Hopes and Suicide Notes: As Labour Draws Up the Pledges It Will Put to the Voters, It May Find Inspiration-Or Warnings-In Promises of the Past

By Griffiths, Clare | New Statesman (1996), September 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

Hopes and Suicide Notes: As Labour Draws Up the Pledges It Will Put to the Voters, It May Find Inspiration-Or Warnings-In Promises of the Past


Griffiths, Clare, New Statesman (1996)


Labour's Call to the People (1918)

"Labour's programme is comprehensive and constructive. It is designed to build a new world, and to build it by constitutional means."

Labour's early manifestos focused on a few specific issues and emphasised the importance of labour representation as a principle. The 1918 document was far more substantial, outlining a programme for a fair peace, more openness in international relations, freedom for Ireland and India, progressive taxation, improvements in housing, health, education and conditions of employment, and land reform. It marked a crucial point in the party's development, as it contested large numbers of seats across the country for the first time. At the first general election in which women were eligible to vote, Labour claimed to be "the Women's Party", insisting on equal rights and full adult suffrage. And there was a commitment to an overtly socialist agenda: "The immediate nationalisation and democratic control of vital public services."

Election result: Coalition government

Let Us Face the Future (1945)

"The nation needs a tremendous overhaul, a great programme of modernisation and re-equipment of its homes, its factories and machinery, its schools, its social services."

The winning programme set out here defined the party for years to come. The central policies--for full employment, nationalisation of the Bank of England, public ownership of key industries, social security and a national health service--featured prominently among the achievements of the Attlee government. Socialist principles were asserted boldly, but the decisive factor was that voters identified Labour as the party most likely to deliver on housing and the introduction of social insurance. Let Us Face the Future concluded not with a reinforcement of particular policy commitments, but with a pragmatic appeal to the progressive vote.

Election result: Labour's first majority

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Let's Go with Labour for the New Britain (1964)

"Skill, talent and brainpower are our most important national resources."

This manifesto was all about planning. There were plans for industry, the regions, transport, tax reform and prices, with ambitious goals to modernise the British economy and stimulate technological development. The tone was upbeat and informal, but there was substance, too, with commitments to (among other things) disarmament, a charter of rights for employees, attacks on waste in public expenditure, action against racial discrimination and the creation of a Ministry for Overseas Development. The manifesto also committed to state funding for sport, the arts and youth centres. The Wilson administration made considerable progress with this reform agenda, and returned with an increased mandate in 1966.

Election result: Narrow Labour win

Let Us Work Together--Labour's Way Out of the Crisis (February 1974)

"The aims set out in this manifesto are Socialist aims, and we are proud of the word. …

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Hopes and Suicide Notes: As Labour Draws Up the Pledges It Will Put to the Voters, It May Find Inspiration-Or Warnings-In Promises of the Past
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