored meetings advertised with (former) front bench spokespersons invited to speak. Included in the sponsors of such meetings are key agents of privatisation: ATOS, Deloitte, KPMG, G4S etc.

Chuka Umunna, still titled as the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, is listed about 10 times as speaking or being invited to speak. Chris Leslie is listed several times speaking as ‘Shadow Chancellor’.

The new Party leadership has not had the opportunity to pulp the inaccurate programme never mind formulate changes to the conference’s procedures. Those changes will need to come later in the year and the campaign to change the Party will need to come as soon as this conference is over. For the Party conference has to debate thoroughly the policies on which Corbyn won the election as well as others that have so far been declared.

Until the views of the membership can be forcefully expressed in this way, Blairites within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will have the maximum leeway to divide the Party and undermine Corbyn.

We need to discuss nuclear disarmament, promoting workers unity, anti-austerity and workers right in the UK and across the EU, the opening up of Britain and Europe to migrants and refugees; the crisis in the Middle East and the defeat of religious sectarianism, dictatorship and the denial of national rights to oppressed nationalities such as the Palestinians and the Kurds.

The week-end’s conference won’t do much in getting through this agenda. Only 4 motions are allowed from CLPs to discuss at conference and they have to jump thorough many obstacles to make it to the conference floor.

Rule changes have been submitted by CLPs to increase the number of resolutions and amount of time given to have such discussions, but these will either be opposed by the right wing or prevented going forward onto the agenda. How many get through is uncertain.

So don’t expect a radically changed Party because of this conference’s deliberations. For that we need to not only overthrow the old procedures but also to make the delegates more representative of the new Labour Party that is now forming.

Even more so than at the Special Conference 2 weeks earlier the delegations will have been decided many months ago. So although there will be a slight shift to the left, the conference will more be an opportunity to measure how the centre-ground of the Party has changed.

We can hope that the trade union delegations – again which will not have changed hugely from earlier years – will be prepared to demand more from the Party in clear pro-working class actions.

So expect some successes but don’t expect the other half – yet – of the revolution that saw Corbyn elected. Before we get that, we need to organise the left of the Party on the ground throughout the country. We need to get campaigning and debating – renovating the Party organisations with the new recruits and the new enthusiasm. But most of all we need to discuss how we can defeat this government now and replace it with a workers government as soon as possible. That will take more than 2 weeks to achieve but we cannot leave it for long

On what issues will the Blairites defy the Corbyn whip?

I guess that the synchronized refusal by the Blairites to serve on the front bench is a declaration that there will be regular defiance of the whip. But when people break the whip – it is not usually a light-minded thing. It risks disciplinary action by the party – although such a centralized coercive act is unlikely from Corbyn. But more importantly it risks alienating your own party members. Defying the whip is not an individualistic expression that your view is more important than the Party. To be successful it has to be a statement of principle – talking over the heads of the party to the membership and to the public and getting their support and respect.

I am trying to think what the Blairites principled statements might be and whom they think will be impressed by them.

Whilst almost every rebelling left MP in the past could expect to be supported by his/ her local Party, where do our possible Blairite rebels expect to get their support?

Certainly not on domestic issues of union rights or welfare cuts? Or did they not notice that the disastrous abstention on welfare cuts is what finished off Andy Burnham.

Perhaps on foreign policy or Trident? It is true that Corbyn’s policy is pacifistic and incomplete. But what alternative will they or the Tories offer? And do they expect the new party membership or the public to support a new war in Syria without a goal and whilst backing Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s anti-democratic activities there.

The EU? Corbyn looks as though he will be not calling to leave the EU but to change it. There needs to be, and will be, a full discussion in the Party first. But will the Blairites point of principle be tacking to the right of Corbyn on immigration. Will they mobilize the Party and public against the leader Corbyn around the infamous ‘Control Immigration’ slogan. 

But as the public watches and weeps at the plight of the refugees and migrants, they would also have to call for mass heart transplants.

Or will they make a point of principle having an alliance in the referendum with the Tories as in the Better Together campaign. Party members everywhere are furious with that stupid charade that ruined Labour in Scotland.

So the threats of regular whip defiance may only isolate the Blairites further – they need to think very carefully about it.

Never forget Chile

We all know one terrible anniversary of 9/11 or 11/9 but there is of course another one: that of the bloody overthrow of the Popular Unity government in Chile in 1973.Because of its democracy, Chile was known in those days as the ‘England’ of South America.

As we start to speculate again on the possibilities of a left wing government in Britain, we need to look at how the wonderfully popular government of Salvador Allende was undermined and overthrown in a brutal military coup leading to 5,000 deaths including that of the president – by international (US) business and by the capitalists and military of Chile.

We should never be intimidated by the memory of Chile but we should be always aware of the malicious intent and capabilities of some of the most powerful people in this world

Where next after the Corbyn for leader campaign?

In addition to my views here you will find a short compilation underneath it of  the views of friends and comrades who have been also campaigning for a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. My thanks to all of them.

Corbyn in Sheffield

Corbyn in Sheffield

I have been travelling to a number of towns over the last few days talking to party members and others about what is going on in their local Labour Parties. And discussing with them what will be necessary to do after the leadership elections are over.

Of course, if Jeremy doesn’t win – and there is still a chance of that – then things will be very different. But there will be tens of thousands of energetic new activists and the possibilities of many thousands more – win or lose.

The biggest problem is the state of the constituencies. An unprecedented number of constituency parties (152) nominated Jeremy. Some were like my own in Broxtowe, where the majority of branch officers and all the constituency officers backed Corbyn as did the members at the nomination meeting by a clear first majority.

But then there are other constituency parties (CLPs) which nominated Corbyn but where the constituency officers were against him. These party officers were probably somewhat alarmed by the mobilization of old members and the joining of new left wing members that was often dramatically first seen at the nomination meetings. Where might these new members take those parties and what would they now expect from their representatives?

Then there are the many other constituency nomination meetings, often very small, where the officers and MPs got nominations through for their preferred candidates.

And also there are a surprising number of CLPs in special measures – particularly it appears in the West Midlands. And then there are constituencies where branches don’t meet and function or where the constituency meetings have no democratic structures. Up to now Party members have been unable to get the Labour Party Regional Officers or NEC to get to grips with situations like this. Those bodies wanted to keep either the MPs or influential local councillors happy – and they were happier if the local Party was inactive rather that there was any activity that might be critical of them.

So enthusiastic Corbyn supporters will find themselves in hugely different situations in the constituency parties they join. Some will find themselves welcomed into parties anxious to get stuck into campaigning for working class rights and against austerity, racism and nationalism. Others join Parties where local bureaucracies are not overjoyed by their desire for an open Party and clear policies and actions against the Tories. Still many others will find that their branch parties and constituency parties are effectively non-existent!

Even if Corbyn is elected and there is an increased desire to get Party organisations functioning by the leadership and less obstacles are possible by the NEC and Regional Offices – that could take precious months to progress.

So the newly forming left in the Party will need to support activists in all of these situations. It will need to be able to democratically co-ordinate outside the party apparatus.

Democratically – because as Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out this has to be a movement based on policies not on personalities. It is essential that that is not lost.

One of our greatest challenges in the Corbyn campaign is to make rally-goers into activists.

Rallies are good for morale, as are demonstrations, but the Blairites are clear about their intentions. They intend to continually and publicly malign Corbyn and the left – doing whatever they can to damage Labour in the opinion polls. We need to get outside the existing circles of activists to confront that.

Rallies lift spirits but they are not the best way of getting to those who have been alienated from the Labour Party for decades and we need to win back. And yes, of course, we have to win back those who have drifted to the Greens and SNP on the left. But also there are the huge numbers mystified by all of politics and disoriented – and they are often pulled to UKIP and the right.

We have known for a long time and the Labour Party in its own research made clear that UKIP voters aren’t hardened racists, although such evidence was largely ignored by the Blairites. Many of those voters have concerns about growing poverty, the lack of housing and decently paid jobs. In the absence of any party addressing these issues with any urgency – and given crude racist ways of encapsulating their concerns by the press and racists in all parties – they have been pulled towards UKIP.

We can pull those people back – both on the left and on the confused ‘right’. It will be done by running high-profile campaigns that win gains for working class people whenever we can – outside of elections. We need to demonstrate that we can not only talk optimistically about the future but fight in the here and now and win.

It will be done by explaining in one-to-one conversations on doorsteps and stalls what the politics of the pro-working class left in the Party are.

We need good campaigning materials that help us with the above and lots of activists involved in such activity.

And we will have to face up to the fact that this will need to be done in spite of media hostility, with prominent Blairites, with ready access to the press, attacking us again and again. This is doing damage already to the Labour Party in the opinion polls and unless we get well-organised it will continue to do so.

So how can we organise?

We have to do so on a town-by-town and constituency-by-constituency basis. And in many CLPs that will be difficult. There are vested interests in some of them, who will try and maintain their political power-base by obstructing new member involvement and any conversion of supporters into full members.

And we have to debate. That tradition has been stomped on in much of the Party and it is weak in the wider left, which has had a recent diet of nothing other than rallies and demonstrations.

And that debate will need to be both local and national. Corbyn will come under incredible pressure from the right in the Parliamentary Party (PLP). We will need a vigorous independent left to counteract that pressure.

And democracy is key.

There will be many views that have to be debated in the Party after decades of near silence. My own view is that Corbyn’s policies on the economy don’t go far enough. But even if they did, we must organise in the industries that we want renationalised or increasingly regulated to make sure that bosses and businesses can’t undermine the purpose of those renationalisations.

On international issues Corbyn’s policies have understandably been greeted on the left as a breath of fresh air – which indeed they are after the slavish following of US foreign policy – based on keeping happy the powerful capitalist interests in the arms, oil and other profit-making industries.

But whilst Corbyn clearly dismisses direct military interventions by Western governments in places like Iraq and Syria – his policy is pacifistic and does not explain who can defeat the fascist IS/ Daesh. The Kurdish community in UK particularly want him to go further than his condemnation of the Turkish government’s attacks upon them and support their secular militias fighting against the Daesh in Northern Syria/ Rojava. We should support the Kurdish people with that demand.

Whilst Corbyn calls for 2 states in Palestine and Israel – his approach is that of a well-meaning diplomat wanting to pull the various parties into negotiations and avoiding a clear condemnation for fear of giving offense. We have to recognise that not only the racist government in Israel are war-mongers and an obstacle to peace, so are the Hamas leaders in Gaza. We have to oppose not only both governments’ war-mongering but also their attacks on the democratic rights of their own people and in this regard Hamas is even worse than the Israeli government.

But above all we have to take working class politics into the very heart of working class communities. In the early 80s, this was neglected. The left, despite not taking the leadership of the Party, did take hold of a great many CLPs. But it did not build factory branches as it had been allowed to do; it did insufficient work in supporting workers fighting back against Thatcher – at least until the miners strike of 84 when the consequences of defeat dawned on them; it didn’t develop a fighting policy against the Tories’ attacks on council services.

The Party needs to get into the workplaces and into the working class communities. Corbyn’s victory, if it happens, will not be the place to sit back on our laurels – it is where the battle will seriously begin.

Addendum – 15:25, 31st Aug

One thing I missed above is the urgent need for constitutional reform in the party. here are some essential features of it

  • Welcoming all working people into the Party who want Labour to be successful in elections
  • Lifting the bans on those who have in the past supported various protests votes. An end to exclusions on the basis of beliefs or ‘values’ – free speech in the Party.
  • An end to proscriptions and bans on those who campaign for alternative policies as long as they support a Labour vote
  • Bringing  proper democracy debate back into the Party and restoring Party Conference  as the sovereign policy-making body of the Party
  • All MPs to be required to go through mandatory reselection between elections
  • To make the Labour Party quite clearly the party of trade unionism and to invite all unions to affiliate and be given a meaningful role in the decision and policy making process

These are some of the comments shared with me by other Labour activists. They reveal how from many angles, the challenge for leadership and hopefully the victory of Corbyn has completely changed the expectations and landscape of socialist politics in this country. My thanks to all those who offered them.


Corbyn has opened up a discussion about women’s rights ignored and at times derided by many Westminster politicians. I have seen a lot of positivity and hope in the feminist community. Hope that these words will finally turn into actions, and that we will see issues from equal pay, to violence against women, to domestic policy and childcare finally given the attention they deserve.

Lisa Clarke

Feminist activist and Broxtowe CLP campaign officer


I would like to see a massive fundraising campaign organised for the next general election, we can have brilliant policies and great activists but we will need huge sums of money to ensure Jeremy and a socialist government can become a reality. I think we would attract new affiliations and re-affiliations.

Cheryl Pidgeon

Labour parliamentary candidate for South Derbyshire in May 2015


We need to form a strong, united left movement in the CLPs and trade unions as quickly as possible to fight for our politics and resist any coup attempts from the right.

Daniel Nichols

Activist, Romford CLP


We need to be promoting extensive reform in how our entire governance system works. Corbyn wants widespread consultation with members and a bottom-up approach to policy – perhaps this could be the first thing under discussion. Under our current system politics is horribly under-representative, partly because selection processes are unfairly skewed to give the wealthy an advantage (time off work, expensive printing costs for leaflets). It also effectively means that those with young children need to either leave them with an alternative family carer, assuming one’s available, pay for an expensive nanny, or move their entire family to London which is incredibly expensive. Second home provision is for a one-bed flat, which you can’t really use to accommodate children unless they’re very young. Until these problems are addressed, and more besides, we’ll never be truly representative and the working classes as well as women with children but without networks/resources will continue to be effectively locked out of Parliament.

Lisa Banes, Sheffield Labour Activist


We need to try to build a united left front within the party and linking with TUs, harnessing the massive enthusiasm that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has generated and I hope, linking it with Red Red Labour. I’ve heard many signed up Labour ‘supporters’ say that they’ll join the party if JC wins. Even if he doesn’t win, the ideas have been unleashed and nothing will ever be the same again. We need to encourage people to join anyway and to emphasise the need for activism in branches and CLPs to keep socialist values and policies on the agenda everywhere. We can support members to do that. Also, we won’t all agree on everything but let’s please try not to split into factions.

Diane Jones

Red Labour Newcastle


Corbyn won’t get far IMO without a big, broad, active unified campaign behind him, broad enough to include elements of the Labour right and inspiring enough to galvanise ex-Labour voters including UKIP- and stubbornly resistant non-voters, those eligible to vote but unregistered, etc.

Simon Heywood,

Chesterfield Labour and UCU officer


My focus would be on the importance of reframing the economic debate from the dominant economic/political language which has been framed in neoliberal terms for decades. It has been a very cleverly executed transformation and so even politicians who want change and are proposing radical ideas are still stuck in the neoliberal framing of deficit reduction and book balancing which cannot facilitate a new way of thinking.

Prue Plumridge

CLP Secretary, Maldon CLP


We need to organize collectively in our CLPs and in our communities, and ensure the Party hierarchy doesn’t use “politics as usual” dirty tricks to undermine the largest democratic mandate ever given to a leader of the Labour Party.

Cllr Chris Spence

Red Labour Stoke

Corbyn’s economic policies are a break with neo-liberalism but are they enough?

After all you hear from the camps of the other candidates for the Labour leadership and the media about his economic policies, you might believe that Corbyn was threatening to storm the Westminster Palace and the Bank of England with his Red Guards.

The proposals for renationalisation of the rail network and a gradual takeover of the private energy corporations are classified as ‘old policies’ by Corbyn’s opponents who attempt to portray them as unpopular.

Corbyn’s policies would indeed have been mainstream in the 60s, 70s and 80s – prior to the Blairite adoption of the monetarist, pro-market policies of the Tories.jeremy-corbyn-john-mcdonnell-interview-election-2015-labour-party-674-1429542424

But have things changed? The wasteful competition, the absence of accountability and the huge profits of the private companies that have taken over the rail, utilities and telecommunication industries are widely known. And unlike in the U.S. there is also a memory, however nostalgic, that things weren’t always like this and shouldn’t be like that now.

So the Blairites’ unexplained designation of them as ‘unpopular’ therefore makes little sense to working class people who are joining the Labour Party in their tens of thousands. And Corbyn’s policies are far more popular than the other contenders and there is little doubt that in spite of the media attacks they could win an election.

The problem I have with Jeremy’s policies is that they don’t go far enough. Why are the hugely profitable and competitively wasteful telecommunication industries also not brought back into public ownership? And why do we need to ‘buy back’ these industries that have already made excessive profits over the years at the peoples expense? Why don’t we bring ALL the banks under democratic public control?

But another problem I have with Jeremy’s policies is that it also underestimates the obstructions that might be put in the way of a government trying to reverse the Tories overwhelmingly privatised economy.

The book ‘A Very British Coup’ has been recently reversioned by former MP Chris Mullin. It is a book written at the time when the left got close to taking the leadership of the Labour Party in 1981. It is flawed in many ways but it does highlight the sabotage that the ‘establishment’ – the senior civil service, powerful well-connected capitalists and media moguls are capable of.

And that is why any programme of re-nationalisations needs to also advocate democratic workers’ control of those industries and the need to mobilise workers at every level of society.

Public ownership is not enough. Look at some of the heads of those industries in the past – Ian McGregor who first demolished the British Steel Corporation and then the National Coal Board when Thatcher was in power. But even more recently look at Bob Kiley, who was appointed by Ken Livingstone to run London Transport on a very high salary and who had a very poor relationship with tube workers under his management.

Regulation of private and profit-driven corporations would face even greater problems of being frustrated by powerful senior civil servant and capitalists with their own vested interests.

So the issue of who controls and for what purpose has to go hand-in-hand with who owns them and how they are regulated.

However the restoration of workers’ and trade union rights is a unique and positive element of Corbyn’s programme. As also is the desire of both him and John McDonnell MP, possibly the Shadow Chancellor under Corbyn, to have a thorough-going debate in the Labour Party.

The way forward is not only to end the domination of the Labour Party by pro-market politicians – we need further debate on how we ensure that workers can be involved in rebuilding an economy run for the needs of the people and not for profit.

The left didn’t lose in 1983 – it wasn’t even leading the Party

There have been numerous commentators criticising Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party left’s ability to win a general election.

Most of these have come from the right both from within the Labour Party and outside of it. But they have also come from those advocating that the left should immerse itself within new radical coalitions with liberals and nationalists and essentially diminish its identity as an internationalist and working class force.

One of these writers, Jeremy Gilbert, rehashes the ideas that were earlier promoted by the Communist Party under Martin Jacques, which hacked to death the brilliant writings of Italian revolutionary Gramsci in promoting their ‘Post Fordism’ approach. (Jeremy Gilbert, “What hope for Labour and the left? The election, the 80s and ‘aspiration’”, OpenDemocracy). Gilbert criticises Benn and the ‘hard left’ for being “almost completely hostile to the idea that fundamental changes in the nature, scope, technologies and institutions of global capitalism were going to have any significant political implications.”

Instead of fighting against the destruction of jobs in the major industries – Gilbert argues that instead the left in the 80s should have argued “for democratic reform of the British state, for proportional representation, or for democratic coalitions of different political groups and forces.”

He does express a wish for Corbyn to win. But not because Corbyn could lead Labour in radically changing Britain in the interests of the working class. Instead he says “Corbyn’s leadership would indeed be the beginning of the end for Labour; but that in the long term that might be a good thing.”

Gilbert goes on to argue Corbyn could be PM only if he came to “some kind of deal with UKIP and SNP to elect a government which would promise to introduce proportional representation, and then hold further elections” which Gilbert argues that he “would love to see happen personally”. He adds that Corbyn’s “election as Labour leader could be part of a process of change which would have good results eventually” but only “10 years or further down the road”.

However Gilbert’s proposals would be disastrous for the pro-Corbyn left that is forming and it is based on a completely inaccurate account of the Bennite battle in the 80s.

Gilbert and the right argue that a left-wing led Labour Party would be unelectable in 2020 as it was in 1983

Almost all of these arguments are based on a crude and uninformed analysis of the 1983 election. Gilbert repeats most of them and his inaccuracies pretty much reflect the inaccuracies extensively repeated elsewhere

The most glaring inaccuracy is that Labour had a left-wing leadership in 1983. No it didn’t, the 79-81 revolt had pretty much ended up in a draw. Left-wingers had taken over much, but not all, of the Party’s constituency organisations. The leadership of the Party, Foot and Denis Healey were however seriously discredited members of the 74-79 Labour government. Foot was elected by the PLP as Leader before the democratic reforms came in. Denis Healey, Labour Chancellor and enforcer of the IMF-demanded cuts in 76 had won the Deputy Leadership.(see footnote)

Michael Foot retained some popularity for having been the main thorn in the side of the Labour government in the 60s. On occasion he was an inspiring speaker. But he was seriously compromised by his involvement in the ‘Social Contract’ of 74-79. I worked at the time in the steel industry and his apologies for closures of steel works in his own South Wales was never forgotten. Brave, as well as a foolish, man that Foot could be, he spoke to mass meetings of steelworkers where there were repeated and long heckles shouted to him as ‘traitor’.

So we didn’t have a competent and coherent leadership but that had nothing to do with it being ‘left-wing’.

The damage of a split

Commentators also argue that the move to the left in the party let to a serious split in the Labour membership – according to Jeremy Gilbert a ‘large fraction’ of the membership left. Again this is wrong.

There was the Gang of Four breakaway of MPs but the proportion of members they took was miniscule. Even the right-wing in my own constituency Nottingham East CLP, who were one of the most right-wing in the country supporting Jack Dunnett – the only pro-hanging MP in the Party, even they stayed in the Party.

The SDP took perhaps 5% of the passive membership but they weren’t even noticed. The SDP were still damaging but essentially because they were a national media phenomenon. The problem was that the left had not built up the organisational means of opposing them and the party leadership were incapable of dealing firmly with their arguments in the media.

The so-called ‘longest suicide note’

The party had a radical manifesto – yes it did, in a number of ways. But that manifesto was not fought for by the leaders and the issues in the manifesto were not particularly the ones that we had lost voters on.

There had been the Falklands War – ‘the war to save Thatcher’s face’ as it was  accurately described as. Despite Labour’s ‘civil war’ she was very low in the opinion polls at the time. That war should have been denounced as demonstrating Thatcher’s indifference to the terrible casualties of war – instead it was used to stoke nationalist reaction. Foot supported the war, a war where the number of dead was of the same order of magnitude as those who actually lived in the occupied Falkland islands, rather than looking for a less bloody way to end the occupation by the army of the Argentinian fascist general Galtieri. See this article and comments for correction from original. After finding the ‘enemy without’, of course Thatcher was later to start on the ‘enemy within’.

The other major reason that Thatcher was successful in the 1983 election was because she started the sell off of council houses. I remember this particularly well as I had heated arguments with my fellow steelworkers, most of whom lived in the council estate built around the steel works in Kirk Hallam. They had seen their rents go up for the previous decade and the bribe to buy their house at knock-down prices and temporarily low mortgages was difficult for many of them to refuse. It was a difficult argument to have. It would have been helped by a Party commitment to restore council funding and financing to allow the low rents of the 60s and 70s to brought back. But no such promise was made and the demolition of our council stock was started that probably most of us recognise as the primary problem in the current high cost of working class housing.

The one manifesto issue of the left that did cause serious electoral problems was the one about nuclear disarmament – coming after the recent jingoistic celebration of victory against Argentina, a sensible debate of militarism and war was difficult. Again that had been a conference victory but it didn’t have leadership support. Although Foot did argue for it to go in the manifesto. But there was no explanation of it.

So yes, the Labour leadership did contribute to the 1983 defeat but not by their left wing actions but by their right wing ones. They did it by 1) allowing the nationalism of the Falklands War to go unchallenged by 2) by failing to explain what was wrong with selling off our council house stock and how rents would be brought down 3) by having a policy on unilateralism in the manifesto that they were unprepared to fight for.

In retrospect – with all we have seen about a) the lies of Thatcher on and the stupidity of the Falklands war and b) the contribution to our housing problems of the loss of council houses from the 80s onwards – it would be interesting to know if those saying that we were too ‘left’ in 1983 could argue that by taking a more right wing policy over those years would have been the correct thing to do.

However the truth is that neither the party leadership nor the election campaign were particularly ‘left’ at all in 1983. The real left of the Party, that had a lot of influence in councils, was mercilessly attacked elsewhere by the media for advocating gay rights in education and elsewhere in their council jurisdiction; for advocating talking to Sinn Fein after their party the death of Bobby Sands on hunger strike.

But again in retrospect were such policies wrong? No, they weren’t – they just failed to be supplemented with crucial other activities and policies.

The period of 79-84 was one of fierce class conflict. Many arguments took place in the Party about whether the Party organisations should be alongside those struggles. In one famous article Peter Tatchell, then the Labour parliamentary candidate in Bermondsey, had called for the party to give its support to extra-parliamentary struggles. After an attack on Peter by the press, he was then publicly and stupidly denounced by Michael Foot in parliament. At the same time Peter was of course being gay-baited by the Liberal Party. It was a spectacular low point of a misled Labour Party.

But the real problem with both the 1983 election and the 1987 election was that the Labour Party was not speaking enough on the everyday issues that affected working class people. That doesn’t enter into Gilbert’s evaluation. He doesn’t criticise the Party for not doing enough to stop the “decline in manufacturing industry in the global north”. Instead he merely argues that it should be noted as a reason to move away from class politics to constitutional liberalism.

But the real problem was that the Party didn’t fight enough against de-industrialisation and the destruction of the steel, mining and manufacturing industries – particularly important in the steel industry that I worked in and that I made reference to above on Michael Foot’s record.

The Party NEC had organised a couple of demonstrations against unemployment. One actually during the deputy leadership debate in Liverpool, which attracted close to 100,000 working class people. As an example of the positive effects of this, we filled a 45 seater coach load of members go from my 800-strong union branch in the steel works in the East Midlands where I worked – partly I have to admit they went to see the left celebrity of the day Pat Phoenix (“Elsie Tanner”) of Coronation Street, who was speaking.

But the Party leaders and the NEC didn’t later promote popular campaigns such as those on the crisis in housing in East London as Peter Tatchell was calling for. It didn’t support any mass campaign to defy and stop the trade union legislation being ripped up and rewritten by the Thatcherites.

The real political inadequacies of the ‘hard left’ membership

Not all the problems were however in the soft left/ right wing leadership of the Party in these years – the Bennite opposition had its inadequacies. But the problems were the very opposite of what Gilbert argues. There were too few of them prepared to take the radicalism of the left in the Party into the unions. One example was when the NEC took a good decision to allow workplace branches to be formed.

A large proportion of the radical left that flowed into the Party at that time were those who had come from the radicalisations in the universities of ten years earlier. A very few like myself took the decision to go and work in factories – but most got jobs where they were in ‘white collar unions’ as they were known at the time. Those unions, like NALGO, ASTMS and the NUT were getting increasingly left-wing and militant. There were many excellent trade union activists who came from those unions into the Party. But many of the Bennite supporters were inactive in unions and had little understanding of their importance. There was also a huge gap in political culture between them and the so-called ‘blue collar’ unions such as the T&GWU, AEU, NUR who were less evident in the Party membership. The NUM was somewhat different and there was a more fluid relationship between the Party and the NUM in pit villages.

The Communist Party (CP) was still powerful in those blue collar unions before it rationalised its own collapse with its ‘Post Fordism’ nonsense. It organised such ‘lefts’ as existed in those unions – it had ‘fellow travellers’ in the Labour Party but it never encouraged workers to join the Labour Party for sectarian reasons. The SWP, who had a small penetration into those unions was also sectarian to the developments in the Labour Party and continually called on people to leave rather than join.

The decision of the NEC to allow factory branches could have been a way of reconnecting with those workers. But it was insufficiently promoted by the Labour Party, not supported by the CP and much of the left wing Labour Party membership, whilst passionate about nuclear disarmament, had weak relations and understanding of the organised trade union movement. A lot of them were educated by support for the great miners strike of 2 years later but by that time the right and centre left had reorganised around Kinnock and his rising star adviser Peter Mandelson.

The left in the Party from 81 to 83 were, in a nutshell, too influenced by the ideas that Gilbert rehashes in his article – about moving away from class politics. In so far as the ‘left’ contributed to the lost election of 83 that was the reason.

We need to dismiss proposals from the likes of Gilbert to move yet again away from class politics. We need to get out there stopping the evictions of bedroom tax victims, organising battles against venal landlords, arguing for an extension of council housing, unionising the low paid, reconnecting with union members in the private sector, defending the right to strike, pushing the TUC to get off its knees and fighting against the near abolition of legal trade unionism, fighting against the rising tide of racism and nationalism.

That’s the way for the left to go forward in the Party.

Footnote
In the first draft I mistakenly reported that Foot was unanimously elected as Leader by the PLP – there was a 4 way contest and Foot closely beat Healey at the end of it.