In defence of Neil Kinnock
Rob Francis

Hello Rob. I’ve just caught up with your clear-as-usual piece. While you dismiss with ease the rather silly Corbynite meme, with appropriate assistance from Santayana, I’d raise a few points. The most important is that Neil was never going to win a General Election. The gradual nature of his necessary reforms was consistent with his self-presentation as a man ‘of the left but not hard left’, and ultimately in 1992 the electorate rejected this. Now it is equally possible to argue that Major was lucky to be a new PM who replaced a now-unpopular predecessor, and was armed with a huge 1987 majority, most of which he lost. Fair enough, but I think not enough. We need to understand that the left(-ish) stance which Neil stood for in an honourable way is not a position in which the voters will show any interest. As we saw in 2015, it is a position easily undermined by the breeding, fairly or otherwise, of distrust by the Conservatives. Now, you may say that Harold Wilson came from the same leftish position, and won in 1964. But as Ben Pimlott shows in his superb biography of Wilson, this is not true. Wilson did his best to amalgamate the Gaitskellites and Bevanite, and largely succeeded, but, and this is the main thing, he was entirely concentrated on the electorate, and what could be persuaded to support. The key was technology and planning. Given the mistaken view widely held at the time that the Soviet empire was likely to pass the West in efficiency, this was a powerful argument. The election won, Wilson then favoured the Gaitskellites in forming his cabinet.

Blair did broadly the same. Like Wilson, and for that matter Thatcher, Blair was thus an effective politician, because he presented the voters with a clear and attractive — and as you see in the case of Wilson and you may choose to do with the other two, not necessarily correct — package. I think you can argue the same for Attlee in 1945, though of course he had special advantages based on his position in the wartime government, which was arguably a dry run for Labour.

My essential point, then, is that we win elections with an effective leader who focuses on the electorate’s interests rather than being over concerned with any ideological posture he may wish to adopt. The latter in particular is of no interest to them. They do not want a socialist society because you can’t tell them what that is. They probably don’t want a long-term economic plan, either, particularly one which leads to the undermining of public services they take to be their rights.

Of course, I’m talking about a “progressive” government, and in their different ways Attlee, Wilson and Blair offered this. We will of course need to find an effective politician or several such, who perhaps by definition will understand this, but we can be helped, no doubt unwillingly, by the Conservatives. The present government is likely this year to succeed in keeping us in the EU, resolving to some extent some of its own divisions but at the same time raising the unanswerable question: “What else are they for?” Labour would be wise to move quickly.

Looking back, I see the need to repeat my main point. Put another way, democracies are not really interested in the ideological obsessions and adjustments of parties. They want to know a party exists which will try to do its best for them. This is in no way cynical. What IS cynical is the attempt of the hard left merely to satisfy outdated “principles” which are usually in any case contradictory, not least with democracy itself. Or the attempt of the Right to deify some absolute free market.

Please excuse my unedited and arguably stream of consciousness reply. In thought it worth attempting.

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