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
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.