After the Landslide — The Labour Co-ordinating Committee (LCC) on the 1983 election
In 1983 Labour suffered an election defeat almost as bad as that in 2019. At that time I was the organising secretary of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, a pressure group within the party firmly on its left. It had played an influential role within the Party’s civil war after the 1979 election on issues such as mandatory reselection of MPs and the role of conference. It backed Tony Benn for Deputy Leader in 1981, though with misgivings about his campaign and approach.
The disastrous election defeat brought the differences within the left to a head. This was the break between what was then known as the hard and the soft left. The LCC organised a conference called After the Landslide and published a statement of the same name which captured the mood of much of the party. That statement — largely written by me — has not been available on-line, and as a number of people have recently asked me about it, it seemed time to digitise it and make it widely available as there are interesting parallels and differences with Labour’s 2019 debacle.
While I will leave people to draw their own conclusions about how relevant the arguments of more than 35 years are today, some context will be helpful. One major difference is the geography of the defeats. In 1983 Labour was reduced to what was then its heartlands — the industrial north of England and Scotland — the seats where Labour did worst in 2019. In contrast in 1983 Labour did badly in London but gained a seat this time round.
While Michael Foot was also on the left and had similarly poor personal poll ratings, his leadership was different to that of Jeremy Corbyn. He was elected as perhaps the only leader that could get the different wings of the party to work together, and was not an ally of Tony Benn, probably the greatest influence on Corbyn’s politics.
Some of the arguments, issues and ideas in the statement are very much ‘of their time’. This was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, not that long after the UK’s first EU referendum (or the EEC as it was then known) and at a time when nuclear weapons terrified many in the way that global heating does today. Mass unemployment was disfiguring much of the country. But other arguments strike a strong chord today.
In retrospect this was an important moment in Labour’s history when it began the long process of renewal and rebuilding with soft-left support for Neil Kinnock’s leadership of the party. Whether an analogous process will start in the wake of 2019, whether another route back to power is found or whether politics changes in ways that we cannot yet see is unknowable. I’m an observer these days, not a player, so will watch with interest.
It is also worth remembering that this was written and produced not just before the internet but before the word-processor. Copy was written on a type-writer, sent to a type-setter and then stuck onto lay-out sheets with something called Cow Gum and headlines supplied by Letraset. I have digitised an original printed copy via OCR with a lot of editing as the original copy is poor quality. I have edited obvious typos — the original was produced very hurriedly — and made one or two very light edits to help clarify meaning, but it is otherwise unchanged.
AFTER THE LANDSLIDE
A statement on the 1983 election published by the Labour Co-ordinating Committee
Labour didn’t just do badly at the June 1983 general election, it was a disaster. Nothing can be the same again. The whole party needs a thorough review of its failures. Many have grasped this, but sadly we must start by emphasising two points that not everyone seems to have realised and should provide the basis for any discussion:
· The sheer depth of our defeat
· And the shallowness of much party reaction to it.
Glib blueprints for Labour victory in 1988 based on superficial changes in the Party’s appeal, or dependent in some way on deepening economic crisis, are simply not good enough. We must also reject the self-indulgence of those who seem only too anxious to get back to Patty infighting after the uncomfortable interlude of the election and whose recriminations can be found liberally scattered across the press.
No one can doubt that Labour needs a new younger leadership, hut the excitement of a leadership contest must not detract us from a cold, sober analysis of Labour’s tasks. Without claiming to have all the answers, the LCC offers this statement as a contribution to what we hope will be a real and sustained debate throughout the whole Party.
So much detailed analysis has been produced on the election — so many polls, facts and figures — that there is little point in repeating them. But it is worth highlighting some aspects of our decline and grasping the enormity of the tasks we face if Labour is ever to hold power again:
• Labour was third in two thirds of seats now held by the Tories.
• Less than half the unemployed voted Labour
• Nearly half of half of unemployed 18–22 year olds didn’t vote.
• Labour allegiance dropped by 12% in the skilled working class since 1979. The Tories are clearly ahead by at least 4% in this crucial group.
• Only 33% of the over 65s voted Labour.
• Labour was third among 18–22 year olds.
• Labour needs a swing of 12.8% — bigger than any this century apart from 1931 to win the 116 seats where we are second to secure a majority. (Slightly less if we can win some where we are now third).
Three points should be particularly emphasised.
First those who have bought their own council houses are in the majority voting Tory. While there are many loyal owner occupier labour voters, it appears that among younger people and those who have changed tenure home ownership is becoming an important determinant of voting behaviour. We should not forget that council house sales will continue, probably with bigger discounts and incentives.
Second, there have been major changes in employment patterns. While Labour has suffered adverse swings in almost all occupational groups, many of those sectors whose workers traditionally vote Labour have been on the decline. In particular, the percentage of non-manual workers increased from 37.5% to 46.4% between 1961 and 1978. Labour’s old coalition and conceptions of working class are no longer adequate.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, while we did spectacularly badly in June 1983, the results confirm long term trends. Apart from a hiccup in 1966 Labour’s share of the vote has dropped consistently since 1951.
Much as we may fume at Callaghan’s speech, despair at the lack of unity and purpose in the party since 1979 or think that the policies were wrong in some way — this must not obscure more fundamental problems that made victory difficult in even the most favourable circumstances of the moment. We have to win the allegiance of new groups in society to rebuild a majority electoral base.
THE TORY APPEAL
Much is being made on the left of the slight drop in the Tory vote. It is perfectly natural to look for silver linings and indeed there has been a historical decline in the Tory vote with the rise of third party politics. But this should not obscure one basic fact. The Tories have used the break-up of the post-war consensus caused by continuing recession and slump to shift the political ‘common sense’ massively to the right. It’s not just a question of the rise of an intellectual new right or switches in internal politics of the Tory party, but the attitudes of ordinary voters with no professed interest in politics. Even among Labour voters our traditional policies such as public ownership are unpopular. While union membership has increased, most members think that trade unions in general are too “powerful” or “extreme” even though they do not think the same of their own union. Popular acceptance of Mrs Thatcher’s housekeeping approach to economics has left even mild Keynesianism looking “extreme”.
There is not room here to fully explain this shift to the right as economic crisis collapsed the post-war consensus of welfare, full-employment capitalism. But Labour needs to develop an understanding of changes in British society and the aspirations and needs of voters. It is no use Labour appealing to folk memories of 1945. The electorate are grateful for the NHS, but this gratitude does not produce votes: people don’t still vote Liberal because Lloyd George introduced old age pensions.
The Tories have understood some of the crucial changes far better. They have constructed an ideological appeal that fits in with the aspirations of the upwardly mobile working class. They understand that much working class collectivism has broken down to be replaced with a privatised life-style and new aspirations. Selling council houses has bought them more votes than perhaps anything else.
Labour, of course, has never aspired to be a national party in the sense that the Conservative and Liberal Parties have always done. Company directors arc unlikely ever to vote for us in vast numbers. But Labour is increasingly being seen as more and more a narrowly sectional party, the party of the old declining industrial areas, the depressed inner-cities, the poor, blacks and public sector workers. We are seen as a party of the past and of post war austerity, not a party of the future. We may have no wish to be a “national” party, of being above classes, but we still need to be a party that the vast majority could consider voting for, almost whatever their job, their housing tenure or wherever they live.
Our decline has been so consistent that we cannot explain it only in terms of the last few years. Moving our policies slightly to the right will not recapture lost votes. The problem lies much deeper. The ideological ground lost to the Tories (and the AllIance) must be won back. We must break the blue tinted spectacles through which even our natural supporters too often view the world.
The Labour Party
Having emphasised that the long term trends were against us, it would be wrong to put all our emphasis on what has happened since 1979 in considering the party’s own role in the enormity of our defeat. But there are some very sharp lessons we should draw from this period. We only have room here to briefly consider the party’s failures since the war, some of which we have already pointed to and have been extensively documented elsewhere.
Labour’s record in power has not been good. The insensitivity and paternalism of Labour controlled councils has been the point of contact for many with the Party. Much of the ideological shift to the right has been aided and abetted by Labour governments, from WiIson’s attacks on trade unionism with “In place of strife’ to Callaghan’s rejection of Keynesianism at the 1976 conference.
We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.
Callaghan is not the same as Mrs Thatcher, but the similarities between this speech and current Tory attacks on even the most right wing version of the alternative economic strategy are striking. All Tory speakers during the campaign were ordered by (Conservative) Central Office to refer to the doubling of unemployment under the last Labour government in every speech.
All our ills cannot therefore be explained in terms of the divisions of the last few years alone. It is clear however that the way the party conducted itself after 1979 contributed to the enormity of the defeat. Of course the democratic reforms are entirely justified and need to go further. But many of those who took part in the campaigns both for and against them seemed to be living in a fantasy world based on a naive faith in pendulum politics or a fatalistic view that the voters, (…) and the message of the SDP that Labour was now at war with itself seemed to be reinforced by even the most unbiased reporting of our affairs. (2019 note: the second part of this sentence doesn’t make sense and its intention is unclear, possibly due to missing text.)
Immediately after the 1979 election, the common assent within the Party that the right were largely to blame for defeat allowed the left to win the arguments for the very elementary democratic reforms of reselection and the electoral college. But by the 1981 Deputy Leadership contest it was clear that there was a stalemate in the party between right and left.
As each was manoeuvering for power, the right and left became more concerned with NEC elections than general elections. The arguments about Militant came to dominate the agenda of party discussion. Policy became frozen as no one dared rethink right or left mythology, whichever was dominant in each area. There was no room for innovation and no consensus on what popular appeal the party would make or what image it should promote.
This account does not seek to lay blame. There is little point in recriminations, still less in the left blaming the right for division and the right blaming the left. It was unavoidable that the frustrations of the Wilson and Callaghan years would burst out after they had been contained for such a long time by a right that was no longer intellectually confident as Crosland’s assumptions broke down one by one. We make no apologies for supporting the elementary democratic reforms so essential for modernising the party.
But it is to be hoped that the right and left will be self-critical and learn from their own mistakes. Certainly the left was not blameless. How could it be when so much of its politics rested on false assumptions and wrong analysis?
We do not believe that if we had run a slightly different campaign we could have won an overall majority. There’s no point in singling out Callaghan, even though it seems to be a universal feeling on the ground that the real slide coincided with his speech. There is even less point in emphasising any of Michael Foot’s deficiencies. He was probably the only possible leader in the circumstances and one supported by the left. It is worth recalling what those circumstances were. Michael Foot was elected for inner-party reasons. He was seen as the man most likely to secure some degree of peaceful co-existence between right and left. No- one at all at the time of his election considered qualities such as youth, communication skills, charisma, TV charm or any of the other criteria that have now been advanced as necessary in a leader.
But this should not prevent us examining the campaign in order to learn lessons for the future. No-one could accuse Labour of being short of policies. Walworth Rd must have filing-cabinet after filing-cabinet full of them. Agents and candidates were inundated with daily policy briefings during the campaign. The problem is that we have no real means of prioritising our policy and fitting it all together into a coherent whole. The manifesto read like a gigantic composite resolution. Goodies were handed out on every page. Something for women here, something for home owners there and something for animal lovers tucked away at the end.
It appeared that we were trying to buy the votes of different groups, rather than give an overall sense of direction or communicate the values that underlie our policy. Everything was a priority, everything was crucial.
We also tended to substitute goals for policies. No-one believed we could reduce unemployment to less than a million. Merely repeating what a scandal mass unemployment and stating that Labour will get rid of it was not a credible strategy. Promising too much when people were aware of a world recession was counter-productive. Above all, it further undermined the Party’s credibility, already injured by infighting.
Left-right stalemate precluded sensible discussion of this problem. Facing up to the limited objectives that could be achieved in the short-term would have been seen as selling out to the right wing — a legitimate fear when many of Labour’s front bench did not agree with the goals in the first place.
A classic result of the stalemate was the chaos over Polaris. Rather than an early offensive against Cruise, Trident and foreign bases we got bogged down in a huge row about Labours policy towards the almost redundant Polaris, The wording of the manifesto was not a compromise, but an agreement to differ — a fudge. It is hardly surprising our opponents isolated this and homed in on it.
But the defence issue illustrates another failing. Rather than acting an alternative government with an alternative non-nuclear defence policy, we acted as a pressure group by merely being against the nuclear aspects of Tory policy. The resolutions of conference were designed to tie the hands of the opponents of unilateralism in the Party rather than provide a workable policy perspective for a future Labour government. The left did not put forward a strategy for disarmament.
It must also be said that the Party campaign was generally riddled with incompetence at a national level. There have probably never been so many party workers at local level and these were often backed up by TULV full-timers but there seemed a dreadful lack of direction nationally, particularly in the handling of the press and media. We still don’t understand that we live in the age of television, not public meetings.
On the whole the LCC feels that the policies were broadly right and certainly there is no need to ditch the main thinking behind the alternative economic strategy even if, as we argue below, the Party needs to present its policies within a completely new context.
However there are two policies that do stand out as in urgent need of revision: the EEC and housing.
It will not be credible to go into the 1984 EEC assembly elections, let alone the next general election, calling for withdrawal. The world has moved on since the referendum. In particular, the economic crisis has deepened and the priority must now be to develop international co-operation between socialist and progressive forces against the Reagan/ Thatcher economic axis. For socialists membership or non-membership of the EEC is not an end in itself, but a tactical question. While we should not allow the Treaty of Rome to limit our actions, it would be foolish not to recognise the inevitable changes that will take place when Spain and Portugal join. The Party needs a new internationalist strategy that is certainly critical of the EEC, and in partIcular the CAP, but recognises that we cannot just shut up shop and isolate ourselves from the international economy.
The second policy area that needs close scrutiny is housing. We have already drawn attention to the unpopularity of our opposition to council house sales, despite the firm principles behind it. The problem was that we came across as merely punitive to ordinary people wanting to better themselves. We got bogged down in arguments about tenure when the real issues are quality and quantity. Given that most decent council housing will have been sold by the next election we must start now to project a new image on housing policy. Yes, course, we want a good decent public sector, not all housing must be allocated to market forces, but we must not deny that most people aspire to own their own homes. There has always been a private sector in housing and there probably always will be. Labour must clearly state that there is nothing wrong with owning a home. This must be central to a reworked housing policy that is clearly designed to satisfy needs and aspirations.
A new strategy
Everyone knows what the Tories stand for, even if their manifesto contained virtually no direct policy pledges. Our main task is not so much to win a rational debate about who has the best policies to deal with unemployment, but to replace Thatcherism with a widely held and deeply rooted socialist morality. So we need more than a policy rethink.
We need a vision of what a Labour Britain would be like. We know what Mrs Thatcher has on offer individualism, self-reliance, subordination of social need to market forces. But what are we aiming for? The Labour movement has always been strong on rhetoric. We talk of socialism, but do we know what we mean? What would we be hoping Britain would look like after two terms of a radical Labour Government? After five terms?
The images that socialism conjures up are not ours but those of our enemies, more state control, a drab greyness, Eastern Europe, queues, autocratic trade union power, lack of individual freedom. Rather than counter these views the Party has either responded with social-democratic support for a welfare capitalism or little more than rhetoric.
There are no easy blueprints for the kind of radical campaigning that we need
— a real winning of hearts and minds. We never discuss what makes people socialists. Instead we expect the superiority of sociaIism to be self-evident and rely on dubious notions of peoples “objective interests” and “false consciousness” to explain why they are not socialists. But there is no automatic support for socialism just waiting to be released from the bowels of capitalist society — however much we believe socialism is in the vast majority’s interests.
Unless we can win people in every street and workplace actively to promote our ideals, we are unlikely effectively to counter the huge support for capitalist ethics all around us. This is why extra-parliamentary politics is so vital. It is not just a question of more demonstrations or strikes or whatever, though these of course have their place. Extra-parliamentary politics must be about connecting to the masses of people hostile to socialism and persuading them, whether it be by personal contact or example in the way we run council services or local campaigns.
We can begin by relating our policies and campaigning to a number of clear themes that promote our values and principles. We suggest two, though there may well be others.
First we must promote equality. Pretending to raise everybody’s standard of living is less than credible — a fairer distribution does strike resonant chords. We do live in a massively unequal society and although there have been changes in class structure, Britain remains a class society. There are of course all the other inequalities not reducible to class such between the sexes, different ethnic groups and the regions. Labour needs to reassert itself as the party of equality — it’s a simple though attractive message.
Secondly we need to promote the connected themes of democracy and liberty. These themes again connect across a whole range of policies that we already promote. But they often provide a different starting point. One of the crucial ingredients of Thatcherism’s success has been to label socialism as state control and limitations on personal freedom and liberty. The dissatisfaction with remote and bureaucratic services and nationalised industries has provided Thatcherism with an important underpinning.
Instead we need to go on the offensive. When Mrs Thatcher claims that governments are powerless to get the economy moving, we must challenge the unaccountable powers of multinational companies. We need to point to where power really does lie and develop strategies and policies to transfer that power, not to an equally unaccountable and remote bureaucracy, but to communities, local councils or sometimes national government but in a way that is clear and open to public scrutiny.
It will mean getting on with hammering out with the unions proposals for a radical extension of industrial democracy coupled with a defence of trade union rights. Local authorities will need defending in this context too. We should be giving them new powers and recognising the claim for devolution for Scotland.
We can link these themes to our defensive campaigns against the government. Labour should be emphasising the civil liberties attacks of the Tories. Their denial of local democracy with the attacks on rate raising powers and proposed abolition of metropolitan authorities should be linked in.
The Tories have been allowed to hijack concepts which should be ours such as individual freedom and choice, by attacking the state and posing the false choices of private education and health. We must counter attack urgently and reclaim these ideals, But to do this effectively we must seen to be putting our own house in order. Elections in the party must be seen to be democratic and have the widest possible participation, compatible with collective decision making. Of course there are problems in the unions with the sheer technical tasks of such an exercise, but we must demonstrate a will to overcome these difficulties. There should also be the widest possible member involvement in the constituencies in leadership elections, though without the depoliticising effects of postal ballots.
The Party must also work out what to do about the Alliance. As we made clear in The Realignment of the Right (85p from LCC 9 Poland St, London W1) it is not good enough merely to ignore them in the hope that they will go away. Neither can we say that they are just the same as the Tories, they are not. If anything, despite all their newness and niceness, they are the party of the past. Much more so than any section of the Labour Party they still live in the age of the post-war consensus. Potentially they are also more divided. The gulf between the refugees from the far right of the Labour Party with their corporatist statist policies and radical Liberals is vast. Certainly the Party should exploit these divisions. But this will not be enough.
Adjustment to three party politics is going to be difficult as we are used to attacking the Tories, thereby expecting to benefit from a swing to us. Now we have to face the fact that a swing away from the Tories could well benefit the Alliance, and if we cannot win some of our votes back from them they could easily move into second place in the popular vote. Winning votes from the Alliance will not be easy but it is vitally important. We must turn our minds to how this will be done. But above all the Party needs vision. Our policies and stance must be seen to be leading somewhere. Instead our recent policies have been either oppositional or defensive. We are against the bomb, the arms race, mass unemployment, council house- sales and we defend the health service, the education system and the welfare state. Our image is too often one of wanting a better yesterday.
Perhaps you cannot provide blueprints for utopia, but there is virtually no discussion of what Labour’s ideal society would be like. We do not like capitalism everyone knows this, then again we are not keen on Eastern Europe either. What on earth then are we in favour of? We need a feasible Socialism that people can comprehend, seen to be realisable and thus know what needs to be done now.
INSIDE THE PARTY
The party’s severe test over the next year will be how it handles the election post-mortem. It is depressingly possible that we could now either enter another period of prolonged civil war — or merely sweep the problem under the carpet of a leadership election.
This must be avoided at all costs, and perhaps the most important job of the LCC will be to continue to pose the difficult questions and oppose the easy answers.
It is also clear that the party needs unity and cannot afford another period of extreme polarisation. But generating this unity is far from easy. We do not want to go back to the years of stalemate, and freeze the party into another period of suspended animation. These are the conditions in which only the ultra left and ultra right in the party will appear active, and in the long run can only serve to weaken the Party as a broad coalition.
We need therefore a unity of a new type. Firstly everyone in the party must recognise that the Party is a broad coalition. The left must realise this in an explicit way — and follow through the consequences of doing so. There is now before us a choice which we cannot duck: between being a broad party with some prospect of electoral success or a small pure socialist party consigned to electoral irrelevance (except, maybe, under PR). And even within this choice there is a strategy dilemma.
Those of us who do want a thoroughly socialist party must accept we cannot get it overnight and therefore if we are serious socialists we must accept the need to maintain a party that does not drive out the right and. the centre. Left versions of the Party’s future must take account of the right and vice versa. This certainly means that those on the left aiming to split the party to create a pure socialist party, and those on the right aiming to purge their way to a party safe for Frank Chapple need opposing. It also means that the left must accept that it is full part of the party and has as much responsibility as everyone else for the promotion and electoral success of the Party. Some left discussion is conducted almost as if the left is not part of the party it is so concerned with opposing leadership and policies.
But unity cannot be static and cannot rely on the suppression of debate. Indeed we need a debate aimed at providing new basis for a genuine unity of purpose and trust in the party. We must stop judging everyone solely on previous tests of left/rightness such as the EEC referendum, the Deputy Leadership or democratic reforms. We must look for socialist qualities for the future. Debate should be based less on tribal loyalties of left and right and more on the issue. After all there are many differences that cut across these divisions. Attitudes to feminism, positive discrimination, gay rights, the rights of the Palestinians, “green” issues such as nuclear power are just some examples of issues that often get suppressed because they do not fit neatly into polarised debates. Moreover, much left policy thinking has been shallow in the extreme, and we have allowed this inconvenient reality to be submerged by focussing on the here and now of leadership battles, NEC slates, personalities and jockeying for Party positions.
Building a new unity around genuine debate and tolerance will not be easy and it will require severe self-discipline throughout the party, especially from those who live by the media. We must not be afraid of “heresies”, for example if we really expect the PLP to carry out the policies of the Party, perhaps they need to feel that they have a real say in its formation?
The debate about structure in the party in recent years has almost entirely been about accountability of our public representatives. This focus was understandable and we played our part in the campaigns. But as we argued in “Labour and Mass Politics” (85p LCC, 9 Poland St.) this focus was inadequate. With no automatic prospect of a Labour government it is to be hoped that we can now overhaul the rest of the party’s structures and practice. This is especially important as the Party’s financial crisis is very likely to result in redundancies.
It is vital that this painful process is related to a political conception of what a slimmer full-time party- organisation can achieve. For a start we need to be winning support for policies not merely adding more policy. Our research department should be related far more to campaigning. NEC study groups should be feeding the party with campaigning ideas rather than more refined position papers.
We need a complete re-orientation of the relationship between constituencies and the party bureaucracy. Regional Offices often seem to exist to police CLPS. The party’s organising staff, with of course some notable exceptions, still live in the age of identifying the Labour vote and getting it out. The party needs staffing with campaigners at all levels who can service the needs of CLPS. This must be backed up by an effective press and propaganda department whose performance left much to be desired in the campaign.
The Party must stop bleating about media bias and do something about it. Those who think we lose elections largely because of media bias but leave reform of the press to the next Labour government, will never get us anywhere. Moves to start Labour newspapers whether they be daily or weekly, national or regional are to be welcomed.
However it is our suspicion that our abysmal media performance cannot all be laid at the door of press bias. Television and radio are probably more important in shaping attitudes and providing information than the tabloids. The party also contributes with an amateurism that often crosses into the inept. Coverage of the parties is roughly equal on the broadcast media, but examination of our divisions and public airing of our internal battles counts as Labour party coverage. Self-discipline is needed here as well.
The party centrally above all needs a media strategy. We must select simple messages and make sure prominent Labour figures are all delivering the same themes at the same time. We must be careful how we use the time we have, and train people to be effective on television. We might not want the Saatchi and Saatchi approach, but this is no excuse for keeping our message largely to ourselves.
The LCC is currently conducting an inquiry into the party’s structure which we hope to publish in the autumn of 933, where we will make detailed proposals for change. No one else probably will. The record of and left in the party on the NEC has been poor on these matters, preferring to discuss Militant, Peter Tatchell and other issues. But it must start to give a direction to the Party’s work, it must risk some unpopularity by prioritising policies and it will need to take on vested interests in modernising our structure. Constituencies and unions can help by extending the criteria by which they judge NEC candidates. It is not good enough to be sound on opposing expulsions alone. We need evidence of creativity and imagination and the ability to take tough decisions, not just oratorical skills.
But this concentration on the NEC and the full time staffing of the Party should not detract from the important need to transform the role of constituencies. Far too much time is spent on resolution mongering. It is easy too to spend all your time on holding MPs and councillors to account and discuss their reports. The ability of the Labour Party to generate meetings almost every night of the week to absorb the energies of activists is well known.
As Labour and Mass Politics makes clear constituencies need to thoroughly overhaul how they see themselves:
1) Constituencies must realise the central role they have to play in the overall strategy for socialist change. Their job is not just to elect the right person to public office and then hold them to account.
2) They must see their main role as winning public backing and understanding of socialist policies and strategies.
3) This means that their prime task at all times must be public campaigning.
4) They must also realise that the Party isn’t the exclusive agency of progressive change. If we have to win the ideological ground back from Thatcherism, all kinds of groups and organisations will have a role to play. There will be a need for all kinds of alliances in the construction of majority support for socialism.
5) We must abandon our paternalist heritage, doing things for people rather than with them or indeed letting them do things for themselves. Labour controlled local authorities have a crucial role here in demonstrating this in practice. Decentralisation of services is also crucial here.
6) We need a new style of inner party activity. Instead of focusing all our interest on. GMC struggles, we need to be building up wards and reaching out to passive members. Political education needs a new priority.
Above all modernising the party is not about what the leadership should be doing or the NEC, it is just as much about what everyone of us does too.
This analysis will no doubt attacked by some as “pessimistic” or “heretical”. One prominent left winger has already described the LCC position as “Gaitskellite”! We say such people are living in the past, as opting out of the real decisions that must be made if we are to win power once again and start the socialist transformation.
Victory can be ours only if we are prepared to grasp how serious our predicament is and begin to solve our problems. We cannot allow scapegoat theories, recriminations or easy answers to gain the upper hand. We cannot allow well-known left wing Party figures, with their media rent-a-quotes to monopolise and shape activist opinion unchallenged.
We must also move quickly. The campaign for 1988 and 1993 must start now. The EEC elections and local elections are almost upon us. The Alliance are buoyant and confident and at present seem the likely beneficiaries of any swing from the Tories.
Two-party consensus politics was finally buried at the 1983 election. It has been in long decline. Labour can only hope to win by winning support for our principles and ideas, not by posing merely as the better managers. This requires a massive rethink. We are doomed to further decline unless we can present a real vision of what a socialist Britain would be like and turn our whole party into enthusiastic promoters of socialist ideas.