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Do non-Blairite Labour leaders win elections?

Let’s look at Labour party election wins since the Wilson era:

James Callaghan: lost in 1979.

Michael Foot: lost in 1983

Neil Kinnock: lost in 1987, and also in 1992.

Tony Blair: won in 1997, 2001, 2005.

Gordon Brown: lost in 2010.

Ed Miliband: lost in 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn: lost in 2017 and 2019.

So that’s eight out of the last eleven elections lost, and the only three wins were by Tony Blair, the most centrist Labour leader in that lot. So the number of general elections won by a Labour leader who isn’t Tony Blair since 1974 (45 years ago) is… zero. A big fat zero.

In fact, the only other times Labour have won general elections have been: (1) immediately after the war when the nation was fired up with the spirit of communitarianism, and full of dreams about the wonders of socialised medicine and nationalisation; and (2) the three elections won by Harold Wilson at the dawn, and at the height, of the sixties revolution when the modern classless society was the coming thing, and the old establishment had clearly had its day.

Since those heady days, despite the sixties generation and its descendants coming to rule the media and the new establishment, no-one to the left of Blair has ever won a general election. So even before we look at today’s actual Labour party (which I will do soon), we can note that it’s very difficult for a left-wing party, at least an openly left-wing party, to win power in Britain.

That’s not to say Britain won’t ever change and become more left-wing. Maybe it will, but that’s an issue for further discussion. For now, I’m setting the historical background, and what that background tells us is that Labour’s success in modern times has come from the centre, not the left.

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5 thoughts on “Do non-Blairite Labour leaders win elections?

  1. Would I be correct in saying that, apart from the Blair era, Labour has never won twice in succession? That is to say, people misguidedly vote in a socialist government and learn to regret it within one term.

  2. Not quite. Atlee won in 1950, but with only a 5-seat majority, was forced to call another election in 1951, which, as we know, he lost.

    To expand on Hector’s point, in 120 years of the Labour Party’s existence, under 17 leaders, only three have ever won a clear majority in Parliament: Atlee, Wilson, and Blair. That’s less than one-in-five. MacDonald, although he became Prime Minister in 1929, fell 21 short of the 308 seats then required for a majority.

    Surprisingly, in its 185-year history, the Conservative party has only had two more leaders. 14, almost three quarters of them, have won clear majorities (In fairness, I’m counting the Liberal Unionist and National Liberal “coalitions” of the late 19th Century and 1950s as Tory wins. Both parties campaigned alongside, and eventually merged with, the Conservatives. Since the LibDems didn’t in 2010, and show no signs of doing so, that coalition obviously doesn’t count, but Cameron of course went on to win on his own in 2015.)

  3. >Not quite. Atlee won in 1950, but with only a 5-seat majority, was forced to call another election in 1951, which, as we know, he lost.

    Yes, I simplified it a bit (perhaps a bit too much).

    The rest of your comment is excellente.

  4. Well, sort of. It’s happened because they’ve adopted all the Left’s ideas so there is only obvious insanity for Labour to campaign on. To their right, any heads that appear above the parapet get pelted with accusations of racism until they duck out of sight again. The nominal “Conservatives” are actually occupying the centre-left ground. Recent case in point: I see they are about to raise the minimum wage, sorry ‘Living wage’ again. As you say, though, it’s a strategy that works.

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