The Left and Margaret Thatcher

Frederick Cowell

Image©Gingerblokey

Margaret Thatcher’s death has resulted in many a hagiography, some national reflection and an almighty attack of political amnesia. Her pursuit of an agenda of ideological radicalism which either, saved or savaged Britain (depending on your viewpoint) created an ‘ism’ but was not done in vacuum.

Margaret Thatcher had long nursed radical ideologies but contrary to the right wing narrative of ideological triumphalism in her ascendency to power, her first election victory in May 1979 was on a very pragmatic and cautious ideological platform. The Conservative manifesto was, as the historian Andy McSmith notes, only little more radical than their 1970 manifesto and Margaret Thatcher had agreed to follow the generous recommendations of the Clegg Commission on Public Sector pay which had been set up after the winter of discontent – hardly the stuff of union smashing Tory fantasies.  Ken Clarke reflected that the election focused on bread and butter issues such as prices, inflation and the state of the national finances – many of the same concerns had encouraged the electorate five years earlier to replace Edward Heath with Harold Wilson. Nigel Lawson remembered she was preoccupied with “not frightening the electorate” and in the late 1970s she went out of her way to distance herself in public from more radical policies on spending cuts and privatisation and in office was even prepared to give in to the miners, delaying pit closures. It was two years from her election until the first full monetarist budget in 1981 and many of the largest privatisations and assaults on the unions took place later. The ideological zealotary, which she had always had, emerged openly in 1981 as the infighting on the left meant that it was unlikely that there would be any meaningful opposition to the Thatcherite agenda.  Read more of this post

Parliament Channel: Harold Wilson Night (Conference Speech)

LeftCentral Review

© Image The Prime Minister`s Office photostream

The BBC Parliament channel, dedicated last Thursday evening to Harold Wilson, a set of programmes which included a broadcast of Wilson`s final 1975 Conference speech as Prime Minister. The speech with its valedictory tone is worth watching for reasons summed up by Ben Pimlott as Wilson appears to forecast the tough times ahead for the Labour movement. Pimlott reminds us that by 1975 the Party was on the cusp of tearing itself apart, in the early stages of an existential crisis. Wilson`s speech is delivered in a perfunctory manner to a morose audience, a conference of beleaguered looking delegates. If only they knew what was around the political corner, perhaps then they would have been grateful for the deliverance of Labour`s 1974 manifesto. A programme which if not socialist, was certainly socially responsible, in the speech Wilson describing the 1974 manifesto as promoting a fairer, more democratic and socially just society, an agenda transforming Labour into the natural Party of government.  In the turbulent years ahead Labour would struggle to hold on to its position as the main party of opposition due to the threat posed by the newly formed SDP. It was interesting to hear Shirley Williams defend the Wilson legacy with such vigour last Thursday. One wonders what her `Orange Book` Liberal colleagues thought of her performance? Read more of this post

You Can`t Say That (Memoirs) by Ken Livingstone

Book review 

Livingstone Ken

copyright Amplified2010

This is a highly readable account of Livingstone`s life beginning with his early years in post-war Britain, a world resembling Mike Leigh`s depiction in `Vera Drake’. London is an incredibly boring place lacking cultural diversity home life dominated by the Daily Express. His Conservative voting parents were socially enlightened although Victorian values permeated Livingstone`s upbringing, to escape he read Orwell, political awakening coming from Horowitz in 1967 `From Yalta to Vietnam`. Harold Wilson`s position on Rhodesia transformed Livingstone`s initially high opinion of the Labour leader and Livingstone delayed joining the party repelled by Callaghan`s treatment of Kenyan Asians.

Racism was a strong generational factor his uncle a member of Mosley`s Black-shirts who refused to watch television featuring black or Irish personalities. Livingstone outlines the racist Conservative campaign during the Smethwick election in 1964 setting the tone for UK politics. The Labour Party mimicked this agenda illustrated by comments made by Mellish and Richard Crossman, notable non-racist exceptions such as  John Fraser MP encouraged black political participation which attracted Livingstone to the Labour Party. Livingstone also worked at Chester Beatty with brilliant “research doctor” Tom Connors and drew closer to Ghanaian colleagues because of Ian Smith`s “racist government in Rhodesia”. Read more of this post

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