55 minus 17: Political iterations

Posted: 31 July 2019 in 55 minus

Beyond the minor allusion, the occasional throwaway comment, and one post on the blond bullshitter, I’ve on the whole stayed away from British politics in this run of blog posts.

Mainly, though not entirely, because although I’m a great advocate in writing while angry, I’m an equally passionate advocate of never publishing that which you write in anger.

As a former boss of mine once cautioned, when I was utterly furious: if you make a speech in anger, you’ll deliver the best speech you’ll ever live to regret.

Of course he was right, and it was typical of his blunt smartness. I don’t think he ever understood how much I appreciated his guidance, intelligence, advice when I worked for him, so if you ever come across a fella by the name of Lester Dales, let him know, eh?

So it’s not uncommon, when I’ve got to write something while angry, for me to write a first draft, pour out the nastiness, the fury, the venom, into that piece… then hit delete on the whole thing, and start again.

After a draft, or maybe a couple of drafts, therefore, my raging fury and outrage has reduced – even if only a tiny bit – to a simmering resentment and bitter upset.

And if that’s not the perfect frame of mind in which to write about British politics, I don’t know what is.

Over the past few years, on occasion, I’ve asked people a deceptively simple question:

Of the man political parties, which of them forty years ago would least recognise the current iteration?

I suggest it’s deceptively simple because the obvious implication is that I’m asking about the policies advocated by the parties today.

But of course I’m not, or at least not just about the policies.

(I’m limiting this to the UK parties; I’d be interested – genuinely interested – to see someone do the same to the US parties, though…)

Forty years ago, was September 1979: in the United Kingdom, that means the state of the parties, and their leaders, were:

Conservative Party (also known as the Tories, for any non-UK people reading): the government, since May 1979, with Margaret Thatcher as leader, and the party still trying to make her more likeable by pushing the “Maggie” Thatcher line.

It’s possible, probable I think, that this started as a direct result of the Labour leader having a shortened first name as well. (I remember the “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher, from her tenure as Education Secretary under Ted Heath” so it wasn’t new, but it really started ramping up once she became PM.)

Labour Party: the main opposition, still (just) led by James Callaghan, popularly known as “Jim” Callaghan.

Odd trivial point. His first name wasn’t James. It was Leonard.

He was Leonard James Callaghan. But he preferred James/Jim. Unlike most other senior Labour (and a couple of Conservatives) whose first names were James… but who preferred their middle names, or at least used them for their political careers. For it wasn’t Keir Hardie, but James Keir Hardie. Nor was it Ramsay MacDonald, but James Ramsay MacDonald.

And, bringing it up to date, well almost: it isn’t Gordon Brown, but James Gordon Brown. Yes, we had a Prime Minister named James Brown. Maybe he was prescient in avoiding the name for political purposes, because there’s no way during his tenure at Number Ten that he could have even once have even hummed “I feel GOOD”. And yes, it would have been a gift to the headline writers.

(But don’t get me started on calling George Osborne ‘Gideon’; I’m not a fan, at all. I don’t think there’s a single justifiable reason.)

Of course, we had other parties as well, even back in the late 1970s, and early 1980s, but only one who took more than 1.5% at the election.

The Liberal Party: The Liberal Party was still recovering from their former leader being tried – and acquitted – for conspiracy to murder (if you saw the Hugh Grant-led A Very English Scandal, that’s who I’m talking about.) Led by David Steel, a couple of years before he exhorted his party to “go home and prepare for government”, they gained one seat.

Oh, you were expecting the Liberal Democrats? Sorry, The Liberal Dems were almost a decade in the future at that point.

The Liberals had taken part in supporting the Labour government, as part of a ‘Lib Lab Pact’ as it was known following previous pacts in 1903, 1924 and 29, between 1977 and 1978. For years afterwards, for many years afterwards, until the mid 2000s, while individual MPs made their mark, the party was only a major one outside parliament, with having a major role in local government.

OK, so where were the other parties that are major players today? SNP? Nowhere, in Westminster terms, and no the reason wasn’t the Scottish Parliament; there wasn’t a Scottish Parliament back then, not until 1999. The SNP took 1.3% of the vote in 1979s election.

So, after the 1979 election, the parties stood at:

Conservatives: 339 MPs
Labour: 269 MPs
Lib Dem: 11 MPs
Other: 16 MPs

So let’s just concentrate on the main three, ok? Apologies to the other parties, but when I do a ‘which party in 2019 would least recognise their 2059 iterations’, I’ll include the SNP and the rest, all right?

In policy terms, of course, there are some basics that still apply today. As a general rule of thumb, Tories still want to lower taxes, they still want to come down harshly on public expenditure, they still think anyone on benefits is a scrounged and they still want to… erm, they still want to… well, yeah, I’ll come to why there doesn’t appear to be not much else on the list in a moment.

Labour? Again, some basic similarities. Labour would still rather tax progressively, so the more you earn, the substantially more in tax you pay. They’d prefer to regard people on benefits as needing help rather than excoriation, and they have one part of the political party who intensely dislikes the other. No, nothing much changed there as well.

But there have been some huge changes, some changes that – had you told the leaders at he time that they’d occur, you’d have been faced with stark disbelief at one extreme and somewhere between hysterical laughter and tears at the other.

In 1979, the Tories were pretty pro-Europe.

How pro-Europe? Well, this is from the 1979 manifesto, a manifesto that Maggie Thatcher signed off on, don’t forget:


If we wish to play our full part in shaping world events over the next few critical years, we must also work honestly and genuinely with our partners in the European Community. There is much that we can achieve together, much more than we can achieve alone.

There are some Community policies which need to be changed since they do not suit Britain’s – or Europe’s – best interests. But it is wrong to argue, as Labour do, that Europe has failed us.

The next Conservative government will restore Britain’s influence by convincing our partners of our commitment to the Community’s success. This will enable us to protect British interests and to play a leading and constructive role in the Community’s efforts to tackle the many problems which it faces.

We attach particular importance to the co-ordination of Member States’ foreign policies. In a world dominated by the super-powers, Britain and her partners are best able to protect their international interests and to contribute to world peace and stability when they speak with a single voice.

It’s difficulty to imagine such policies not being laughed out of the room in any Conservative Party meeting now, and anyone who proposed them, being blackballed from future consideration as a candidate.

But I did say upfront that this wasn’t [just] about policies.

It’s often hard to judge at the time whether this politician, or that minister, is a ‘big beast’; if for no other reason that history judges the term very differently to how it’s seen at the time.

At the time, the term usually means ‘someone who has a large influence on party policy and how the party operates, how it runs, what happens because of the party.’ Of necessity, that means someone ‘inside the room’, someone with a direct line to either the leader[ship], or the party at large, often in preparation for a leadership challenge.

In retrospect, however, a big beast can easily be said about someone who used to be a minister, but was later ‘a big beast’ on the back benches.

Whatever one thinks of Thatcher, of Callaghan, I struggle to think that any of the current crop of front benchers would have survived long in a cabinet or shadow cabinet led by either.

I can’t imagine Thatcher putting up with Johnson, nor Dominic Raab, nor Priti Patel, nor even Andrea Leadsom, nor Matt Hancock. (Possibly junior ministerial roles for both of them, very very junior.)

And Labour? Callaghan was above all things a party loyalist. He’d have regarded Corbyn and McDonnell with contempt, and would never have forgotten nor forgiven their views of Parliament while on the back benches. He’d have been ok with them AS backbench MPs, because they’d have been useful, but front benchers? Not a chance.

Genuinely unsure about Diane Abbott, by the way, if only because I’ve always thought there’s far more to her than she’s ever been allowed to show, by any leader. As shadow Home Secretary, she’s been awful, but in the right job? A job that would pay to her strengths – and she does have strengths – I dunno. Chris Williamson, though? Callaghan would never have trusted him for a bloody second.

I did say I’d get back to why it’s difficult to say what the hell the Tory party still believes in.

Because of course there’s Brexit. Which has monopolised pretty much all political discussion in the UK, for over three years, paralysed the official opposition, pissed off every other opposition party, and taken its shot at maiming, crippling and generally fucking up the government, to the extent that we have the primus inter mendaces as Prime Minister.

When the Conservative Party is prepared to sacrifice the union in order to get Brexit, when the party is prepared to sacrifice economic stability and prosperity to get Brexit, when it’s prepared to sacrifice pretty much everything in order to get Brexit, there are at least three obvious thoughts that spring to mind. But here are the three that do:

  1. The party doesn’t truly give a shit about Brexit but thinks there are enough people out there – inside and outside the party – who do and who’ll elect them, and re-elect them, to do it… and will then forgive them (be conned later) for not doing it.

  2. The party figures we’re going to hell in a hand basket anyway and so they might as well try and get Brexit done at the same time; similarly the party reckons Scottish Independence is coming anyway and they might as well get Brexit out of it at the same time.

  3. The people running the show are fucking idiots, stupid people’s ideas of what intelligent people are, idiots’ ideas of how smart people behave. I’m not entirely sold on this, to be honest. I don’t think they are all stupid people. I think they’re all stupid in different ways, but some of them are objectively smart in others.

There is a fourth thought; but it’s such a trite thing to say, such an – to my mind – ill informed thing to say, that I hesitate to bring it up.

  1. It’s not the Conservative Party any more.

It’s the Brexit party, or it’s UKIP, or it’s the rightwingers, not the ‘true’ conservatives, goes the refrain.

It’s nonsense. It’s every bit as much the Conservative Party as it was under Major and under Thatcher and under Macmillan. Even says so on their membership cards.

It’s like when people claim the Labour Party isn’t The Labour Party any more. Instead it’s the Socialist Workers, or Momentum, or other nonsense. Of course it’s Labour. Again, it says so on their membership cards.

What they mean, of course, is either “this isn’t the party I joined” or “this isn’t the party I want it to be” which are quite, quite different things.

The Tory party IS the Conservative Party, in all the ways that matter. They’re in government, they have the power, and the legal right, to turn this country inside out in the pursuit of ideological aims, entirely insulated from the consequences, and will fuck over the people who don’t support them, including the Muslims who some of that party really, really don’t like.

The current iteration of the Labour Party IS the Labour Party, in all the ways that matter. They’re the official opposition, with at least an evens chance of wining the next election, and can then have the power to turn this country inside out in the pursuit of ideological aims, entirely insulated from the consequences, and will fuck the people who don’t support them, including the Jews who some of that party really, really don’t like.

So enough of the “they’re not the Conservatives/Labour any more”.

Yes, they are. That’s the fucking problem.

Which party from 40 years ago would least recognise the current iteration? I’ve no bloody idea.

And that’s a big fucking problem as well.

Something else tomorrow; it’ll be Thursday so regular readers will know what’s coming: something even more upsetting, something deadly serious, and something that I suspect will upset more than a few people with its content.

See you tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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