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That British Labour Party 1983 Election Manifesto March 25, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics, The Left.
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Tony Collins on Socialist Unity has posted up the 1983 Labour Manifesto – the supposed ‘longest suicide note in history’. Well, yes, but one wonders absent the Falklands conflict and the rupture of the LP with the departure of the SDP whether history would look much more kindly upon it than is currently the case.

I can’t say I necessarily agree with all of it, but there was a lot of good radical material in there, though I was half-amused by this…

Indeed, the logic of the case for the nuclear deterrent, presented by British Conservative Ministers, is that all peace-loving countries should equip themselves with the same protection. It is a logic which would intensify the race and destroy the universe.

The whole universe?

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1. richotto - March 26, 2013

My recollection is that the manifesto committments in themselves did’nt cause Labour to perform disasterously in the 1983 General Election, (Con 43%, Lab 27%, SDP/Lib Alliance 25%). In the first week of campaigning Labour were quick out of the traps with the manifesto and gained about 3% in the opinion polls to about 7% behind the Tories WITH SDP/Liberals slipping back. Michael Foot was coming across surprisingly well showing him in the opinion of one commentator to be most peoples idea of a nice peacetime prime minister as opposed to Mrs Thatchers wartime persona.
The problem arose in the second week when Denis Healy who was in a ridiculous position of shadow defence spokesman openly broke with the manifesto policy on neuclear deterrence which was dubbed in the media as “unilateralism”, that is doing away with the UK reliance on neuclear defence without a corresponding agreement from the Soviet side. This major split was reinforced by a speech from former prime minister James Callaghan also ridiculing Labours policy on defence. The whole focus of the campaign was switched immediately to defence policy and the row between Labours right and left with the media slaughtering the unilateralist message almost as treasonable. It stayed that way for the rest of the campaign and domestic issues were incredibly ignored almost completely. SDP/LIBS were the major beneficiaries altough in seats they ended up with only 26 as opposed to 208 for Labour. SDP ended up with only six of those making their future as an independant entity suddenly very much in question.

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2. richotto - March 26, 2013

On further recollection the SDP/LIB Alliance got only 23 seats in total, 17 Lib, 6 SDP.

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Pasianario - March 26, 2013

Not sure about your interpretation of the opinion polls. The figures on this site suggest that it was never looking good for Foot and Labour who were always, when you average out the polls, well over 10 points behind:

http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-1979-1983

Also, whatever about the virtues of unilateral disarmament as a policy, there is little doubt that it was overwhelmingly unpopular with the public. This article cites a survey which says that over 70 percent of people were opposed:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-923X.1984.tb02563.x/pdf

Healy and Callaghan probably thought they would salvage a few seats by disavowing the policy and I’m not sure they were wrong.

All in all though the 83 manifesto does not actually read that badly. Imagine if they’d spent all the oil money on infrastructure rather than tax cuts for Tory bankers.

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Pasianario - March 26, 2013

I might add that other polling suggests that a majority of Alliance voters preferred the Tories over Labour. And if, for some reason, there had been a hung parliament, then it would have been a Tory-Alliance coalition. Shirley Williams had even thought about joining the Conservatives at one point, as David Owen would consider doing later after he had rejected the merger between the SDP and the Liberals. The current coalition has, in some respects, been thirty years in the making.

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richotto - March 26, 2013

Thanks for the link firstly. I did think the sides were slightly closer than they were at the end of the first week of the campaign. I had a look at the graph and it shows the phase early in the election campaign in which Labour did rise from 32-35% mainly from the SDP/LIBS with Tories steady or dipping maybe a point to 44%. I do remember the manifesto coverage being not that bad. The idea of it in itself being seen as a suicide note was partly Tory propoganda and partly an easy retrospective view not really supported by popular opinion. Indirectly it was damaging as the right of the party felt free to publicly disaccociate itself from a large part of it The damage was done firstly by the public
bloodletting of Labour politicions in the middle of an election campaign and secondly by the eclipsing of popular Labour issues like unemployment and general economic policy by a
popular Tory issue, Defence.
It was possible to get a much closer result with the Falklands factor still fresh in
peoples minds if Labour had its house in order. In retrospect the right of the party were either excluded as they were in a minority on the NEC at that time or chose not to properly participate in the writing of the manifesto and there was no sense of common ownership across
the party of its policies. It was not the policies and how they went down with the public but the disunity that caused the serious self damage.

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