The 1983 Labour Manifesto: before its time?

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2017 by kmflett

The 1983 Labour Manifesto : before its time?

It is almost 35 years since Mrs Thatcher defeated Michael Foot’s Labour in the 1983 General Election.

According to a Radio 4 Archive Hour programme on the subject in 2013, the Labour Election campaign was shambolic and Foot, while appealing to some of Labour’s core vote, failed to connect to a wider audience.

In fact Foot won 8.4 million votes achieving 27.6% of the poll which was certainly on the low side. Labour has often topped 10 or 11 million votes in General Elections and on occasion higher. It is worth reflecting however that in 2010 Labour got 8.6 million votes and 29% of the poll.

The leaking of the 2017 Labour Election Manifesto has led to predictable media discussion of return to the 1970s. The media however is notoriously bad at historical memory. What they mean is the 1983 Manifesto.

The reasons for Labour’s failure in 1983 have however been pinned on the Manifesto dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’. It is certainly long- manifestos tend to be even now- but the notoriety relates to its political position.

It was a manifesto of the left, or one kind of left anyway. Its focus on managing the British economy and tackling high unemployment hardly seems that controversial now. Rather it was the attacks on it by Mrs Thatcher and those that had split to the SDP that framed it in this way.

Thatcher, who used to bang on in much the same way as Osborne did on absurd comparisons between individual household borrowing and the national debt attacked the manifesto because it openly said that money would need to be borrowed to stimulate economic recovery. New Labour got around this charge of economic mismanagement in 1997 by saying it would stick to Tory economic limits…

The SDP (now part of the LibDems) meanwhile were upset by things such as the call for Britain to leave the Common Market. One doubts Nigel Farage read the 1983 Labour Manifesto but it reminds that the demand to depart the EU has been as strong in parts of the left as it certainly is on the right.

Other bits of the Manifesto now seem to be amazingly good sense. For example it says the banks will need to be regulated to make sure they lend and invest. It also proposes to set up a Foreign Investment Unit to keep an eye on what multinational companies operating in the UK were up to.

Whether you think scrapping British nuclear weapons is a good idea or not (I do with alternative work for the skilled workers concerned) it was part of the 1983 Labour Manifesto and has been a subject of some debate in 2017

EP Thompson (who wrote a pamphlet for the 1983 Election, The Defence of Britain) noted in his introduction to the Making of the English Working Class that causes that were lost in nineteenth century Britain might yet be won in other places and at other times.

Michael Foot may have been thought too old to lead the country by some, but these ideas were it seems 30 odd years before their time…



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