The Bickerstaffe Record


Bob and Tom and Labour history too

07.21.09 | 7 Comments

Bob Piper, of Bob Piper fame, has been having a bit of a scrap with Tom Harris MP, further to a bit of a run in with John Spellar MP.

The interesting point for me is that young Tom has a very strange understanding of fairly recent Labour party history:

‘Where did the challenge to Denis Healey’s deputy leadership of the party come from in 1981 – you know, the cataclysmic, unnecessary challenge that defined the Labour Party in the eyes of millions of voters? ………When idiots like Scargill are complicit in the destruction of the mining industry…………’

He appears to have completely forgotten the existence around that time of one M Thatcher.

Bob puts him right well enough, but I thought I’d have a little weigh in, because I’m always happy to bore any blog readership rigid with my ridiculously detailed knowledge of the history of the Labour party in the 1980s.

This is what I said, only with added hyperlinks for additional boredom:


Might I recommend, as an addition to your summer reading list, some literature on what actually happened in the 1980s, as opposed to what you now prefer to think may have happened.

Perhaps you might start with Hilary Wainwright’s Labour: A tale of two parties (1987), an account not just of the vicious skullduggery on the part of the rightwing of the Labour party, but also – much more instructively – an account of how the left was actually electorally very popular in the places where it came into power and (to use Mr Spellar’s phrase) got to ‘legislate’ rather than put pontificate.

In Manchester,for example, the left took office at (significant scale) local government level, and their legacy lives on in the form of a city with no Conservative reputation to speak of, and continued support for ‘Manchester Labour’ well above levels elsewhere in the country with similar demographics/social histories.

It is both disappointing and inevitable that your only reference is to Liverpool in the 1980s, which was a very special case, and out of keeping totally with what happened elsewhere in Manchester, Sheffield, London and elsewhere. However, as you raise it, you might want also to invest in your colleague Peter Kilfoyle’s Left Behind: Lessons from Labour’s Heartland. It’s pretty vainglorious stuff, but it’s a decent piece of evidence that even people like Kilfoyle, at the heart of Tony Blair’s leadership campaign, knew a thing or two about the validity of the kind of socialism that Bob espouses).

And of course, need I remind you that while the left was winning elections, and hearts and minds, in cities across the UK, the Labour right was busy losing them to a Tory government which was wildly unpopular as early as 1981? Why did it lose? Lack of alternatives, dear boy, lack of alternatives.

Have a good summer recess.’


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