Monday, March 12, 2007

The Two Worlds of Roy Hattersley

Putting The Boot Into Foot

In using a book review to condemn Michael Foot's leadership of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983, Roy Hattersley has opened himself up to criticisms here and here.

A partial understanding of what Roy was himself up to at this time can be shown in his activities at the Labour Party Conference in 1981.

Compromise Or Confrontation

At that time, Roy was Joint Chair of the Solidarity Group of MPs which was considered to be on the right-wing of the Labour Party. Prior to what (in those days) were key elections for the NEC of the Labour Party, he addressed a Solidarity fringe meeting. He opened up two options.

On the one hand, he looked for coming NEC election results which would help to heal the wounds in the Labour Party by seeing an advance by right-wing candidates in the (then) Constituency Section which would facilitate the development of a mixed and broader Church. But then he ended up on a more brutal note about the Bennite Left and quoted the slogan "Do not fire first, but if it is war they want let it begin here".

When the election results were announced, Dennis Healy was safely re-elected as Deputy Leader and five lefties bit the dust in the Constituency Section. The potential broad Church was now tilting well to the right.

The "New Socialist" Debate

Roy's immediate response was to seek a move which would either come to terms with the Bennite Left or would undermine them.

He made his initial move for a position of compromise-through-strength at a fringe debate run by what was then the Labour Party's theoretical journal entitled (believe it or not) "New Socialist".

The journal organised a ding-dong right-left debate with Roy and Roger Godsip of Apex on the one hand and leading Bennites, Audrey Wise and Ken Coates on the other.

Roy started with a number of points designed to interest the left or (if that failed) to appeal over their heads to the audience. These included advocacy of high levels of public investment in manufacturing with equity thereby passing into public hands, a socialist incomes policy that would not be a form of wage restraint, what he called genuine forms of industrial democracy and a system of planning agreements. All raving acts of socialism by today's standards.

But instead of Audrey being wise and Ken cottoning on, they looked around for sticks to beat Roy with, such as the failures of the past Wilson-Callaghan Governments and divisions over the European Union. What they should have done was to have got Roy to reveal his full hand and then to nail its socialist potential to the table.


I attempted to get called when the meeting was finally thrown open to the floor, to argue that the left should talk turkey with Roy. I wasn't lucky and the ding-dong continued from both the floor and the platform.

Roy had had enough and he left the meeting before the close. When it was all over I dashed up to the late Audrey Wise and sounded off at her at length for the missed opportunity. She could not get a word in edge ways, which must have been a fairly unique experience for her.

Roy was, in fact, willing to continue with his broad Church efforts for a period after the Conference. I had written up my Conference fringe experiences for the ILP's "Labour Leader" under the title "The Two Worlds of Roy Hattersley". He responded with a detailed letter which dealt with his proposals for Labour's Economic Strategy.

But with the 1983 electoral disaster (and the scuttle from socialism) on its way, the Church which Roy went on to help build did not engage with what was left of the left.

The Westminster Terrain

By I became an M.P. in 1987, Roy was Deputy Leader. At an early meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, he revealed that he had settled into a position where he was no longer seeking an accommodation with the left. Chris Mullen had just been elected. He was a former editor of Tribune and had worked closely with Tony Benn. When Chris made a contribution from the floor it was something of a mirror image of Roy's approach at the 1981 New Socialist meeting. Although he was in no position of strength, Chris sort a broad Church approach. In dismissing Chris's comments Roy said (in what passed for humour) "well I have to tell you, we are not taking prisoners."

Roy was now in the wrong one of his two worlds. So when the Tribune Group supported him for re-election as Deputy Leader, I left them.

But once Tony Blair arrived on the scene, Roy moved into his other world. This is because Roy is a labourite wherever he resides. It is a pity that back in 1981 the Left did not know that eventually something alien was waiting for them in the wings -New Labour.

Neil Kinnock and Roy were seen as the dream-team. The paradox is that a real dream team earlier might have been Michael Foot and Roy Hattersley, or even vice-versa. But only if Roy had been in his broad Church mode, whilst next to such a fine comrade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Harry,

You mentioned on Miles blog that you had produced a pamphlet on Militant. I would be most interested in reading it, though I suppose our views on Ted's old tendency are quite different. :-)

Any chance I could get a hold of it????

If possible, could you scan me a copy of it and send to me by e-mail??? If the answer is yes, I will post my address on this blog!

Thank you very much in advance,