Has Labour lost the art of creating governing coalitions?

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn has spooked many in Labour of a return to the 1980’s where the party was divided and forced to watch from the side-lines as Thatcher dominated the country.

In Labour folklore, one of the bright spots of Labour’s shambolic 1983 campaign which nearly saw the decimation of the party, with a manifesto that Gerald Kaufman dubbed as “the longest suicide note in history,” was a speech made in the final week by Neil Kinnock where he warned about the prospects for the young, elderly and poor if Thatcher won the election.

Of course we know, Thatcher won a landslide majority and all of the people Kinnock spoke about could not be helped by Labour, who had suffered a heavy defeat.

It may have been this desire to govern that shaped Kinnock’s approach as Labour leader, but I think his first words following his election are something that the current party could do well to remember today;

Just remember in all times and all temptations, how you, each and every single one of you sitting in this hall, each and every Labour worker watching this conference, each and every Labour voter….remember how you felt on that dreadful morning of June 10th, just remember how you felt then and think to yourselves, June 9th 1983, never, ever again will we experience that.

This need to build a governing coalition was learned some of the more centrist MPs like Gerald Kaufman who recalled the total inability of his more left wing Labour party to achieve anything during the 1980’s as he recalled the wilderness years;

I kept increasing my majority at every general election but it didn’t do my constituents any good, because what they needed was a different government and the only way we could get a different government was by adding to the votes of the poor and the deprived…..

Perhaps this is Labour’s Iain Duncan Smith moment, where a party shaken by two defeats just ignores the electorate and falls back into the comfort position of “we lost because we weren’t Thatcherite enough” or today “we lost because we weren’t left enough”

It’s worth pointing out that more right wing leaders like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard did little to bring voters back to the Conservative party. In fact, they couldn’t even convince the Murdoch empire to support them during the general elections in 2001 or 2005. It is interesting to see some Labour figures thinking that a more left wing leadership now is their route to salvation, when if history is anything to go by, it is the leader who can cultivate that governing coalition of adding to your core vote, who always wins.

  • Barry Gilheany

    I fear a split in the Labour Party if Jeremy Corbyn wins particularly if he comes down on the side of the Eurosceptics in the referendum on UK membership of the EU.
    Barry Gilheany

  • chrisjones2

    “the only way we could get a different government was by adding to the votes of the poor and the deprived…..”

    …actually they need to add the working poor and hairspring middle classes

  • murdockp

    seems like they have decided to follow the SDLP strategy of promoting the loyal servants from within, ignoring the electorate and an elder structure where age = seniority.

    suprised they don’t merge

  • Mike the First

    Interesting post David. It does sound like Corbyn’s momentum is driven by a combination of preferring the comfort of protest and opposition, and the old fallacy that if only the party were a bit more left wing, it would win.
    I heard a young Corbyn campaigner on Radio Four this morning saying that she thought even people who voted Conservative in May would vote for Labour under Corbyn next time because they’d be offering a real alternative rather than austerity-lite. Quite the delusion.
    By the way David, it might be worth editing the end of the piece a bit as it gives the impression IDS led the Tories into the 2001 election. That was William Hague; IDS came after and didn’t even fight an election before his party realised their error and ditched him. Howard’s leadership seems to be seen by many Tories as the beginning of their recovery (or at least the end of their decline), so maybe shouldn’t be bracketed with the rest.
    Interestingly, Alistair Darling in last weekend’s Observer, drawing this parallel, talked about Hague as having been somewhere halfway between the right wing and the modernising side, and IDS as on the right wing (didn’t mention Howard). I wonder was he implying Milliband = Hague and Corbyn = IDS.

  • Granni Trixie

    I question the judgement of someone living in England who seemed soft on SF s perspective in a context
    prior to the GFA when people in NI and beyond were being killed.

    In normal Circs I would be a natural Labour supporter and so if they organised here it would present me with a conflict of interest problem though with Cornyn in charge I would not be tempted to jump ship.

    The situation for vulnerable people is so dire that a strong Labour Party is needed to monitor the Tory reforms so a split in Labour is the last thing that’s needed.

  • chrisjones2

    “situation for vulnerable people is so dire”

    Really? What about the situation of those who are working to support those who refuse to or make themselves unemployable. Thats what I call dire

  • Granni Trixie

    Then we are probably on the same page as I believe in reforms to counteract abuses of the welfare system. I also think that it is useful to think of changes in terms of their impact on a culture of ‘taking’.

  • the rich get richer

    Isn’t One Tory Party enough.

    Blair Brown and their acolytes could just have easily been in the Tory party.

    Who needs two Parties doing the same Job.

  • Barneyt

    I really don’t think we should compare Corbyn in the 20 teens with Foot of the 19 eighties. Labour was intrinsically different in many ways from the Tory party, whereas today, you could hardly place a hair between them. Image was starting to play a major role in British politics back then, and many saw foot as radical but as a horse-worrying, scare-crow figure unfit to sit next to any world leader and stand tall. Superficial I know, but there was no way Foot was going to carry the nation and lead it as far as much of England was concerned.

    I don’t expect Labour to take power any time soon. The 4-8 year ambition now should be curtailment. They need to unite on the floor to provide an effective opposition and an alternative for the electorate. Corbyn offers this vision…a vision of fairness, whether it is electable or not. We know greed rules but I live in hope he will resonate with the 20 somethings to give future politics a balance and the electorate an alternative. Ye couldn’t get a lick of paint between them.

    He will get us thinking more about national assets (recaptured or not) and the wealth going to the few. Old and fairer ideals of redistribution will gain a foothold in the wider conscience. He will provide more of a humanist contrast to the current government and allow more idealistic labour politics to re-emerge to help dispense with the insipid and perhaps dangerous Blairites. It may trigger the much needed and overdue Labour party navel gazing that is desperately overdue.

    Corbyn as an expressive leader with a clear and consistent vision should help reshape Labour, from who they presently are (Tory apologists), to perhaps a Corbyn-lite party.

    Labours alternative three candidates occupy an ugly space presently, which is dominated by ambitions of power for powers sake, rather than a left leaning principle.

    If Corbyn succeeds he will at best contest one election as leader. He will lose and move back into the shade, but I hope some of his wake remains and we enjoy the ride.