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

Would we have been rolling about in laughter if James Callaghan had won the election in 1979?

Peter D`Sena  

Image © Ingo Hoehn

Peter D’Sena wonders if Callaghan had won

the election of 1979,

would so-called alternative

comedy and its associated forms of popular

culture have had a very different

genesis, trajectory and influence.

 

“Ladies aaaand Gentlemen!”, bellows the compere. “Please give a warm welcome our headline act tonight: the one, the only, Jim Davidson!”

It’s a Saturday night in March 1983 and in a new West End club (let’s call it the Comic Shop) the atmosphere is hot, sweaty, smoky and slightly claustrophobic.  Our hero struts on and, as this is ‘Sit Down’ comedy, he perches on a stool, Perry Como style, in order to start his routine.  A heckler in the crowd drunkenly berates the leader of the opposition (Willie Whitelaw), but even his jibe about the nation’s big, bushy browed soft target falls on deaf ears – the age of political apathy of the ’70s, has by this time grown apace and the passive audience quickly hushes this would-be participant down.  And why shouldn’t they?  The opposition is becoming merely ornamental.  After all, inflation is down into single figures; the labour party seems to be in internal harmony, especially after buying the loyalty of the Liberals and preventing the formation of a splinter group (the would-be SAP); and labour’s deputy leader, Tony Benn, not only seems to be a credible complement and successor to Callaghan, but also likely to capture a greater margin of victory in the general election called for a few months time.  Even for the few who are bothered to politicise, there seems to be more to laugh than cry about.  Dr Owen’s tactics of submarine diplomacy, in 1982, proved enough to prevent the quirky Argentinian leadership from taking the Falklands; Callaghan has pulled back from schmoozing with the new president – the B-list actor, Reagan and distanced himself from Star Wars; and the death of Brezhnev has opened the door to the possibility of a socialist-dominated Europe moving closer to reciprocal agreements with the new Soviet leadership.  Unemployment, which had been a threat in the late ’70s, seems to be turning around, so much so that a TV show called Boys from the Black Stuff won’t be taken beyond its pilot.   The show with a character called Loadsamoney looks to have much more potential under Labour than Yosser Hughes.  This is an age of parody rather than post-modern irony, and in the media the closest thing to conflict is the TV ratings war, where it’s a close call between Blind Date and Fantasy IslandRead 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

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