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  • Scott Cresswell

Is Victory Labour's Greatest Fear?


Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, seen here in 2016, was recently praised by Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer

Ever since the 1920s, Britain has been governed by two parties. As in the United States with the Democratic and Republican parties, the Conservatives and Labour were created to be broad churches with the aim of obtaining power. So, why is one of them more successful electorally than the other?

Since 1924, there have been twelve Conservative Prime Ministers and fifteen Tory victories at general elections. For Labour, there’s been only six Prime Ministers, with only eight majority victories (three of which were so small that it was almost impossible for the party to sustain them for a parliament’s full length). Therefore, it raises the question: why do the Conservatives win more elections? There are several reasons, but one of them is that, unlike the Tories, Labour shy away from praising their former leaders.

For many in Labour, both in the constituency and parliamentary parties, Tony Blair is the anti-Christ. It’s not just his decision to send British troops into Iraq, but also (in their view) his continuation of Thatcher’s neo-liberal economics, along with undeniable disdain for far-left socialism. However, his critics ignore that he is the only Labour leader to have won three successive elections, all of which produced large and sustainable majority governments that changed Britain for the better.

However, Blair is not the only Labour Prime Minister to have been disowned by many on the left. The root of it lies with Ramsay MacDonald, Labour’s first Prime Minister. In 1931, MacDonald was head of an unstable minority Labour government that was struggling to deal with the worsening economic depression of the 1930s caused by the Wall Street Crash. After a dispute within the Labour cabinet over cutting benefits, MacDonald was forced to resign. That is until he became the head of a National Government, one that was predominantly Conservative, especially after the 1931 supermajority obtained by the Government electorally. His betrayal to many on the Labour left caused many to never trust their leaders again, particularly those in government.

Labour’s near destruction in the 1930s caused the once heralded MacDonald to become a villain to the left, and from there on in, they viewed virtually all of their winners as Tories in disguise. Even the great Clement Attlee was accused by Aneurin Bevan of not being radical enough in his socialism, despite the foundation of the NHS and expansion of the welfare state. Harold Wilson, a four-time election winner, was accused of abandoning his left-wing roots for power, while James Callaghan was criticised by the left over economic decisions involving the International Monetary Fund and the trade unions. Gordon Brown is attacked for similar reasons to that of Blair, but hatred of him seems to be far less severe. The view of Callaghan too changed during Labour’s long spell in opposition during the eighties. Why is it that the almighty sin that a Labour leader can commit is winning power?

All Labour governments have changed society. Whether it be the creation of affordable housing in 1924, the creation of the NHS in 1948, the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the changes to race relation laws in 1976, the minimum wage in 1998, or the creation of civil partnerships in 2004, Labour needs to own these achievements and those who the people elected to carry them out. The Conservatives use history to their advantage. They do nothing but praise the likes of Churchill and Thatcher. Labour needs to do the same with their winners, particularly with the most successful leaders in Attlee, Wilson, and Blair.

Keir Starmer’s decision to praise the Blair government shouldn’t be something to shy away from. It should be a given. Why would people vote Labour if the party itself is going to distance itself from its experience in power? If people within Labour continue to shun the party’s achievements in government, why are they still members, and more importantly, why do they expect voters to turn out in droves for them? No government is or has been flawless, but it’s about time the left claims its winners and sings the songs of their achievements.

Image - Flickr (Paul Kagame)



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