Magazine article Management Today

Labour Hones a Harder Edge

Magazine article Management Today

Labour Hones a Harder Edge

Article excerpt

LABOUR HONES A HARDER EDGE On the face of it things are looking up for Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader. It is about time.

After the exhilaration of a well fought election campaign in 1987, and the depression of defeat, Kinnock slipped into a deep, manic gloom about himself and his party. The energy and determination to win at all costs seemed to have deserted him.

He became an increasingly forlorn figure, derided by the Tories, and constantly criticised by his own backbenchers who were disillusioned with his rambling performance in the House of Commons. Then the policy reviews were set up. Kinnock did well enough in his conference speeches to say what Labour had to get rid of, what it ought not to do.

But he was never really able to galvanise people by saying what it ought to do. He was unable to map out a new ideological perspective for the Labour Party - a new set of values which challenged Thatcherism and was more in tune with the aspirations of the late 1980s.

With Ron Todd's now infamous speech on defence at the last Labour Conference, it seemed that even Kinnock's hopes of a smooth policy review were to be dashed. But in the first months of 1989, at least some of that appears to have changed. Kinnock himself is more spritely, concise and clinical in the Commons. His humour has returned, a sure sign that his will to do the job and his confidence in his ability have also returned.

That improvement in his personal performance has gone some way to still the gossip against him from his own backbenchers and instill a measure of fear into the Tories.

This has combined with the most difficult time for the Government in many years. The rise in inflation and interest rates has hit constituencies which the Government consciously created through its promotion of mortgaged home ownership, personal credit and consumer spending. This economic uncertainty is at the root of the Government's current dip in popularity. But it has also mishandled the great food fiasco, faces mounting concern over its approach to the environment, and with its policy for privatisation of electricity and water, has provoked more broadly based opposition than with any previous transfer from the public sector.

So Labour has edged up in the polls, largely because of the Government's mid-term malaise. Whether it can retain opinion poll support of close to 40% will depend crucially on what Kinnock does over the next year. If the Labour policy reviews start delivering more popular, credible and modernised policies, there might be a basis for a more sustained renewal. If not, then this might well be the last period of renewed confidence Kinnock feels as Labour leader.

One guide to Kinnock's prospects comes from the history of the rest of the opposition to Thatcherism over the last decade. For what is striking is that it has moved as Thatcherism has developed. It has been at its most successful in addressing social concerns which Thatcherism cannot fully address.

Thus, in the early 1980s, the challenge to Thatcherism's economic ideology was led by university professors writing to The Times in defence of Keynesian economics. In the late 1980s the most powerful oppositition to Thatcherism's economic values comes from the swelling support for the green movement in society. …

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