Tag Archives: 1981

Party like it’s 1981

Imagine that, alongside Michael Foot as leader, Tony Benn had won the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981; it almost happened. Would the creation of the SDP then seem wrong even to Labour loyalists and even today? There is certainly a view within the Labour Party, shared with The Guardian editorial writers, that a way must be found to keep the current party together rather than face the alternative: “No one who remembers or knows about past divisions, notably the breakaway of the Social Democratic party in 1981, should want a return to that.”

The argument runs that the SDP split the Left, enabling Thatcherism to run riot in the Eighties without a strong, electable opposition. With many moderates leaving Labour, the hard Left almost triumphed and Neil Kinnock needed a monumental effort of will to turn the party around into something more, though still not quite, electable.

This line of reasoning is obviously flawed. In the Eighties, Benn did not defeat either Denis Healey for the deputy leadership or Kinnock for the leadership. Jeremy Corbyn (Foot without the charisma) and the hard Left already control the Labour Party. Good luck to Owen Smith trying to do a Kinnock, but if, as seems likely, he fails, what then? The Guardian suggests that the answer is Shadow Cabinet elections.

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