British Labour squandered chances


By Steve Painter

Campaigning on its most right-wing platform ever, the British Labour Party lost the April 9 elections after leading the Tories in opinion polls by up to 20% just before the replacement of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. In a little over a year, the Kinnock leadership squandered a huge lead, largely through its war on the party's left.

Labour's disastrous performance gives the Tories a record fourth term in office. Labour will have been out of office for around 18 years by the next elections if the new parliament runs its full term. Speaking before the election, author Hillary Wainwright, a prominent figure in the pro-Labour Socialist Movement, described Labour's campaign style as "odious" and "Hollywood-style politics".

"Labour wanted to benefit from disillusionment with the Tories without really offering anything concrete", Wainwright told Green Left Weekly. "Labour's campaign amounted to little but image construction. The Labour leaders really tried to be everyone's friend; John Smith [the shadow chancellor] was always going to talk to the City [the financial magnates of the city of London]. The aim was to lessen the anti-Labour and anti-socialist rhetoric. As a result, in the election campaign Labour moved very dramatically to the right.

"I am not saying that in government Labour ever is left wing, but in opposition it usually is. This time, though, it moved to the right long before it was in government."

Reflecting deep anger over the long recession, a swing to Labour and other parties cut the Tories' majority from more than 100 to around 17, but even amid the deepest recession in 50 years, Labour couldn't oust the Tories.

Wainwright and other leftists supported a Labour victory because of "the expectations engendered". A Tory victory "generally deflates sentiment among an angry working class and within the public sector middle-class ... But with a Labour victory comes a lifting of spirits, greater expectations, more activity and a lift in self-confidence."

Expected by many to emerge with the balance of power, the Liberal Democrats struggled to hold their own. The Scottish Nationalists also failed to make gains, and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams lost his seat in the north of Ireland by a narrow margin.