Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If you but will it, it's still a dream

The ghosts of Labour conferences past.

AS Labour Party delegates returned to work this week and speculation continues about the party's leadership, I wonder if anyone remembered that yesterday was an anniversary? On October 2, 1983 it was reported that the 'Dream ticket', Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley had won the Labour Party leadership.

Kinnock, supposedly the "soft left", succeeded Michael Foot, who had been regarded as the Party's lovable left-wing conscience, when it had one, taking his socialism and nuclear disarmament seriously, and had become a despised hate figure for the jingo Thatcherite press consequently.

With 71 per cent of the vote, given a clear majority by unions, constituency parties and the parliamentary party, Kinnock was joined by Roy Hattersley as deputy. Then a right-winger, or "moderate" as the papers called it, Hattersley has stood out as cuddly Old Labour in the last decade as New Labour moved so much further to the right. He became Kinnock's deputy in 1983 because an unexpected shift in support from the unions helped him defeat left-wing contender Michael Meacher.

With Kinnock sorting out the Left and clearing ideas like unilateral nuclear disarmament out of the way, while Hattersley's chubby visage reassured the middle class, the partnership was presented as the "dream ticket" that would win Labour the next general election.
And a dream it proved.

But the reason I thought I'd look back on 1983 was hearing disgruntled Labour members complain resolutions about the last straw finishing support for Blair's leadership, his government's backing for Israel's Lebanon war, had been kept off the party conference agenda.

Even though conferences have been more stage-managed under New Labour, it has happened before though by different means.

In 1982, following Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at Sabra and Chatila, the hold of Labour's Zionist Lobby was seriously shaken as sympathy shifted to the Palestinian cause. The National Executive continued to pledge its faith in Israeli Labour under Shimon Peres, but among rank-and-file activists, left-wing councilors and trade unionists it was different.

Already two years before Dundee city council had led the way in twinning with Nablus, while in London, Ken Livingstone's stand would help him win selection for the Brent East constituency and undying emnity from the Zionists on the Board of Deputies. Lambeth council leader Ted Knight was linked with Livingstone on the paper Labour Herald whose cartoonist depicted Menachem Begin in Nazi uniform after the Sabra and Chatila massacres. Both council leaders were in the Labour Committee on Palestine, though as Livingstone concentrated on the Greater London Council it was Knight who was really active in this.

Unfortunately the pro-Palestinian Left in the Labour Party was bitterly divided,. Some people may have been in it for what they could get, and inclined to compete. Other elements were more interested in attacking their own side and the Palestinian leadership's compromises, and upholding their sectarian purity (even while feeding smears to the capitalist press) than consolidating the gains that had been made in the movement against the Zionists.

That Labour's top men had not changed was seen at the Socialist International in 1983. Issam Sartawi, a leading member of the PLO who had spoken alongside Israeli dissidents like Matti Peled and Uri Avnery at meetings in Paris and London (the latter of which I helped organise and steward) wanted to address the delegates in Lisbon. Leading figures like Austria's Bruno Kreisky were in favour, but Shimon Peres opposed, and so did the delegates from the British Labour Party. In the end it was agreed that Sartawi should be allowed to speak, but on the morning he was to do so he was assassinated in his hotel lobby.

Later that year, as Labour prepared for its annual conference, Norwood Constituency Labour Party, Ted Knight's local party, was intending to move a resolution supporting the Palestinians. But its delegates were persuaded that its resolution was too contentious, and that there was more chance of success for a resolution being submitted by Dundee on the same issue. Not wishing to be awkward or sectarian, Norwood agreed to withdraw its motion. Only to find the next day that Dundee's motion had also been withdrawn!

I only heard about this word of mouth at the time, and I have not been able to check the details yet. Perhaps if I got the story wrong or have not remembered it correctly some comrade can put me right about this? Because somehow I seem to remember hearing the name of the person who acted as "fixer" behind the scenes, but it can't be right because nowadays he is widely admired as a heroic, defiant and uncompromising champion of the Palestinian and Arab cause.

What was reported was George Galloway's surprise appearance and conciliatory speech, distancing himself from the extreme left, at the conference fringe meeting held by the Labour Friends of Israel.

Perhaps it was but a small part of the effort made to secure the "dream ticket". for what that was to prove worth. Some union leaders and Labourites had already decided in 1982 that the left was "divisive" and should be got rid of. Then as Socialist Worker put it, "With the left on the run, the terrible defeat in the general election of 1983 saw the triumph of the 'dream ticket' of Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley. The party leaders now began a long process of swinging the party rightwards towards 'Thatcherism with a human face'. Any policy that carried a whiff of socialism was ditched".

'How Labour's right wing has been challenged in past
This article should be read after:
Can the left reclaim the Labour Party? '

Allowing for retrospective simplification, and accepting the above as largely true, how does it square with the kind of populist "alternative" the SWP has swung its hopes behind, in Respect and George Galloway?

Ironically, it was Galloway himself who revived the "dream ticket" idea a couple of years ago, appealing to Tommy Sheridan to forget the Scottish Socialist Party and join him, in, of all places, the Mail on Sunday:`Tommy and I would be a great double act, a dream ticket and people would vote for us. I am certain that together we could set the cat among the pigeons"
(Mail on Sunday, 5/12/ 2004, see Socialist Unity comment

Flushed with his successful libel action against the News of the World, Sheridan has set up his own Solidarity party, declaring the SSP dead, and the SWP supported him. But Sheridan's triumph may prove short-lived, as the NoW fights to get its money back, and more stuff comes to light. I'd say look before you leap on to anybody's bandwagon, and be wary of anybody who tries to sell you a dream ticket. .

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At 7:36 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

In the US, we don't have a party, that the socialist left can enter, that is a working class institution, based on unions. It fascinates me, the UK's leftist deep entry in the Labor Party.


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