The former leader is the only person who can pull the party back from the brinkby Peter Kellner / July 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
One more act of heroism is needed from my Labour Party hero. Neil Kinnock saved the party from collapse in the Eighties; he needs to do the same again.
Nobody now under-50 has an adult memory of Labour’s madness in the early Eighties, when Tony Benn came within a whisker of being elected deputy leader, the Trotskyist Militant group was on the rampage, more than two dozen Labour MPs defected to create the rival Social Democratic Party and in 1983 Labour slumped to its worst defeat since the Second World War.
I do remember them. I was a member of the General Committee of the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party. It came under the spell of a far-left trade union organiser who backed Benn, Militant and every madcap left-wing policy. He delivered his extremism in persuasive, conversational tones. He was Jeremy Corbyn.
In 1983 he left us to become the MP for Islington North. Nationally, the party elected Kinnock as leader. Neil had already done Labour a huge service by persuading 36 other soft-left MPs not to back Benn in the 1981 deputy leadership contest. Given the closeness of the race, these MPs tipped the balance.
Kinnock went on to defeat Militant and marginalise charismatic but destructive trade union leaders such as Arthur Scargill, whose contempt for democracy propelled the miners into a pointless strike that not only failed but which hastened the demise of Britain’s coal industry. Throughout the Eighties, Kinnock displayed outstanding leadership, fine political judgement and great moral courage. He dragged the party back to electability. Without Tony Blair there would have been no Labour landslide in 1997 and 2001; but without Kinnock there would have been no Blair. Anyone who values the minimum wage, Sure Start, gay rights, the Human Rights Act, tax credits, free museum entry, the right to roam and the investment of the Blair/Brown years in health and education—owes a huge debt to Kinnock.
We in Hornsey and Wood Green played our part. In the mid-Eighties, with Corbyn gone locally and Kinnock leading nationally, we repulsed a serious attempt by Militant to infiltrate local ward parties and started selecting sensible candidates for parliament and Haringey Council.