Thursday, 20 April 2017

Labour and the coming general election: the context

As we in the British Labour Party prepare for our next general election, on 8 June, it struck me as interesting to look at the others there have been since the end of the Second World War. We are, after all, in a sense still living the post-War era, at least insofar as there has not been such a violent shock in the evolution of society as that war produced. Not yet, anyway, even if Donald Trump’s working on it.

There have been eleven leaders of the Labour Party in that time, not counting deputies who have acted as leader while a new one was being elected (George Brown, Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman twice). Of the eleven, nine have fought at least one general election; John Smith sadly died before he could, and Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader, is about to face his first.

Elections, how Labour did, under which leader
Victories in red, defeats in blue
Worst result in black, best in orange
The table shows how they have all fared.

Curiously, since 1945, Labour has only lost one more election than it has won (nine victories to ten defeats). However, it has managed to hang on to power significantly less successfully than the Conservatives: of the nearly 72 years since the war ended, Labour has held power for only about 30.

The Tories have moulded the era in which we live far more than Labour has.

Of all the elections it contested in that time, Labour reached its nadir in 1983, under Michael Foot, when it won just 209 seats. Under Neil Kinnock, it gradually rebuilt its fortunes in 1987 and 1992, until it achieved its biggest success under Tony Blair in 1997, winning 418 seats – curiously, precisely double the number won under Foot.

Almost as spectacular as Blair’s success of 1997 was his victory four years later, when he won 412 seats, with Attlee’s landslide in 1945 and Wilson’s in 1966 (393 and 363 seats respectively) close behind.

At the other end of the scale, the number of seats won by Labour fell at both of the last two general elections, until under Miliband in 2015, it reached 232, just 23 more than Foot took in 1983.

So that’s a little context. The obvious question is will the trend reverse in 2017? Will Corbyn, like Kinnock, put the party on a road back up towards power? Or will he merely continue the downward trend from Brown to Miliband? Will he move us off the bottom or, conversely, set a new post-War low?

I shall be out canvassing with other members to ensure that we achieve the former outcome rather than the latter. The polls are against us but the polls can be bucked. Seven weeks from now, we’ll know whether we’ve pulled off that trick.


Anonymous said...

Why does Labour reject the Blair years they were your best but it now appears that they are respected not by Labour members but those outside Labour. It would appear that you have the text book of how to win but refuse to read it or even acknowledge it, why do you hate your success?

David Beeson said...

Ah, you're talking about SOME people in Labour – sadly the majority for now – but certainly not me. There was much that disappointed me in the Blair-Brown governments, and one thing – Iraq – that shamed me, but they did two things well: win elections and introduce some extremely effective, extremely encouraging measures – on the NHS, on civil rights, on child poverty, even in a number of areas of international relations (not including Iraq).

No, I think Labour should be candid about the mistakes of the Blair-Brown years but trumpet their achievements widely and loudly, with great pride. And learn the formula for winning from Blair.

Anonymous said...

Blair was the perfect leader and that is why he had an election lead that was so great, as a conservative he was the leader you always wanted and apparently so did many Labour voters. The best middle of the road British leader in recent years, he leader of a united nation and intertanional respected.

Dan said...

One of the differences between Labour and Conservatives, is the Labour activists seem to be programmed to condemn their own leaders as a sell out and not radical enough, and so will not take credit for anything they did, while Conservatives claim their leaders were the most wonderful thing ever and the greatest for the entire nation.

Thatcher, supported joining the EEC, signed the Single European Act, and all the anti European Tories still worship her, she left office with Tax much higher than now and Rail was not privatised till Major and Royal Mail till Cameron, Tories do not complain she did not cut Tax enough or privatise enough.

Blair has the enormous shaming elephant in the room of Iraq, but most of the rest of what that Government did was good, the priorities of what to spend money on were correct and the national debt in 2007 was lower than in 1997. The world economy blew up in 2008, and with hindsight things could have been done better to reduce the risk or impact in the U.K., but we would have been criticised by the press and Tories if we had tried, but the Tories have been allowed to write the narrative which is the entire 1997-2010 was overspending on stupid wasteful things and all of austerity is Labours fault.

David Beeson said...

"Perfect" is a little over the top. His legacy, sadly, will be Iraq over which he revealed more than a few imperfections...

David Beeson said...

I agree entirely with Dan's verdict on the Blair years. The elephant in the room was Iraq, without a doubt. But there were a great many outstanding accomplishments: the investment in the NHS, the assault on Child Poverty, the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act (even if Blair recanted on that later), the Good Friday agreement, devolution, and much more besides. There were areas where the Blair and Brown governments certainly disappointed - I think more could have been done on education - but it's ever so with Labour governments: they can never do as much as their supporters would like. That, however, is the nature of politics in the real world: you have to accept compromises and a programme only partly achieved.

Far better part achievement of a Labour programme than the full-scale Tory onslaught we've suffered since.

Anonymous said...

So you all talk in riddles the reason Blair was so good was because he was the leader the conservative always wanted but could never find so he was the perf ct UK leader. He certainly never apologised for being run by the unions and being a communist, get a grip Labour recognise it's 2017 and what we aspire to and what our realistic standard of living as a nation is not 1945 and the austerity yeRs after the war.

David Beeson said...

Not the austerity years after the war? No, it isn't. This does of austerity has led to a far longer period of wage recession than that one did.