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TitleThe Labour Party Since 1979: Crisis and Transformation
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Table of Contents
                            Book Cover
List of abbreviations
Document Text Contents
Page 2

SINCE 1979

When Neil Kinnock took over the leadership of the Labour
Party in 1983, he inherited a divided organisation, saddled with
an array of unpopular left-wing policies. When he resigned in
1992, Labour was a radically different party, tightly organised
and committed to working within the framework of a privately-
owned market economy. The Labour Party since 1979 tells the story
of Labour’s struggle to survive during the turbulent years in
opposition. The book charts the internal strife of the early
1980s, the transformation of Labour’s structure, strategy and
policies under Kinnock’s leadership, and the Party’s rise to a
position at the brink of power in the run-up to the 1992 election,
at which its hopes were dashed again.

Eric Shaw has provided the first systematic analysis of the
evolution of Labour’s policies, power structure and strategies
during the 1980s and up until the present day. Using new
sources and documents, he looks at how and why the
transformation occurred, examining the pressures and
constraints impeding the modernisation process of the Party, its
shift to the political middle ground and the new professionalism
of Labour’s campaigning and communications strategies.

The book analyses major events in the Party’s evolution such
as the miners’ strike, the fragmentation of the left and the 1987
Policy Review. Shaw argues that the shedding of key social
democratic policies has left Labour bereft of any clear purpose
or direction, and that the strategy of seeking to project a
‘moderate’ and ‘responsible’ image of the Labour Party today is
seriously flawed.

Eric Shaw is the author of Discipline and Discord in the Labour Party.
He lectures in the Politics Department of the University of

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Whereas representative democracy allows for the acquisition of
political skills and can encourage a critical response, the individual
member under direct democracy is more likely to be in a position
where he or she can only respond to questions set and an agenda
framed by the Party’s central authorities. The effect is likely to be
the atrophying of constituency-wide organisation, Labour’s main
locus for local mobilisation and co-ordination. However, the
crucial role played by the unions as powerful, organised and
constitutionally autonomous bodies represents a major barrier to
a fully oligarchical system. Insofar as critical voices remain
entrenched within the unions, then potent organised impediments
to domination by the parliamentary elite will remain. For this
reason – combined with electoral ones – reform of the Party–
union relationship was a priority for the modernisers in the
aftermath of the 1992 election.

The last substantial changes under the Kinnock leadership
consisted of a shift in the distribution of Conference votes and
radical alterations in the policy-making process. The two sets of
reforms were presented by the leadership as the completion of
organisational modernisation, transforming Labour into ‘a
modern, credible party with a broad-based internal democracy
reducing the influence of trade unions and party activists’
(Independent, 23 May 1990). In fact, their genesis was more
complex, the intentions more varied and the consequences less
obvious than this suggests. For years Conference had urged, and
NEC study groups had considered, proposals to reduce the
union vote in favour of the constituencies. Though major unions
like the TGWU, the GMWU and the AEU all appeared to be
sympathetic to some rebalancing, the matter was stalled, with
the leadership exhibiting little interest in reform. Whenever
Conference adopted motions (for instance on defence spending)
which the leadership opposed, it was not unusual for official
‘sources’ to deny their legitimacy by referring to the
‘undemocratic’ block vote. In fact the system survived for so
long because, on the whole, it rendered party management far
easier. However, by the end of the 1980s the leadership came to
favour diminishing the union vote, for a range of reasons:
progress towards OMOV had lessened the danger of
augmenting the power of left-wing activists; few were opposed
to the idea and, above all, it fitted in with the strategic object of
countering accusations that the Party was under the heel of the

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unions. The NEC’s recommendation, approved with little
opposition at the 1990 Conference, increased the CLP vote from
9 per cent to 30 per cent with the possibility of further gains if
constituency membership increased significantly.19

The second major change involved a recasting of established
policy-making procedures. Conference as a forum for policy
deliberation and decision-taking suffered from a range of defects.
The process of compositing often produced clumsy and
unwieldy resolutions, the manner in which the final agenda was
set, hours before Conference assembled, virtually precluded
considered constituency debate and the agenda itself was far too
heavily encumbered. The quality of debate from the floor was
generally low, and platform speeches were usually public
relations exercises in rhetoric aimed at the voters, rather than
contributions to the debate. As a result, a groundswell of
criticism built up and after considerable internal gestation the
NEC produced a report, endorsed by the 1990 Conference,
recommending a new policy-making tier. It proposed the
creation of a Policy Forum, with a membership drawn from all
sections of the Party (including the NEC, the Shadow Cabinet,
CLPs, the unions, women’s, youth and ethnic minority
organisations, councillors and Euro-M Ps) and Policy
Commissions (with the power to co-opt advisors) drawn from
the Forum, charged with studying particular policy areas. The
intention was to tie the work of these bodies into a rolling
programme to be considered by the NEC, the Shadow Cabinet
and Conference for final approval.20 Mounting anxieties about
both the cost and the future conduct of the new policy-making
organs led the NEC to halve the original size of the Policy
Forum (to around one hundred) and to amend the scheme so as
to strengthen the oversight of the NEC–Shadow Cabinet Joint
Policy Committee.21 Few within the Party in practice knew what
the effects of the new policy-making and decision-making
processes would be – whether they would improve the quality
of policy-formulation, extend democratic participation or
operate in practice as a ‘dignified’ aspect of Labour’s constitution
legitimating the concentration of power in the hands of the
parliamentary elite, and it will be some time before a judgment
can be made.22

By 1992, the structure of power in the Labour Party had
undergone a profound change. The highly pluralistic, deeply

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exchange rate 97, 98;
international economy 155;
media presence 128; 1992
election campaign 148; OMOV
205, 221, 223; privatised
industries 48; taxation 102 (‘Luigi
wobble’ 136–7 )

Smith, M. 103
social agenda 132
social categorisation 178–9
social contract 4
social corporatism 10, 44
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 1,

16–17, 22, 75, 201–2; Lib-SDP
Alliance 27, 76, 79, 153, 201–2

social democratic values 5–6, 101–3
social engineering 193
social identity 178–80; and electoral

strategy 192–9
Social Justice and Economic Efficiency 85
social ownership 47–50, 87–8, 229;

see also public ownership
social policy 70–1
social trends xi, 82, 226
social welfare 5; see also welfare state
socialism: alternative to

revisionist social democracy 7–
15; end of Soviet system 154;
see also left

soft left: decomposition 161–4, 237;
emergence 39–41

Soviet bloc 154
spin doctoring 126
‘spiral of silence’ theory 219–20
stagflation 6
Star 172–3
state: developmental 89–92, 207;

enabling 70, 89, 92–4, 207;
ideological crisis 4–5, 11–12, 227;
and market 4–5, 11–12, 46–7,
89–94, 206–7, 227; programmatic
change 44–5, 46–7

stimulus-response 182
Stokes, D. 186, 190

strategic community xii, 57–9, 124–
6, 209; see also new strategic

strategic objectives 125–6
Straw, J. 162
Strom, K. 152
Sun 172–3
Supper Club 113–14, 163
Supply-Side Socialism 91
Sweden 196, 239
symbolic images 65–6, 210
symbolic policies 70–1, 231
sympathy action 100, 101
synchronised wage bargaining 96

tabloid press 129, 149; asylum-

seekers 145; communications
context 170–4; ‘Jennifer’s ear’
PEB 141–2; transmission
problems 218–19

targeting 132–4, 138–9, 212
Tatchell, P. 19, 116
taxation: election campaign 1992

138, 143–4, 146; enlightened self-
interest 198–9; ‘Luigi wobble’
136–7; Policy Review 101–3;
Tory campaign attacks 79, 136

Taylor, A. 127
television 190–1, 239; agenda-setting

126–9, 157–8; communications
context 169–70; transmission
problems 218, 219

TGWU 31, 100, 121, 221, 228
Thatcher, M.H. 14, 74, 78, 186, 213;

exploitation of unpopularity 77,
134–5 themes, issues and 129

Thursday Meeting 125
Tilly, A. 57
Tilton, P. 106
‘Time for Change’ campaign theme

Todd, R. 44, 100, 228
Trade and Industry Department 90
trademarks 65–6

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training 93
Tribune Group 39, 162–3, 237, 237–

triple crisis 1–28, 200–2; electoral

23–8, 201–2; governance 15–23,
201; ideological 2–15, 200–1

Trotskyism see Militant Tendency
trust 24, 158
trustworthiness 149, 150
TUC (Trades Union Congress) 4;

TUC-Labour Party Liaison
Committee 8–9, 43, 109

Tuffin, A. 96
Tumber, H. 168
Tyler, R. 144

Underwood, J. 147
unemployment 71–2, 98, 105, 186–7
unilateralism 39–40, 166, 228
unions 37; direct enfranchisement

117–18, 121–2, 204–5, 221–3,
235; employment, inflation and
94–101; incomes policy, inflation
and 9–11, 42–6; and Kinnock 51;
power structure and 159–60

unique selling proposition 65–6
urge for electoral victory 166
US nuclear bases 228
utilities 88, 233

valence approach 189–90
VAT 138
values 51–2; post-revisionist 103;

social democratic and welfare
state 5–6, 101–3; survey 129–30

van Praag, 190
Varley, E. 19
Vauxhall by-election 115

verbal code 64–5
victory, urge for electoral 166
volitions 217
‘voluntary OMOV’ 31
voluntary organisations 119
voter receptivity 213–16

Wallace, C.D. 193
Ware, A. 190
water 88
welfare state 76, 106; enlightened

self-interest 198–9; social
democratic values and 5–6, 101–

Westergaard, J. 195
white collar public sector employees

Whiteley, P. 191, 220, 223–4
Whitty, L. 55, 62, 147
Williams, S. 16–17
Williamson, N. 38–9, 40
Wilson, H. 53, 139
Winter of Discontent 7, 23–4, 42, 46
Wintour, P. 56–7
women 133
Wood, D. 75
Worcester, B. 57, 146–7
working class 82, 195; deference

177–8; electoral crisis 23, 27;
extreme right-wing and 193–4;
Labour’s share of vote 27, 79–80;
revisionist social democracy 3–4;
see also class

Wright, W.E. 220–1

Young, H. 71, 187

Zysman, J. 91, 94

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