Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A broken reed

This Friday, BBC Parliament is planning to screen 11 hours of coverage of the 1983 General Election, the one that has gone down in history as the point at which when moribund Old Labour finally committed suicide, although in truth the stricken patient lingered on until Neil Kinnock finally put it out of its misery at Bournemouth in 1985.

I was at uni in London during the course of that election and my most abiding memory of it was a visit by Michael Foot to a West London housing estate where large numbers of students then lived.

As Footie tottered into view, a bearded Labour activist suddenly started bellowing at the top of his voice: "Michael, save us from this woman," as if he were imploring Christ to come down from heaven and vanquish the devil and all his works.

The idea of this pathetic old man acting as any kind of saviour in the face of the irresistable force of nature that was Thatcher struck me as a telling metaphor for the Labour Party's weakness at the time.

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Stephen said...

I suspect that your comments about Michael Foot say more about your own immaturity at the time than any keen political judgement. Michael Foot took on an impossible task in rescuing Labour from the damage that had been inflicted by Callaghan. I'm afraid that Callaghan made Gordon Brown look decisive and competent. It was Callaghan who preferred to turn a blind eye to the rise of Militant within Labour, for which he had the brass neck to blame Foot. It is worth remembering that Maggie was rescued in the polls by the Falkland War; without that it is uncertain whether she would have gained a second term.
As for Kinnock, he was terminally unelectable.

Paul Linford said...

Far be it from me to challenge my elders and betters, but I take issue with that. Jim Callaghan was a good Prime Minister. He inherited a very sticky economic situation from Harold Wilson, and a Commons majority of three, yet together with Denis Healey as Chancellor, and with the support of the David Steel's Liberals between 1977 and 1978, actually managed to deliver two years of stable and humane government which, incidentally, pre-figured Thatcherism in terms of Healey's tight control of monetary policy. The fact that he is now by and large only remembered for the Winter of Discontent that followed is a great historical injustice.

Callaghan's major failings as a politician were essentially tactical: he failed to hold an election in the autumn of 1978 when it probably would have delivered a hung Parliament rather than an outright Thatcher victory; and he hung on as leader for too long after the '79 defeat to allow Healey to succeed him, as he certainly should have done.

People say that Foot "saved the Labour Party" but he didn't - by denying Healey the leadership he managed to delay its recovery by at least one Parliament. He didn't need to stand in 1980, he was persuaded to by a bunch of Tribunites whose primary aim was to stop Denis.