Yesterday’s news that seven Labour MPs had quit the party and now intend to sit in Parliament as ‘The Independent Group’ was not the first time a disaffected number of Labour members had done so. It happened back in the 1980s when the Social Democrat Party – the SDP - was formed and one of the reasons for it was similar to the reasons today; Labour’s lurch to the far-left.
That previous occasion had seen the likes of Derek Hatton, ostensibly the Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council, bring the city to its knees with his extreme leftist actions. Ken Livingstone had done something similar in London and what was known as the Militant Tendency had become a driving force in the Labour Party’s way of doing things. Never before had the far left gained such a grip of it. The party’s leadership had seemed incapable (or unwilling) of doing anything about this yet the leader under whom it had taken place was also widely viewed as one of the nicest people in politics.
Michael Foot was well-known for having a slightly odd dress sense but as well as having that reputation for approachability and amiability, was also infamous for being described as one of the ‘useful idiots’ of the old Soviet Union. Foot had a rather idyllic view of the USSR, beautifully sent up by Peter Sellars playing the character of Fred Kite, a hard-left union shop steward in the film, ‘I’m All Right Jack’. In one memorable scene, Kite described the Soviet Union as a place where everything was better, where everything was provided and everybody had a job.
Such comments were seized upon by those who knew the reality of life behind the Iron Curtain and football manager Brian Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor was an advocate of Socialist life – until he saw for himself the dull, dreary, state-led results of socialist dictatorship. Clough had always been a Labour man but in his autobiography described Taylor by saying, ‘There can never have been a goalkeeper who was more of a left-winger’. Clough went on to write that Taylor’s philosophy changed in 1971 after a European Cup match away in what was Czechoslovakia:
'It might have been the drab area we travelled though by coach, having flown into Vienna. It might have been the obvious lack of wealth and the fact that we hardly saw a smile on the faces of people who all seemed to be dressed in grey or black. Or it might have been that we had to drive through a ‘sheep-dip’ on the way to our hotel because the region had been hit by foot-and-mouth disease. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things – but Taylor’s politics took an immediate turn towards the right long before we flew home. I think he was looking for something that wasn’t there, an idealism that he had read about but never seen in action before.'
Much like Fred Kite. And Michael Foot, Derek Hatton and others of the era, as well as those today who still hark after what time has proved to be a false and failed ideology. Including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both of whom are old enough to know of what Peter Taylor discovered.
Very few of Corbyn’s supporters today however, are old enough to know of that reality, that extreme socialism has never worked and still today does not, demonstrated rather starkly by the current situation in Venezuela. Those who are of an age to remember remain wedded to something that was indeed, never there, something that they in fact, never saw for themselves, unlike Peter Taylor. As a consequence, their sons and daughters, along with those of similar age and association, have been brought up on a fantasy, raised upon tales of the evils of capitalism, of the dreaded Thatcher years, of an alternative that has never existed.
One of the related aspects to far left socialism sometimes commented upon, although not nearly enough, is that to attempt to make it work means not only railing against any other doctrine but ensuring that no other option is or can ever be on offer to the people of any country that its leaders supposedly aspire to serve. That means one party and one only, with all others excluded and banned. This was the case with the USSR and those that it dominated, such as the old Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Baltic states and others all too numerous to mention. Put simply, it means dictatorship.
It means that if propagating the far left viewpoint cannot be done through the ballot box, then it must be done in some other way and in a less obvious one. This is why Labour’s conversion from a party that was open to all has suddenly become the opposite, a party that cannot tolerate any dissension from the purity of one view. It is why socialist banners and placards were handed out to children to wave enthusiastically during the ‘school strike’ – it is why the far left hold such sway in the UK’s education system. And it is also why anti-Semitism has apparently sprouted so much.
Bigotry, of one kind or another, has always been a hallmark of extremism, both far right and left, and it manifests itself in hatred of those whose faith is different. A hatred of Christianity has been fed by extremism, a hatred of Islam has been fed by extremism, just as the same hatred has been fed throughout human history against anything viewed as undesirable and it is always the easiest target that suffers from it first. Anti-Semitism has been around for a very long time and reaches back beyond living memory, thus it makes the same easy target today as it has always been; as it was in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. As it was in the 1950s and as it is today.
The extremist needs something to turn against, something that has been the subject of vilification for eons, and this is why somebody of the Jewish faith is an easy target. It has always been easy to blame the Jews.
Labour has also always been prone to infiltration by extremists and when the party was purged of it following the formation of the SDP, it was because something had to done. If it had not been, it would have remained unelectable. Michael Foot’s manifesto, dubbed ‘The Longest Suicide Note in History’ was so because of its far left content and had those principles remained in place, there would probably be no Labour party today.
That is where Labour is now – once more at a crossroads. The Militant Tendency of the 1980s is today known as Momentum. The Labour party can either purge the extremists again or it will inevitably become extinct, like the USSR. The danger is that should that be so, the extremists and their offspring will not vanish as well. They will simply lie low before emerging once again into Labour’s successor party.
© Kevan James 2019.
Breaking News - Derek Hatton is re-admitted to the Labour Party decades after being expelled from it.
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