SUICIDE BY SOCIALISM; When Will Labour Learn the Lesson of History: That the British People Don't like Hectoring Left-Wing Politicians Telling Us How to Run Our Lives

Daily Mail (London), May 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

SUICIDE BY SOCIALISM; When Will Labour Learn the Lesson of History: That the British People Don't like Hectoring Left-Wing Politicians Telling Us How to Run Our Lives


Byline: SATURDAY by Dominic Sandbrook ESSAY

TONY BLAIR, of all people, saw it coming. As long ago as January, he told The Economist magazine that the 2015 election campaign would be one 'in which a traditional Left-wing party competes with a traditional Right-wing party, with the traditional result'.

'A Tory win?' asked his interviewer.

'Yes,' Mr Blair replied. 'That is what happens.' Whatever you might think of Mr Blair, he proved a much better soothsayer than the vast majority of pollsters and pundits.

For Thursday's election was not merely a disappointment for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party. It was a disaster, a catastrophe, an utter debacle to rank with the very worst defeats of the Eighties.

The seeds of Labour's defeat were, I think, sown at the very moment when, on September 25, 2010, Ed Miliband was announced as the party's new leader. As I wrote at the time, the problem was not so much his goofy manner and geeky personality, but the fact he had so comprehensively refused to learn from those previous defeats.

Mr Miliband's appeal to Labour activists, and especially to his patrons and paymasters in the giant trades unions, can be put very simply.

He stood for the leadership on the basis that he was not Tony Blair, that New Labour was dead and that he would rekindle the Left-wing spirit of the Seventies and Eighties.

Moments after Mr Miliband's shock victory over his more moderate brother David, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who led his party to crushing defeats in 1987 and 1992, was heard to exult: 'We've got our party back.' Well, Mr Kinnock certainly got his party back on Thursday night an unashamedly Left-wing party, suspicious of business, hostile to the free market economy and dedicated to the principle of state intervention in business and the biggest utility companies.

AND the reaction from the British people was exactly the same as it was in the Eighties: crushing rejection. To an outside observer, it simply beggars belief that Mr Miliband failed to learn the lessons of history. Indeed, right from the moment he became Labour leader and proclaimed his fealty to the old-time Left-wing faith, Blairities were queueing up to warn that he was leading his party back to the dark ages of defeat.

'Economic competence counts, leadership matters and you cannot win from the Left,' Tony Blair's old speechwriter Philip Collins remarked yesterday. 'These things are rules in politics, carved in stone.' Almost incredibly, however, Mr Miliband believed that he could rip up the rulebook. For reasons that seem to me utterly unfathomable, he believed and still believes that Britain is crying out for old-fashioned Left-wing policies, and that fate had chosen himto lead us into a socialist, redistributive future.

Yet even a cursory glance at the history books would have told him that no Labour government has won a majority on an overtly Left-wing platform for decades. Indeed, the last Labour leader to do so was Harold Wilson in October 1974 and his majority was just three seats.

In fact, even that Wilson victory was a pretty poor model for Mr Miliband to follow. It is true that Labour at the time espoused some hair-raisingly socialist policies, from 83 per cent income tax to the nationalisation of land.

In reality, Wilson did not believe in his party's Left-wing wheezes and many were quietly abandoned over the next five years. Indeed, by the time Labour faced the electorate in 1979, his admirably pragmatic successor, the more conservative Jim Callaghan, had started dragging the party back to the centre ground.

Yet such was public exhaustion with the endless strikes, inflation and economic chaos that the British people turned instead to Margaret Thatcher's gospel of individual aspiration, hard work and self-improvement.

It is a mystery to me why, for so long, so many Labour politicians stubbornly refused to learn appropriate lessons. …

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