The odd politics and self-inflicted injuries of Labour

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


Each of Labour’s winners prevailed because they had established sufficient credibility with the country to make Tory attacks seem wild and silly. They put their credibility into the service of a narrative of national renewal that resonated with a critical mass of the electorate. Attlee’s compelling pitch – “now let’s win the peace” – was about building a Britain worthy of the collective sacrifices made in wartime. Wilson, updating what it meant to be on the left of the spectrum for his era, planned to forge a “new Britain” in the “white heat” of “technological revolution”. This was not well realised by his governments, but it was a great help in broadening Labour’s appeal. For Blair, it was about allying economic competence with social justice to make a modernised Britain fit for the challenges of the 21st century. That blend was so effective, both as a formula for winning elections and as a method of governing, that he is the only person ever to have won three back-to-back terms for Labour.

Labour is tortured by its past and, perversely, that problem is most acute with the winning chapters of it. By contrast, the Conservatives are good at defending their history and, when convenient, they are also shameless about rewriting it. Without a blush, Mrs May’s manifesto will steal popular Labour policies that Tories had only recently denounced as Marxist. The right burnishes the memories of its past heroes. See how they still worship Margaret Thatcher, her many warts and all. When the left pays attention to its past, it is too often to despise it. Blair, as any passing Corbynista will let you know, presided over 10 years of reactionary policies such as making dramatic reductions in pensioner and child poverty, doubling spending on schools, raising the proportion of national income devoted to health to an all-time high and extracting record levels of taxation from the wealthy in order to redistribute the revenues to the less well-off. Wilson, in so much as he is remembered at all these days, was a slippery letdown. Only Attlee is accorded some reverence, though the prime minister who ensured that Britain had a nuclear deterrent would have had no patience at all for a party that wilfully did things that would deny itself power. This refusal to pay any respect to its own history is a large part of the explanation for why Labour’s future now looks so bleak.