Monday, September 28, 2015

"It was New Labour that won" - the New Labour myth. By Mike Hedges AM

In 1992, the Conservatives won their fourth consecutive general election, despite Labour having expectations that they would win. Immediately after the defeat, Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley resigned, to be replaced by John Smith and Margaret Beckett. 

Pundits were predicting that Labour could never win and that we would have a Conservative government for ever; then came Black Wednesday on September 16, 1992, which was a humiliation for the Conservative Government under John Major. It would never recover from the blow to its credibility, nor regain the trust of those voters it had shocked and alienated by putting up interest rates so high, even if only temporarily.

Economically, for the country, it was a release. Britain was in control of its monetary policy once more; the pound was devalued, helping to pull the economy out of recession and heralding a period of growth that lasted until the banking crisis of 2008.

A Gallup poll on the 7th September 1992, the week before John Smith became leader, showed a Conservative lead of 2% but by 28th September, after Black Wednesday, it had changed into a Labour lead of 7%. When John Smith died in May 1994, the Labour lead was consistently over 20% in the opinion polls, compared to the 12.5% it achieved under Tony Blair at the 1997 general election. 

The Conservatives lost economic credibility on Black Wednesday and defeat at the general election became inevitable for them, whoever the Labour leader was. However, if Black Wednesday was not enough, we also had a series of scandals; party disunity over the Europrean Union; and the desire of the electorate for change after 18 years of Tory rule.

Labour vote
No of seats
% vote
Change in %vote
Change in turnout

As the table above shows, following the Labour landslide of 1997, there has been a continual loss of seats and - until 2010 - votes at every election. Turnout collapsed at the 2001 election and, despite making postal votes available on demand, turnout still is substantially under the 1997 figure.

From May 1994 until 2010, Labour was led by the two architects of New Labour: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. During that time, 158 seats were lost; 14.4% or approximately 1/3 of the 1997 vote was also lost; and turnout fell by approximately 6%.

In summary: New Labour inherited a winning position and has overseen the continual reduction of the number of seats at each election since 1997. I believe a better way to describe what happened - as opposed to the New Labour spin - is:
  • the Tories lost the confidence of the electorate due to Black Wednesday;
  • Labour won a landslide but failed to fulfil the aspirations of its voters, many of whom became disillusioned - either staying home or voting for third parties in subsequent elections;
  • Labour lost economic credibility following the banking crisis in 2008 and thus lost in 2010;
  • Tony Blair was in the right place at the right time. Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Give me lucky generals"; so, with politics: "Give me a lucky leader."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How the Labour Left is organised and the NPF elections by Peter Rowlands

As Red Labour have observed, why elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader and then allow the NPF to be taken over by the right. However, there is a distinct possibility of Labour doing no better, or even worse than two years ago when right wing slates generally triumphed in these elections. Then it was only Wales and the Yorkshire region that achieved a majority of the four seats, with two in Eastern, one in three others and none in five. This year we have only managed to put up a full slate in six of the eleven regions, and in two of the five others have conceded the youth election to Labour First by not putting up candidates. Clearly the focus on the Corbyn campaign has been at the expense of this election.

This poses the wider question of how the left is organised in the Labour Party, and despite the above it is true that the left did well in the NEC elections last year, partly due to the failure of the right to agree a common slate.

There are left organisations, some of which are organised locally, publications, blogs and an e-mail network,  and this has obviously all contributed to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, although the extent to which that is so is difficult to establish.  

The main, indeed the only general left organisation for the UK is the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), particularly since Compass ceased to have a Labour orientation. It has a monthly publication, Labour Briefing, no longer independent since 2012 after a bitter row with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), which specialises in constitutional change and is always very active at conference, but is a significant tendency in its own right. CLPD does not organise locally, but LRC does, with 17 local branches in England, leaving Scotland and Wales to the Campaign for Socialism and Welsh Labour Grassroots respectively, neither of which organise locally to my knowledge.

The only other organisation on the left of any size is Red Labour, which has seemingly come from nowhere in the last two years, although it exists only on Facebook and does not seem to have a centre or a conference. Nevertheless, it boasts 46 branches, some of which are quite active, others dormant or little more than a facebook address.

Other publications include Tribune, Chartist, and Renewal. The leading blog is Left Futures, but others are worthwhile including Socialist Unity and Socialist Economic Bulletin.

Other than that there are some local groupings that are not tied to any of the main groups and a range of informal groupings and networks in CLPs, Labour groups and trade unions.

Whatever happens on September 12th, the left is now a more significant force than it was four months ago and a new organisation that is able to unite it and carry it forward is urgently needed.