The following comment was written in response to something an old friend/adversary said about the devastating effect the Gang of Four’s split had on the Labour Party in 1981. Bob and I have spent more than two decades disagreeing about issues around Tony Blair, New Labour, the Iraq War and latterly the party’s lack of opposition to the politics of austerity – and as you can probably imagine, we find ourselves on opposite sides once again when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn.
OK Bob, thank you for that potted history and for providing me with a eureka moment. Although you are only a year older than me, your political education and involvement probably predates mine by over a decade. Consequently in 1981 when you were a social working militant member of Militant Tendency, I was a London motorcycle courier, who’d just treated himself to an extremely exotic Italian motorcycle and was far to busy having it large to even think about politics (although I did see the riot in Peckham that year and the reasons for it, very up close and personal).
Because of the influence of one of my flatmates (who was a Socialist Worker at the time so we had some lively discussions about my lack of political engagement) I would refuse deliveries to South African companies and banks and as a matter of class loyalty I would never cross picket lines to make deliveries; but with the exception of the inspiration I felt at the Rock Against Racism rally in Vicky Park in ’78 and my total aversion to Thatcher and the Tories generally (a matter of class loyalty again), I was largely a political free zone.
From this distance, it’s difficult to know whether it’s a false memory or not, but if I do recall rightly I delivered the Limehouse Declaration press release after picking it up from David Owen’s house in Narrow Street. If I did, I failed to register its real significance at the time because it was another couple of years, after I’d become a residential social worker myself, before I began to understand how much politics impacted on my life.
It was in 1983 when my wife was pregnant with our first child and I was facing my second home closure in less than twelve months (with the consequential loss of our tied house) that I first began to study the gap between the bullshit the management were trying to feed me (and the rest of the staff team) – once again! – and reality. I moved on from Surrey SS to Southwark SS just in time to become involved in a post ‘residential workers dispute’ strike (as a response to the victimisation of a member who’d been involved), which was the one and only time that I have been on long term strike. The fact that this coincided with the miners strike and the scrapping of the GLC meant that I became very politicised very quickly; and because by then I had spent my adult life paying attention to what was going on around me – but crucially without having been indoctrinated or affected by any political theory, from the left or right – I was able to take in what was happening around me with the knowing eyes of a thirty year old political virgin.
Now I’m aware that we have different experiences of the miners strike but for once I’m not looking to go back over that ground; what struck me about the polling illustration you provided was the similarity between the current situation and what happened in 1981 (when I was too busy having fun to notice). The Labour Party was performing very much as you would expect two years into a hardline Tory government and in spite of the best efforts of the media, its double digit lead wasn’t effected when it adopted a comparatively radical left wing stance, it was only the plotting within the PLP and the separation of the Gang of Four that succeeded in almost burying the party for over a decade.
Now I can understand why as someone who had been involved for as long as you have, you wouldn’t have wanted to give up on the party that you’ve fought for for all of those years (albeit from a militant perspective) but it strikes me as being a bit like someone who’s a Man City supporter for life, irrespective of the fact that the club now has Middle Eastern owners who share none of the value systems that Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison brought to the club when he started following it in the 60s! Didn’t it ever strike you as ironic that the Blair/Brown government that you so wholeheartedly endorsed was considerably to the right of the SDP that you chose not to follow in 1981?
For the last year you have been ganging up with the gang of however many (we’ll find out after the leadership contest is out of the way) along with the entire Establishment (including Cameron and May) and the MSM to undermine the first truly principled Labour leader since Foot; and at a time when the Tories should be held to account you’ve chosen to join a conspiracy to prevent the electorate from being offered a meaningful choice and the possibility of a more optimistic future. Given your experiences in 1981, my question is why?