Tag Archives: Robin Cook

No Need for New Labour

14 Jan

 

There’s a popular misconception that the political repositioning of the Labour Party was what won the 1997 election and kicked the Tories out of power for the first time since 1979. This misconception – this historical lie – is what underpins the claims of self-proclaimed ‘centrists’ within the Labour Party to be the only ones capable of winning elections.

In fact, it was the Tories that lost the 1997 election – and they would have lost against any Labour leader, no matter how red, pink, ‘Old or ‘New’ they were. For those who have forgotten, or never got told, here’s some of the relevant highlights of British politics in the years 1992-1997:

From a narrow win in 1992 onwards and for the rest of that parliament, their sheer viciousness – and economic incompetence – become inescapable.

1992 “Black Wednesday”, the forced British withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and the stock market crash in its immediate aftermath, comprehensively destroys the reputation of the Conservative Party for economic competence. The narrow poll lead they had immediately following the election is transformed immediately. From this point onwards Labour’s poll dominance never slips.

1993 The Welsh Secretary visits a Welsh housing estate with a high proportion of single-parent families – and uses the visit to vilify the single parents who are there to meet him and who are being photographed with him.

The act that enables rail privatisation – once labelled a ‘privatisation too far’ by Margaret Thatcher – is passed. Despite it being controversial and threatening to alienate commuters in their south-east English heartland, the Tories make sure that British Rail is fully privatised before the 1997 election.

1994 Stephen Milligan’s grotesque death show some of the hypocrisy at the heart of John Major’s “Back to Basics” moral crusade. Perhaps not as graphically as Edwina Currie’s later revelation that she and the Tory leader had a four-year affair would have done. Then again, ┬áTim Yeo MP has already resigned after revelations about how he helped to contribute to the numbers of single parent families. Oh, and Tory MP Neil Hamilton and former Tory parliamentary election agent and lobbyist Ian Greer are named in what becomes known as the ‘cash-for-questions’ affair,. This runs on and on – right up until the 1997 election. It’s this episode that popularised the term ‘sleaze’. For the next three years that word is everywhere.

1994-1997 Rail privatisation. Have I mentioned that this was a policy calculated to lose votes in Tory heartland areas?

1995 John Major resigns as Tory leader, without resigning as Prime Minister, in order to have a leadership election within his party. His eventual opponent, incidentally, is the same man who visited Wales two years earlier to slag off single parents.

Earlier in 1995 the dramatic collapse of Barings Bank at the hands of a single ‘rogue trader’ demonstrates beyond doubt that banks are not being regulated properly. Sound familiar?

A month before that The State We’re In jumps staight into the bestseller lists. Subtleties aside, the key message of the book is that the Tories’ economic model is plain wrong and Britain needs its political institutions radically democratised. Almost anyone with a smidgeon of education is forced to read it – or argue with somebody who has – over the two years running up to the next election. Remember, if you can, that at this point in history the internet is so primitive that it does not influence political opinion.

Also during this year two Tory MPs leave to join other parties, and the Tories lose control of their last councils in Scotland and Wales.

1996 The publication of the Scott Report shows complicity between Tory ministers and companies illegally exporting arms to Iraq – and demonstrates that the Tories were willing to let others go to jail for their misbehaviour. ┬áJust as some other Tories had been in 1995, when they sought to silence vital defence evidence in the very similar ‘Supergun affair’.

The Scott report ran to over a million words. Opposition politicians scrutinising it were given less than two hours to read it. Nevertheless one Labour politician, a habitual left-wing rebel called Robin Cook, managed to read, remember and use enough of it to utterly crucify the government in the debate that followed. Here’s his killer conclusion, direct from Hansard:

Tonight Parliament has the opportunity to insist that Ministers must accept responsibility for their conduct in office and to assert that the health of our democracy depends on the honesty of Government to Parliament. That is what we shall vote for tonight. Of course Conservative Members have enough votes to defeat us. If they vote to reject those principles, however, they will demonstrate not only that the two Ministers who have been most criticised in the Scott report should leave office, they will convince the public that this is an arrogant Government who have been in power too long to remember that they are accountable to the people, and that the time has come when the people must turn them all out of office.

The Tory leader instructs his MPs to treat the debate as a motion of confidence in the government. They obey. The Tories win the vote by one MP – exactly the size of their majority in Westminster.

There is less than a year to go before the 1997 election.

Now tell me New Labour was necessary.