After Foot's disastrous election, Jeremy Corbyn claimed "everything had been fudged." Now, Labour must learn from a new defeatby Anthony Broxton / December 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
This morning Labour has its fewest number of MPs in Parliament since 1935. That election was one of progress, with Labour winning 102 seats and setting itself back on course for government. A more apt comparison is 1931, when the party was reduced to just 52 MPs.
The party lost 235 seats following the formation of the National Government and then, like today, it was the “Red Wall” that was decimated.
It was the loss of the heartland coalmining town of St Helens that ‘shattered’ a young Clement Attlee. He knew it “was clearly a landslide, so I decided to sleep on it” and in the end only clung on to his seat by 551 votes. Colleagues such as Herbert Morrison and Hugh Dalton also lost their seats.
Labour would fight their way back to power fourteen years later when Morrison, Dalton and Attlee led Labour to the historic 1945 victory. That government, however, would only last for six years before the party entered its “Wilderness Years.”
Under Hugh Gaitskell the party lost another election, triggering the perennial question of “Must Labour Lose?” Yet despite claims that the party was out of touch with the new ‘consumerist’ society it still held on to 258 seats and 43.8 per cent of the vote in the 1959 election.
By the 1980s however, the question was not whether Labour would lose but would it survive. In October 1978, it appeared to be in a strong position—having won four out of the last five elections—but failed to heed the calls for change which Margaret Thatcher offered.
Labour’s 1983 general election campaign—which, until the rise of Jeremy Corbyn seemed destined to represent the peak of the left’s influence on the party—shaped the political weather for a generation.
The lessons of 1983
Labour had expected defeat in 1983 but not total annihilation. The election of Michael Foot as the man to take on the juggernaut of Thatcherism was not one made with the wishes of the broader electorate in mind. Yet the rejection of more ‘presentable’ candidates such as Peter Shore (alienated on the right), Denis Healey (popular in the country but with few allies in the party), and Tony Benn (who refused to stand) ensured Foot was the ‘unity’ candidate.
The manifesto, which came in…