The Labour Party 1945 -1997
Some voters may be unaware of the internal rivalry driving the politics of the Labour Party and make their judgements on the conduct of party officials and activists conducting its business acting on information provided by the media and press.
These platforms, in just about all cases concentrate on providing a biased presentation and comment on current and projected topics creating confusion in the minds of the public who rightly expect to be provided with honest unbiased information by news and current affairs presenters and journalists.
The purpose of this article is to attempt to right some of the wrongs of a hopelessly biased media and press, providing an honest briefing so that readers will be able to better decide the destination of their vote in any future election or referendum.
My knowledge of political history from 1944 has been acquired from living through it and 50 years of public service.
The Labour Party won the 1945 general election and with Clement Attlee at the helm set about the difficult task of rebuilding a country decimated by WW2. 5 years of financial austerity, food rationing, and hard labour working for a pittance. Improvements although slow, were achieved.
In October 1950, Hugh Gaitskell was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Government policies were then influenced by two factors. The Korean War which drained finance away from an already struggling economy and the further development of the Welfare State under the auspices of Aneurin Bevan.
Something had to give and in his first budget Gaitskell introduced charges for certain prescriptions on Bevan’s beloved National Health Service. Bevan resigned as did his junior minister, Harold Wilson.
The party became impossible to control effectively and in the 1951 general election it was booted out of office.
The Tory Party took up the reins of power and retaining all of Gaitskell’s financial policies brought economic stability to the country.
In opposition, the Gaitskellites and Bevanites continued to do battle, culminating in Gaitskell defeating Bevan in a bid for the position of Treasurer of the Labour Party, ( one step removed from the position of Party Leader).
The Tory’s won the 1955 general election and Attlee resigned.
The subsequent leadership election between Gaitskell, Bevan and Herbert Morrison was not well conducted, being memorable for the first political description of candidates as left and right wing.
Gaitskell won, with nearly sixty percent of the vote. But the ill feeling between the two groups did not subside.
The thorny subject of Britain’s participation in NATO and the adoption of a foreign policy, opposing the USSR Union, supporting the United States and nuclear weapons development, came to the fore.
The Gaitskellites supported the policies but the Bevanites were opposed to it.
In 1959 Labour was expected to win the election due to the unpopularity of the Tory Party after the Suez debacle. But the Tory’s confounded the pundits when they won the election with a much enhanced majority.
The Labour manifesto, drafted by the Bevanites, was the problem since it included a contradictory policy statement committing a future Labour government to much increased welfare spending, without tax increases.
A furious Gaitskell blamed the Bevanites for the defeat and decided to change the party’s charter’s removing Clause IV, which committed the Party to nationalization of public services.
The Bevanites defeated his attempt and the divisions continued. Bevan died in 1959 and the leaderless Bevanites first transferred their allegiance to Harold Wilson then to Anthony Greenwood, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Gaitskell for the leadership of the party.
Gaitskell died in 1963 and in the leadership election that followed the lefty Wilson beat right wingers George Brown and James Callaghan who unwisely split the Gaitsellite vote.
In the 1964 election, on a promise to implement Gaitskellite policies, the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, was returned to government,
There was worldwide political turmoil in the period, dominated by the Vietnam War, promoted by the US as the defence of western civilization against the expansionist communist forces of the USSR.
Wilson refused to commit British forces to the support of the US in Vietnam, introducing the spectre of the political isolation of Britain by the US, in retaliation.
Wilson relented a bit, through the provision to US soldiers (before their deployment to the war zone) of British army led Jungle warfare training, and naval facilities in Singapore and Hong Kong.
An added never ending difficulty at the time, was the constant expansion of Israel, resulting in a massive displacement of Palestinians into Jordan, Syria and Palestine and the protestations of ever more militant oil producing countries, fed-up with the constant influx of refugees causing disruption in their societies culminating in the 6 day War in the middle East, resulting in the Israel capture of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan and the Golan Heights, from Syria.
The Labour government responded with the usual fudge, abandoning any responsibility for the unrest forcing the USSR, the US and the UN to negotiate peace between the warring former British colony’s.
The Edward Heath led Tory Party won the 1970 election on a promise to take Britain into the safety of the European Common Market (EEC) leaving the hurly burly, world trade market which was in turmoil.
He achieved this in 1973 when Britain joined many other European countries in the trading pact (subject to confirmation) but the deal was mothballed after the Tory government was brought down following a long struggle with the National Union of Mine-workers (NUM) and the imposition of a 3 day working week and electricity cut-offs, introduced as part of a package of emergency measures needed to neutralize the effects of a slump in oil production and massive price increases by middle East oil producing countries in retaliation against the “West” who supported Israel against their less fortunate Arab neighbours.
1974 (2 general elections)
The new Labour government was, as usual, hopelessly divided over joining the EEC and peace was only achieved with the promise of a renegotiation of the terms of membership and a binding referendum.
The politics of the 1975 referendum campaign was heavily influenced by the fall of Saigon and defeat of American power in the far east.
Also on the minds of the British public was the scandal over Watergate, the impeachment of President Nixon and the growth of the American Civil Rights movement which was dividing US society.
Wilson’s message to the country was that American world leadership had gone and Europe would need to rely on its own resources against the Soviet Union.
Heath supported Wilson, claiming that a vote to leave the European Community would weaken Europe and leave Britain vulnerable to attack from the USSR.
Added political difficulties under consideration by the public included inflation, which was running at near to 25 per cent.
A balance of payments crisis, which was placing great strain on the pound.
In industry and public services, labour relations were falling apart.
In the period 1970 to 1974, over 70 million working days had been lost in strikes and increasing para-military activity in Northern Ireland was depressing. The Nation was in despair.
The campaign for withdrawal was dominated by the Labour left, under the charismatic leadership of the secretary of state for industry, Tony Benn.
Newspapers and the televised media campaigned to keep Britain in Europe. Britain voted to join Europe and duly did so in 1975.
Wilson stepped down in 1976 and was replaced by the Gaitskellite, James (Sunny Jim) Callaghan.
Under his leadership the party struggled badly and the economic woes of the country worsened, culminating in a series of damaging strikes, during which bereaving families could not bury their dead, refuse was piled 20 feet high in the streets and firemen responded to calls for assistance, only where life and limb was at great risk.
Soldiers were deployed throughout the country, working 14 hour days, equipped with useless Green Goddess fire trucks and heavy duty gloves, to provide protection from rat bites, incurred when tasked to clear piles of rubbish from the streets of towns and cities throughout the country.
Returning from a visit to the US, where he had been pleading for more financial assistance, Sunny Jim was asked by a reporter what he intended to do about the current crisis. He answered: “crisis what crisis”.
The demise of Sunny Jim and his incompetent Labour government in 1979 ushered in a Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher.
In opposition, led by Michael Foot, the Bevanite followers gained power and the Labour Party lurched to the left supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from Europe.
At constituency party level party membership witnessed a growing number of Trotskyist factions whose views and behaviour were at odds with the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour voters. Foot’s hard line left-wing political beliefs were not fully supported within the party and he was an unpopular leader.
This led to the break-up of the party when, in 1981, four senior Gaitskellite’s: Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rogers and Shirley Williams ended their party membership and formed the Social Democratic Party.
In the 1983 and 1987 General Elections, the SDP did not fair well and formed a political and electoral alliance with the Liberal Party finally then merging with it in 1988, creating the present day, Liberal and Democratic Party.
In the 1983 general election, the Labour Party, led by Foot, achieved its lowest share of the popular vote since the 1918 general election and the fewest number of parliamentary seats at any time since before 1945.
Foot resigned soon after the election, and was succeeded as leader by yet another Bevanite, Neil Kinnock.
Surprisingly, under his leadership party politics was moved nearer to the centre ground and he battled hard against the pervading presence of Militant Tendency Trotskyist’s who damaged the reputation of the party with their disgraceful behaviour in office, in constituencies throughout the country.
Sir Alistair Darling – Edinburgh Militant Councillor
As leader, Kinnock bungled and lost the 1992 general election, when many opinion polls had the party well ahead.
He resigned soon after and was replaced as leader by the Gaitskellite John Smith who carried on the process of restructuring the party, abolishing the trade union block vote, replacing it with “one member, one vote” but implementing a cautious approach to reforms avoiding controversy so as to be sure of a Labour Party win over a very unpopular Tory government at the next general election.
Smith died suddenly in 1994 and was succeeded as party leader by the ultra modernizing partnership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who rebranded the party with the inspiring title, “New Labour”.
They retained Smith’s economics and defence policies and ended the party’s Clause IV commitment to nationalization.
Blair, formally a member of CND, abandoned his opposition to the retention of the Trident nuclear missile defence and actively supported the establishment of much closer links aligning Britain’s foreign policy with that of the US.
Labour won the 1997 general election by a landslide.