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What the ghost of Labour’s past tells us about Labour’s future

Look at leaders of the Labour party since the sixties:

Harold Wilson: 1963-1976

James Callaghan: 1976-80

Michael Foot: 1980-83

Neil Kinnock: 1983-92

John Smith: 1992-94

Tony Blair: 1994-2007

Gordon Brown: 2007-10

Ed Miliband: 2010-15

Jeremy Corbyn: 2015-present

What this tells us is that Labour is naturally a left-wing, social engineering, highly statist party. A party that that will never naturally be a centrist party. (Going back before the sixties doesn’t change my opinion on this either.)

It takes a tremendous effort to drag the party to the centre. Tony Blair managed it with what was virtually an internal social revolution within the party. But it didn’t hold. Despite delivering the most sustained period of electoral success the party had ever seen, the party got fed up of centrism, forced Blair out, and once he was gone the whole ‘Third Way’ project quickly unravelled, with Brown taking it somewhat leftward, then Milliband further leftward, and then Corbyn back into loony left territory. The party decided that electoral success wasn’t as important as maintaining the rage.

It should also be noted that the reason Blair and Mandelson possessed the energy and strength of will to try to transform Labour was because they believed that they could deliver leftist aims under the guise of an apparently centrist party which had electoral appeal. To a large extent, they succeeded in this, winning multiple elections by masquerading as a centrist party, whilst quietly changing the country and taking it leftwards behind the scenes (on immigration, the EU, the Supreme Court, etc.). It is doubtful whether the New Labour people would ever have put so much effort in had they not believed that they would be able to enact structural changes that greatly benefited the left.

We’ve never seen any great desire on the part of Labour (either the members or the MPs) to become a centrist party because centrism what they believe in. At most we have seen the occasional desire on the part of a few Labourites to become a centrist party for the sake of winning elections. But even that is not a desire to be a sincere centrist government delivering centrist policies, but to be, as I claimed above, a government in power who can then force leftist policies onto the public, either openly or surreptitiously.

So history tells us that the odds are greatly against Labour becoming a centrist party again. Centrism is alien to Labour, whereas leftism is in its DNA. It takes a tremendous effort to drag it away from the left. So even if we momentarily put aside what the party is like now, and the context it finds itself in – I’ll discuss such things in another post soon – past experience tells us that a move to the centre is unlikely.

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4 thoughts on “What the ghost of Labour’s past tells us about Labour’s future

  1. Looks like a pendulum swing to me:

    Wilson to Foot moving Left
    Kinnock to Blair moving Right
    Brown to Corbyn moving Left

    But that doesn’t look like any guide to the next ten years, given that the choices are Left or Lefter.

    You are correct about the Party’s statist instincts though.

    It’s a shame the LibDems are so inept. It would be great to return to the choice the Victorians had, where the limits of the state (and taxation) were matters of general agreement.

  2. What I find depressing is the complete failure of ‘right wing’ governments to learn from the left wing ones. Even when Labour tack to the right economically (as under Blair), they still use the opportunity to push the cultural window leftwards. Even when nominally toeing the ‘centrist’ line they are working behind the scenes to make things more Leftist. Conservative governments never do that, or haven’t since Thatcher. Selling off council houses was a classic – no subsequent government dared change it, however much they hated it. All other Tory governments since have just accepted the Leftist pile of road blocks put in their way. They never remove any or put some of their own in place. A Tory government should pass laws like ‘No-one should pay more than 50% of their income in tax’ that sort of thing. Laws that may not have a great effect now, but may constrain Leftists in the future. Or one of my perennial favourites, create a voluntary tax system so the those demanding higher taxes can pay some right now!

  3. What is with this “centrist” party stuff?

    A key election commitment for Boris’s Conservatives was to throw more money at socialized medicine. Another commitment is to make the UK “carbon neutral”. And Far Right Boris has already deep-sixed fracking in the UK.

    When the Party of the supposed-Right is already way past Centrist and quite deep into Left Wing territory, what is the Party of the Left supposed to do? They may feel forced by the Leftwards charge of the Conservatives to go even further Left.

    A realist might note that, despite Boris’s commanding majority in Westminster, 56% of UK voters marked their X for Parties which are even further Left than the Left-wing Conservatives. The problem for Labour is not that they are Far Left; it is that their activists are mostly nasty people. With the right front men, Labour could win every time. Fortunately, their activists are nasty people and not likely to countenance the right kind of front men — sorry, I mean transgendered Palestinian lesbians of colour.

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