Labour chooses new leader

Wednesday, August 5, 1992

Labour chooses new leader

By Frank Noakes

LONDON — On July 18, John Smith became Labour's 14th parliamentary leader. The result was never in any doubt. Smith, from the party's right wing, won the leadership with 91% of the vote in a two-way contest. His deputy, Margaret Beckett, is cast from the same mould: professional, dull and free marketeer.

Neil Kinnock has gone, but his legacy — "New Realism" — lives on, despite Labour's spectacular defeat in the April 9 general elections.

New Realism is described by Miners' Union president Arthur Scargill: "New Realism is neither new, nor is it realistic. I'll tell you what it is though — it's class collaborationist."

Over the past 10 years, tens of thousands of members have left the party or have been expelled in witch-hunts. Four million workers have opted out of their trade unions in the same period.

Some political pundits here see Smith as a caretaker leader: elected for lack of attractive options, at the top until the new generation throws up someone else. Waiting in the wings, already cutting its teeth in shadow ministerial posts, is a younger generation composed mostly of political yuppies.

Smith, a pragmatist who boasts no truck with theory (pragmatism is, of course, a theory itself) lacks the ability to inspire. In the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, he has nothing new to say.

Coincidentally, 100 years ago another, very different, Labour politician was also elected. Keir Hardie was elected as the first Independent Labour MP, in the working-class seat of West Ham South. Different times, maybe, but with the same unresolved issues. Hardy proposed progressive radical solutions.

If only we could harness the energy produced by the rapid rotation beneath his gravestone.

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