Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In Defence Of The 1994 Margaret Beckett

Here is a criticism of those of us on the Labour Left who supported Margaret Beckett in the 1994 Labour Leadership election campaign. Below, I give my response.

Why A Margaret Beckett Ticket in 1994?

(1) Unless someone had foreknowledge, the pros and cons of Margaret's actions since the 1994 Campaign are irrelevant to this assessment.

(2) Overwhelmingly in her favour - she was not Tony Blair.

(3) There was no-one to her left who could have obtained the nominations, unless the 1994 John Prescott (who also stood) is considered to have occupied that position.

(4) If anyone to her left had by magic gained the nominations, they would not have been able to mount a feasible campaign. The bulk of the Party members did not wish to upset the apple-cart after 15 years in opposition.

(5) As Deputy Leader under John Smith then Leader after his death, she first followed and then sustained his stance. Although John Smith was no left-winger, he was in the Labourite tradition and he did not seek to ditch Democratic Socialism and Labourism as being illegitimate parts of the Labour tradition.

(6) She had a sound grasp of the Democratic Socialist case. Including -

* In 1970 she became a Researcher to the Labour Party on Industrial Policy and worked closely with Judith Hart and Stuart Holland on the proposals which emerged in Labour Programme of 1973 and the 1974 General Election Manifesto which reflected and included Tony Benn's famous formula of making "a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families".

* When looking for a left-wing candidate in 1973, the Lincoln Labour Party first approached Margaret (then known as Margaret Jackson) at the Labour Party Conference. In February 1974, she stood against their former candidate Dick Taverne - the right-wing dissident.Although she lost, she took the seat during the later October General Election of that year. She moved straight into Government positions, but was seen as being on the Left.

* She lost her seat at the 1979 General Election, but she was successful as a left-wing candidate for the National Executive Committee in 1980 and actively supported Tony Benn's famous but narrowly unsuccessful campaign for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party (against Dennis Healy) in 1981.

* She returned to Parliament in 1983, as MP for Derby South. She joined the Socialist Campaign Group and only resigned in 1988 over Tony Benn's counter-productive decision to stand for Party Leader against Neil Kinnock, the incumbent. Three other women MPs resigned with her and the Group became more isolated than ever.

(7) Although she moved away from the Hard Left from 1988, within the confines of a front-bench position she had a good democratic socialist record as Opposition Spokesperson on (a) Social Security (held since 1984 to 1989) (b) Treasury matters (Shadow to the Chief Secretary 1989 to 1992) and (c) Deputy Leader 1992-1994). Although I was one of those who remained in the Socialist Campaign Group, I never considered myself to be part of either the Hard or (what used to be called) the Soft Left - but I attempted to work on both elements to show them that there was (and are still) socialist alternatives. Although confined by office-holding, I felt that Margaret had a similar approach.

In assessing whether it was reasonable for the Left to back Margaret Beckett those 13 years ago, we must remember that this was a decade before the invasion of Iraq (and many other mistaken New Labour moves.) I happen to think that few of these major errors would have occurred if she had won that Leadership vote, even though I am sorry that she stuck so closely to office from 1994.

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