Tag Archives: clement attlee

Whatever Happened to Labour’s Legitimate Left?

Historically the Labour party has had a left and a right wing with the latter usually in the ascendancy. Much of that was down to the trade unions being led by moderates who were happy to use their block votes at Labour conference and in elections to the ruling National Executive Committee in favour of a leadership committed to a social democratic programme. In the immediate post-war period the leaders of the major unions (the Transport workers, Engineers, Miners and Railway workers) all had much more in common with Methodism than Marx. The landslide General Election victory of 1945 brought to power a majority Labour government for the first time and although its MPs sang the red flag in the commons the reality was that Attlee’s administration was a reforming not a revolutionary one.

At the time some thought that with its overwhelming parliamentary majority Labour would be in power for a long time but it was not to be. A cabinet which included left wingers Cripps and Bevan stayed united for a time seeing through a number of nationalisations and the creation of a National Health Service but in 1950 the crunch came. It was then that the decision to introduce charges for NHS prescriptions and eyeglasses to fund involvement in the Korean war led to the resignation of Bevan and a young Harold Wilson from the cabinet. From then on Nye, as he was affectionally known by his supporters, started to position himself as leader of the left.

It was, however, a left that believed in a parliamentary route to socialism, attempts by pro-communist elements to influence the party were dealt with decisively without any protest from Bevan and his allies. Electoral defeat in 1951 was followed by a sustained period of internal civil war but it was the right who won with Hugh Gaitskell succeeding Attlee as leader and Bevan giving up the fight returning to the shadow cabinet following his high profile renunciation of unilateralism at the 1957 conference, eventually becoming Deputy Leader shortly before his death from cancer.

Gaitskell who also died prematurely was succeeded by Wilson who by then had also made peace with the Labour establishment. Wilson got the leys to number 10 after thirteen years of Tory rule in 1964 and like Attlee he included in his cabinet key left wingers. In the 1960s infiltration by communists had given way to similar tactics by the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League which had got control of the party’s youth section. They were expelled en masse with the approval of a certain Tony Benn then a newish member of the NEC. By 1970 Labour was out of office and Michael Foot emerged as the prominent figure on the left of the party.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 32 Comments

Opinion: Lib Dems should say “No, Minister” to Tory plans to politicise the Civil Service

An initiative by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, should be a cause of considerable alarm for Liberal Democrats. According to the Independent, Maude has proposed a massive expansion of politically-appointed civil servants. The details are rather sketchy. But it seems obvious that if Francis Maude gets his way it will hugely reduce the effectiveness of government.

There are countless problems with an apolitical Civil Service. It is traditionally seen as a bastion of Establishment moderation and elitism. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest this has more than a grain of truth. The success of Yes, Minister

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 13 Comments

Would the coalition dare to cut welfare back to Labour levels?

After adjusting for inflation, welfare spending today is an astonishing ten times higher than in 1948, according to figures published in yesterday’s Guardian.

The graph shows that the sharpest rises in welfare spending were both under Conservative administrations (presumably not unconnected with the recessions at those times – 1981-84 and 1991-94 – though the bill rose in all but three of the 18 years of Conservative government).

Only under Churchill and Eden in the 1950s did the welfare bill fall slightly.  Under Macmillan it rose about 50%, and the welfare bill Labour inherited in 1997 was almost double that they’d handed …

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , , and | 19 Comments

Opinion: MPs have the power – so how do we involve the members?

It is 1946, and Labour have just won a landslide under Clement Attlee. Harold Laski, head of Labour’s National Executive Committee, tells Attlee that he must not sign a peace treaty at Potsdam, because it is the NEC, not Attlee or the parliamentary party, which is the sovereign body of the Labour Party. Attlee replied that

You have no right whatever to speak on behalf of the Government. Foreign affairs are in the capable hands of Ernest Bevin . … a period of silence on your part would be welcome.”

Now imagine the Liberal Democrats win the 2010 election. For financial – or other – reasons the party leadership decide to defer or abolish our pledge to abolish tuition fees.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Also tagged , , , , and | 19 Comments
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