In my experience the Labour party has always been the Bermuda Triangle of progressive politics in
In the 1930s the party was in the doldrums after two short, unsatisfactory spells in office in the 1920s and the shattering experience of the 1931 general election when its former leader, Ramsay MacDonald, reneged to become the figurehead prime minister of a ‘national’ [in effect, Conservative] government with an overwhelming majority. The rump of the parliamentary Labour party under the leadership of first George Lansbury, an idealistic ineffective pacifist, and then the dour, colourless Major Attlee, was ineffective and irrelevant, especially as it continued to oppose rearmament until after
Labour’s next great missed opportunity came with the
All governments, whether long-lasting or not, go through a life-cycle from vigorous youth, through experienced maturity, and ultimately lose their slipping, increasingly senile, grasp. A decade is a long time in the life of an individual, let alone a government. Material for personal comparisons and evaluations dwindles when, as is the case with younger voters, one has known nothing else than the current regime. For a while, Harold Macmillan’s administration which took over from the enfeebled
The puzzle about the Blair government, which catapulted into power amidst such national euphoria at the demise of the unloved Tories, is why it has sustained its grip on power for so long after implementing a string of policies which have alienated its traditional bedrock supporters. This self-professed “New” Labour government is – if we are to believe the media Whitehall corridor prowlers – as racked by internal feuds as any of its predecessors, the only difference being the lengths to which all concerned go to conceal and deny this. The real difference is that the Blairite parliamentary Labour party is much more subservient to the Whips than was the case under Wilson, or even Attlee. The few threats of major ‘rebellions’ during the government’s almost ten years’ tenure have mostly been ‘fixed’ behind the scenes without any dramas on the floor of the House, and this makes day-to-day politics boring, even for the politically curious [which most people aren’t]. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project resembles a giant pumpkin from which the all the flesh has been scooped out, leaving only an empty hallowe’en mask.
Not only party politics, but populist politics, have failed to dent this prime minister’s unshakeable belief in his own rectitude. His airy dismissal of two million protesters marching against the
Down the years I have had excellent personal relations, and some close friendships, with many members of the Labour party in both Houses. But I have never felt in the least inclined, or been asked, to consider joining the party. Probably because they knew I was not a tribalist, as they were. The distinguishing feature of the Labour party throughout its existence has been its fervent tribalism and inward-looking loyalty, which explains the intensity of its internal feuds. Labour people are bound together by a sense of virtuous superiority to those who have the short-sightedness, or the bad taste, to remain outside “this great party of ours”. Nye Bevan’s infamous and ill-judged jibe that Tories were “lower than vermin” spoke volumes about the Labour cast of mind. As is now only too apparent, the Labour front bench are, in their own estimation, the know-all Nannies of the Nation, and I for one wish them off my back.
One of the myths of British history is that there is a deep and vibrant seam of popular devotion to free speech and civil liberties ingrained in the population at large. Despite the 19th century advances gained by some strenuous campaigning over these issues, they have always been the concern of only a minority, as is evident from the widespread indifference to the current Blairite assault on some of our traditional freedoms in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’. Wherever a resurgence of national concern about freedom is to come from, it is unlikely to be the ranks of ‘New Labour’.
My take on the Labour Party is that, without overlooking the 17th century Cavaliers and the 18th century Jacobites, it is the cause in British politics which has attracted more misguided devotion, and betrayed more fond hopes, than any other.