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Labour Left What Ifs

AlfieJ

left labour poster on here
Thought I’d make one big thread for some discussions on all what ifs related to the Labour Left to save @Comisario’s inbox from my ramblings, and allow some broader participation.

A few potential what ifs to get the ball rolling

- Benn’s Kamikaze challenge to Kinnock in 1988 hoped to encourage a leadership bid from John Smith, what could the effects have been if they had succeeded? Hattersley was always far more in danger than Neil but if he had gone Kinnock said himself he would have resigned. What would a non Kinnock Labour in the late 80s have looked like?
- in 1992 Ken Livingstone stood for the labour leadership but didn’t secure enough noms, if he had what could the effect have been, how do we reckon he would have done, and probably most interestingly, how could he have won?
- what about Johnny Mac in either 2007 or 2010? How would a strong showing in either of these contests changed things?
 
Smith isn't challenging Kinnock, and by making it completely clear that people couldn't have Prescott and a blow for the left while still retaining Kinnock's leadership, (Which was really the focus of that campaign rather than Benn, Prescott's challenge was by far the more meaningful) Kinnock was firmly putting the kibosh on the whole hard left challenge, not playing footsie with actually resigning.

Livingstone isn't winning, or even coming close to winning, during once of the nadir periods for the hard left. He'll possibly finish behind Gould and he'll certainly finish behind Prescott.
 

AlfieJ

left labour poster on here
Smith isn't challenging Kinnock, and by making it completely clear that people couldn't have Prescott and a blow for the left while still retaining Kinnock's leadership, (Which was really the focus of that campaign rather than Benn, Prescott's challenge was by far the more meaningful) Kinnock was firmly putting the kibosh on the whole hard left challenge, not playing footsie with actually resigning.

Livingstone isn't winning, or even coming close to winning, during once of the nadir periods for the hard left. He'll possibly finish behind Gould and he'll certainly finish behind Prescott.
Don’t think the John Smith stuff is true. Kinnock and plenty of others on both sides of the factional divide have both openly said that John Smith considered a challenge in 87 and 88 and even as late as 1992. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have assumed that he could have been won round to going for it.
 

AlfieJ

left labour poster on here
My instinct is that if he gets the noms in either 2007 or 2010, he obviously still loses but it could lead to him standing in 2015 instead of Jezza.
Indeed. I think if he had got on in 2007 it could have been a bit of a 1992 affair and not even getting 10% but it’s so impossible to track the opinion of party membership at the time. A lob her campaign could well have swung things further his way and have undermined some of Gordon’s initial lefty cred.

A strong third place in 2010 would have certainly put him place for the next time around. Though I think it might be debatable if he’d get a little ministerial post like Diane Abbot did in the initial aftermath. Would be fun tho
 
Don’t think the John Smith stuff is true. Kinnock and plenty of others on both sides of the factional divide have both openly said that John Smith considered a challenge in 87 and 88 and even as late as 1992. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have assumed that he could have been won round to going for it.
He was under pretty much constant pressure from various sources to challenge in the whole of the 1988-1990 period and never took it that seriously, despite his relations with Kinnock sliding badly. He's not going to challenge.
 

Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
Whilst I can't see a Livingstone leadership as the product of an alternate 1992 leadership contest (at least, not without a POD a decade or so before/a massive crisis for the Tories in the previous few years that changes Britain's political culture completely), I believe that he is probably the most convincing left candidate for Labour's leadership from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. He was the man who ran rings around Thatcher during the fight over the GLC's future, played the media perfectly, and reinvented himself from the second most terrifying left-winger in Britain (second only to Benn) to being 'Mr London' with a column in the Sun.

A plausible Livingstone premiership, where he puts his proto-New Labour talents for media management and politics as performance to good use, does really need a definitive timeline.

Anyway, aside from these more recent examples, there's also the question of a Benn-less parliamentary Labour left: in 1968, Benn was considered and was originally very enthusiastic for taking up the position of General Secretary of the Labour Party. Things unravelled rather strangely, with Anthony Greenwood accepting Wilson's backing for what appeared to be a sure thing... which then turned into an anti-Wilson coup led by James Callaghan and Alice Bacon (among others). One of the conditions of being General Secretary was that the holder of the position would need to resign as an MP - a condition that Benn was more than willing to meet. Now, if Benn had gone ahead and become the General Secretary, he would have been out of Parliament by 1970 at the latest - with the man who did more than any other to shape the Labour left up until today out of the way, what does the left look like and who leads it? Who articulates its mission and its values? Does Eric Heffer or Peter Shore or someone else become the next socialist bogeyman of Britain?
 

AlfieJ

left labour poster on here
While Shore is probably the most likely to take up the mantle without Benn, he was actually far from the left winger he made himself out to be. Obvs in the 80s he moderates a fair bit, but this might have been out of Tribunite hostility to Benn
 

Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
While Shore is probably the most likely to take up the mantle without Benn, he was actually far from the left winger he made himself out to be. Obvs in the 80s he moderates a fair bit, but this might have been out of Tribunite hostility to Benn
At the turn of the Seventies, he was still pro-nuclear disarmament and was beating the anti-EEC drum evermore loudly, so he fits the model of what one would expect from a left-wing contender in the 1970s. 'Moderate' is really the operative word when it comes to his later political evolution, as he would never wear the right-wing label but didn't try to contend the label of moderate in quite the same way.

If he takes up the mantle, then the New Left likely doesn't get a look-in in the coming decades and the Labour left doesn't form the same connections with burgeoning social movements that it did IOTL. The traditional left of old white men in crumpled old suits persists... maybe to the benefit of a stronger New Times movement that has a greater sway over a possible Labour modernisation in the 1980s.
 

AlfieJ

left labour poster on here
At the turn of the Seventies, he was still pro-nuclear disarmament and was beating the anti-EEC drum evermore loudly, so he fits the model of what one would expect from a left-wing contender in the 1970s. 'Moderate' is really the operative word when it comes to his later political evolution, as he would never wear the right-wing label but didn't try to contend the label of moderate in quite the same way.

If he takes up the mantle, then the New Left likely doesn't get a look-in in the coming decades and the Labour left doesn't form the same connections with burgeoning social movements that it did IOTL. The traditional left of old white men in crumpled old suits persists... maybe to the benefit of a stronger New Times movement that has a greater sway over a possible Labour modernisation in the 1980s.
Yes absolutely. He certainly never goes right wing but he doesn’t chuck his lot in with the New Left either.

This could certainly benefit he CPGB who lost a lot of their post68 growth to the Bennites and a stronger new times is a very good shout
 
and reinvented himself from the second most terrifying left-winger in Britain (second only to Benn) to being 'Mr London' with a column in the Sun.
Wedge was a grandfatherly 'national treasure' media figure once he was a busted flush, you know. That's not due to any special genius of re-invention, but because he was politically neutered. I imagine there was a mutual interest in Livingstone having a Sun column. That's really a sign of how marginal he was, not really a sign of any great daring. (Though his observations of the 1992 tax issue from an SE/London perspective is an interesting thing, to whit, Labour was basically too left-wing - but not, I think an overall sign of electoral vitality)

I'd suggest he's shown the upper limit of his media skills in the last few years, and it's not very high.

I'm interested, but not terribly surprised, in how there's no room for, say, a Cook in these retrospectives, and how it's all about Campaign Group people.
 
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Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
Wedge was a grandfatherly 'national treasure' media figure once he was a busted flush, you know. That's not due to any special genius of re-invention, but because he was politically neutered. I imagine there was a mutual interest in Livingstone having a Sun column. That's really a sign of how marginal he was, not really a sign of any great daring. (Though his observations of the 1992 tax issue from an SE/London perspective is an interesting thing, to whit, Labour was basically too left-wing - but not, I think an overall sign of electoral vitality)

I'd suggest he's shown the upper limit of his media skills in the last few years, and it's not very high.
Benn certainly did get to that particularly position (although, it's a bit overdone and has been rather overstated in the years since his passing), yes. Maybe the political neutering point is applicable to Benn, but it was never true of Livingstone - the histories of the 1980s, the GLC, the diaries of Conservative MPs, etc. that I have read recently all seem to point to a particular knack that Ken had when it came to media management. Recent events suggest that he's downright mentally ill and his conduct of late doesn't appear to be a reflection of the man he was when he undertook his project of reinvention (of himself and of the GLC as a whole) in the 1980s.

There was even a time when Gordon Brown personally feared that Blair might make Livingstone his successor. It's mad, but it's absolutely true - and it was Brown's fear that Blair's recognition that part of New Labour's style and presentation was drawn from Livingstone (who was, in terms of political marketing, proto-New Labour) would lead to a stage-managed coronation of Ken some time between 2000 and 2005. These facts seem silly to us now, but it's worth bearing in mind that 'Mr London' wasn't a title earned through circumstance but the product of serious political calculation on Livingstone's part.

I'm interested, but not terribly surprised, in how there's no room for, say, a Cook in these retrospectives, and how it's all about Campaign Group people.
I suppose replacing one balding Celtic ginger soft leftist with another doesn't have the sex appeal of Fully Automated Luxury Bennism.
 
There was even a time when Gordon Brown personally feared that Blair might make Livingstone his successor. It's mad, but it's absolutely true - and it was Brown's fear that Blair's recognition that part of New Labour's style and presentation was drawn from Livingstone (who was, in terms of political marketing, proto-New Labour) would lead to a stage-managed coronation of Ken some time between 2000 and 2005. These facts seem silly to us now, but it's worth bearing in mind that 'Mr London' wasn't a title earned through circumstance but the product of serious political calculation on Livingstone's part.
If Brown ever believed that for a minute, then it was in the midst of one of his wildest pieces of fever-dream paranoia.

That is, as you say, mad - so mad, I doubt the source has a handle on the facts.

I don't think you're really catching how marginalised Ken, and the Campaign Group, were during this period. In his case, he was in the wilderness for fifteen years post-GLC. And, like a lot of the left, was only activated again by New Labour.

I suppose replacing one balding Celtic ginger soft leftist with another doesn't have the sex appeal of Fully Automated Luxury Bennism.
But far more likely to gain power. And, tbh, one of the few people, even on the left, who were not overly intimidated by the political zeitgeist. I've already touched on, f'rinstance, how FALBennite Ken thought Labour in 1992 was being too tough on the South East in tax terms.
 

Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
If Brown ever believed that for a minute, then it was in the midst of one of his wildest pieces of fever-dream paranoia.

That is, as you say, mad - so mad, I doubt the source has a handle on the facts.
You see, I'm inclined to take the word of well-researched and published historians on this matter. However mad it is, I don't see it as outside of the realm of possibility for Brown to have genuine fears of a Ken Livingstone - accommodated, to some degree, to the new politics - leadership. That isn't to say that the fears are held genuinely because of political reality, but they existed and it is not cretinous to think that Brown fabricated these fears out of nothing. If you think I was arguing the former, then you would be mistaken - I wouldn't want to argue something I don't believe.

You may disagree, which is your prerogative, but it's important to realise that those who've conducted the research and won praise from those who were at the highest levels of the Labour Party during the New Labour period disagree, in turn, with you.

I don't think you're really catching how marginalised Ken, and the Campaign Group, were during this period. In his case, he was in the wilderness for fifteen years post-GLC. And, like a lot of the left, was only activated again by New Labour.
I know perfectly well how marginalised the Campaign Group was, but I believe that you're having trouble seeing that Ken could - in a substantial sense, as I've already explained - stand apart from the more unreconstructed leftists that made up the SCG. That isn't to say that a wholesale left-wing coup of the party was in the offing at any moment, or even that the left were particularly well-liked during the later Kinnock-Smith period. It is to say, however, that Livingstone - who had a good rapport with John Smith and had conducted polling among the SCG in 1988 to discover Smith was their unanimous choice for a second round Kinnock vs Smith contest - could offer a bridge between the hardliners of the left and the traditionalists who wanted none of the media spin and "razzmatazz" of what would become New Labour.
 

Blackadder Mk2

Well-known member
On the whole 'why Livingstone's no longer cool to the soft-left' matter, I'll avoid getting into a fight and just say that-IMO-if this whole thing was because of some mental illness, then it's a condition he's had for a long time going back to the concentration-camp attack, riddled with gays, and Boston Bomber comments. There were even reports that the only reason he didn't mention the Hitler was a Zionist thing back in 2012 was because of Miliband found out and begged/ordered him not to. Whether that's because of genuine loyalty or simply because Livingstone figured he wouldn't win another split is up to the observer. Personally, however, I think the Ken Livingstone of 2018 isn't much different from the Livingstone of 2008, 1998, and 1988 for that matter, and the only difference is that he's figured he can get away with it because Labour's always had a soft-spot for him.

Mind you, I've always wondered about a WI where Livingstone never gets welcomed back into the fold in the 2000-2004 period and becomes the founder of a RESPECT-style party or even a London-specific party. That, or he goes back to Westminster after 2008's defeat and ends up in Corbyn's spot in 2015.

Going back to the 1950s, I'll admit that my knowledge of internal Labour politics is much more limited compared to everyone else who's commented. That said, I did have an idea for which is Bevan, Crossman, and Morgan Phillips all getting done for perjury during their libel case against the Spectator accusing them of being drunk at a conference in Italy. If evidence comes out and there's a less sympathetic judge than OTL, then you might see all three lose their positions. How that affects the internal debates in Labour, their election performance, and the shape of the Left is something to talk about. It'd probably be more destructive if it happened in the mid/early-50s, but there's still room for chaos.
 
You see, I'm inclined to take the word of well-researched and published historians on this matter. However mad it is, I don't see it as outside of the realm of possibility for Brown to have genuine fears of a Ken Livingstone - accommodated, to some degree, to the new politics - leadership. That isn't to say that the fears are held genuinely because of political reality, but they existed and it is not cretinous to think that Brown fabricated these fears out of nothing. If you think I was arguing the former, then you would be mistaken - I wouldn't want to argue something I don't believe.

You may disagree, which is your prerogative, but it's important to realise that those who've conducted the research and won praise from those who were at the highest levels of the Labour Party during the New Labour period disagree, in turn, with you.
I'm just expressing scepticism over something I've literally never heard before, and - though this isn't a killer disqualifier when it comes to things GBone believed about factional positioning, particularly from his boss - clearly, if it is true, wasn't grounded in reality.

Sources pls.

I don't understand why you're introducing this, btw, if the purpose isn't to act as boosterism for Livingtone. So, if I'm reading you right, we're both agreed that if this was something GBone feared, it was way-out, crazy paranoia stuff. Not grounded in political reality.

Well, I guess that gets us both a plate of chips.

I know perfectly well how marginalised the Campaign Group was, but I believe that you're having trouble seeing that Ken could - in a substantial sense, as I've already explained - stand apart from the more unreconstructed leftists that made up the SCG.
I'm not, actually.

That's why I introduced his retrospective on the 1992 campaign also tallying with that of New Labour modernisers. Too much tax and spend.

What I don't think you're prepared to accept, tho, is the corollary of all this, what I've just touched on immediately above, and what you're touching on - if a Livingstone in the wilderness is 'non-unreconstructed', what's he going to be like closer to power.

He's not going to be a Fully Automated Luxury Bennite.

That isn't to say that a wholesale left-wing coup of the party was in the offing at any moment, or even that the left were particularly well-liked during the later Kinnock-Smith period. It is to say, however, that Livingstone - who had a good rapport with John Smith and had conducted polling among the SCG in 1988 to discover Smith was their unanimous choice for a second round Kinnock vs Smith contest - could offer a bridge between the hardliners of the left and the traditionalists who wanted none of the media spin and "razzmatazz" of what would become New Labour.
Smith had an unusually good raport with the left in general, for someone on the right. So, some caution on introducing him in this kind of thought experiment. Most of the right were not so pre-disposed.

If Livingstone does have an alternate, non-GLC career, if a-modernising he goes, then I'm not sure he necessarily is anymore of a bridge than others who started on the left but then went mainstream. Beckett, for instance.

Or Kinnock, aka, the great betrayer.
 

Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
I'm just expressing scepticism over something I've literally never heard before, and - though this isn't a killer disqualifier when it comes to things GBone believed about factional positioning, particularly from his boss - clearly, if it is true, wasn't grounded in reality.

Sources pls.

I don't understand why you're introducing this, btw, if the purpose isn't to act as boosterism for Livingtone. So, if I'm reading you right, we're both agreed that if this was something GBone feared, it was way-out, crazy paranoia stuff. Not grounded in political reality.

Well, I guess that gets us both a plate of chips.
It's in Alwyn Turner's A Classless Society, as I recall - I'll find out the original source when my mum's finished with my copy.

I introduced it as something that illustrated that people actually believed he had significant influence upon New Labour's media management, as you seemed to believe something totally counter to it. I was providing an example - sorry if you've gotten confused with all this good-natured debate. I didn't dispute the political reality (or lack thereof) of Brown's thoughts at any point, but I was offering you an interesting example of how those opposed to Ken still saw something in his media ability. Hopefully, we can agree on that point as well. If not, then I suppose we could drop the matter.

I'm not, actually.

That's why I introduced his retrospective on the 1992 campaign also tallying with that of New Labour modernisers. Too much tax and spend.

What I don't think you're prepared to accept, tho, is the corollary of all this, what I've just touched on immediately above, and what you're touching on - if a Livingstone in the wilderness is 'non-unreconstructed', what's he going to be like closer to power.

He's not going to be a Fully Automated Luxury Bennite.
Well... yes. I believe I literally just made this very point. Very glad you can agree with me, mate.

Smith had an unusually good raport with the left in general, for someone on the right. So, some caution on introducing him in this kind of thought experiment. Most of the right were not so pre-disposed.

If Livingstone does have an alternate, non-GLC career, if a-modernising he goes, then I'm not sure he necessarily is anymore of a bridge than others who started on the left but then went mainstream. Beckett, for instance.

Or Kinnock, aka, the great betrayer.
Well, yes (once again) - I made that point just now with my example of Livingstone's conduct of private polling. Once again, I am glad we can agree on something here. The difference between Beckett or Kinnock or any other figure is that their change occurred earlier in the 1980s and they made up the original post-Foot modernisers. You must realise that Livingstone wouldn't be a part of that in this later Kinnock leadership era scenario, obviously, and would be making a connection between the left and right through a different route. Sorry if that particular point got confused there, but I've generally been talking about a situation that takes place after the 1987 GE at the earlier end of things - that's sort of where we were, I think.
 
I'm happy with you wrapping up those first two points.

Well, yes (once again) - I made that point just now with my example of Livingstone's conduct of private polling. Once again, I am glad we can agree on something here. The difference between Beckett or Kinnock or any other figure is that their change occurred earlier in the 1980s and they made up the original post-Foot modernisers. You must realise that Livingstone wouldn't be a part of that in this later Kinnock leadership era scenario, obviously, and would be making a connection between the left and right through a different route. Sorry if that particular point got confused there, but I've generally been talking about a situation that takes place after the 1987 GE at the earlier end of things - that's sort of where we were, I think.
Yeah, I was ruminating there in that last part, sorry. I was presupposing he has a different career trajectory from an early stage. Gets into parliament, becoming part of the soft left etc. But that's vague.

He's just not going to become leader as late as you're supposing. Or rather, let's be specific here, he's not going to become leader with a 1987 POD. As I say, discount Smith as representative of the right. An outlier. Means nothing that he was on good terms with the man in the wider sense of acceptability. Benn was on speaking terms with him. I bet even Jezza was.

Beckett only quit the campaign group in '88 as a result of the Benn challenge, incidentally. Sort of gave her a little cred as a member of the left in a ticket balancing sense in '92, but not much. That's not a killer factor. Though as I say, I think you're overstating the Smith-aspect.

I think his route to the leadership lies in a Mullin-like path of getting in very late, with minimised baggage. And then desperately wanting in with the new reality, as the tides on the left recede, in concert with his political arrival.

He wanted back in under Blair. Wanted to be a minister, from what I recall. Said kind things about the leader. So he's not above that kind of arselicking and supplication and getting-with-the-programme.

He has liabilities - but then, Clare Short, Mo Mowlam, John Prescott, Tony Banks, Frank Dobson, David Blunkett all had liabilities. All served under New Labour.

I think he has to be a nobody until the late eighties, and have a degree of factional falling-out with the hard left at activist-level, to go down the leadership route.

And then maybe that GBone nightmare obsession might turn into something close to reality.

(Incidentally, Tony Banks is massively underused in our speculations/lists)
 
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AndrewH

I was hospitalized for approaching perfection
Location
Tampa, FL
I'm rather uninformed about the goings-on of intraparty politics in Labour, so to go off @Elektronaut and his brief comment about the man (plus I've always been fascinated by the guy), is there a chance for Tony Banks to ever become Labour leader, and if so, what would be the earliest POD?
 

Comisario

Hello Tony, I am 1952
Published by SLP
Location
London
Yeah, I was ruminating there in that last part, sorry. I was presupposing he has a different career trajectory from an early stage. Gets into parliament, becoming part of the soft left etc. But that's vague.

He's just not going to become leader as late as you're supposing. Or rather, let's be specific here, he's not going to become leader with a 1987 POD. As I say, discount Smith as representative of the right. An outlier. Means nothing that he was on good terms with the man in the wider sense of acceptability. Benn was on speaking terms with him. I bet even Jezza was.

Beckett only quit the campaign group in '88 as a result of the Benn challenge, incidentally. Sort of gave her a little cred as a member of the left in a ticket balancing sense in '92, but not much. That's not a killer factor. Though as I say, I think you're overstating the Smith-aspect.

I think his route to the leadership lies in a Mullin-like path of getting in very late, with minimised baggage. And then desperately wanting in with the new reality, as the tides on the left recede, in concert with his political arrival.

He wanted back in under Blair. Wanted to be a minister, from what I recall. Said kind things about the leader. So he's not above that kind of arselicking and supplication and getting-with-the-programme.

He has liabilities - but then, Clare Short, Mo Mowlam, John Prescott, Tony Banks, Frank Dobson, David Blunkett all had liabilities. All served under New Labour.

I think he has to be a nobody until the late eighties, and have a degree of factional falling-out with the hard left at activist-level, to go down the leadership route.

And then maybe that GBone nightmare obsession might turn into something close to reality.
You see, I think it's gotten quite late and I've gotten a bit confused. I stated in my first post that I didn't think it was possible for Livingstone to come out leader without a POD a decade before the contest itself - this might have run away from that, but I want to restate that I didn't think that in the first instance and I still don't exactly think it now. On the whole scenario that I've been talking about more closely resembles OTL, but with Livingstone as a greater influence from the left - it's a similar thing with Tony Banks, who was favoured by Smith and was believed to be due a promotion at some point before Smith tragically died, but with Ken offering a sort of counterweight to the right that had ascended under Smith. So, not a leadership position in a traditional sense.

Yeah, you can discount the Smith thing as I don't think I'm overstating it at all - I don't even think that it's a point that I've made (whatever the point is, I'm lost at this point).

I'm rather uninformed about the goings-on of intraparty politics in Labour, so to go off @Elektronaut and his brief comment about the man (plus I've always been fascinated by the guy), is there a chance for Tony Banks to ever become Labour leader, and if so, what would be the earliest POD?
(Incidentally, Tony Banks is massively underused in our speculations/lists)
I've used him quite a few times and, indeed, my first prime ministerial vignette has him in the role with Prince Charles recently crowned king.

There are myriad problems with Banks, though, that come through. We first have to consider the problems of his illegitimate kids (fun fact: my mum used to look after them as a favour on behalf of BECTU) and his bloody-minded drive to be as offensive to as many people as possible.
 
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