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The Labour Party: history repeating itself?

There's an interesting short essay available for free from the London Review of Books authored by emeritus historian Dr Ross McKibbin dated October 1991. It reflects upon a re-assessment of the Wilson and Callaghan governments, in light of Thatcherism, and in anticipation of the general election that took place in April 1992. Two extracts in particular caught my attention, as each could easily have been re-written for the current turmoil afflicting the Labour Party. Plus ça change...

"The Labour Party has been peculiarly disabled in the last ten years because so many of its own members have written off its history. Thatcherism was in practice distinctly vulnerable to attack – but not by a party which had denied its own past. How people choose to ‘remember’ the Wilson and Callaghan governments is consequently something to which the Labour Party should urgently attend: only if they ‘remember’ them benevolently (or at least not malevolently) can Labour hope to re-establish itself securely as a governing party. Yet there is still no evidence that the Labour leadership wishes to attend: on the contrary – as Mrs Thatcher did with the Heath government – they seem either to pretend that the Wilson and Callaghan governments did not exist or that they were mistakes for which the Party must endlessly atone."

[...]

"If an ideological alternative to the Conservative Government is to be made acceptable to the electorate, both folk memory and the Labour Party will have to change their minds about the 1964 and 1974 governments and the Labour Party will have to do it first. The Labour Party has committed the cardinal rhetorical error of any political party by apologising for its own past: the Conservatives may ignore their own past, but they never apologise for it. Labour has done this partly because of the utopianism of many of its activists – to them the best is always the enemy of the good – and partly because of a certain timid and innocent defensiveness. Labour always plays the game by other people’s rules. A measure of this defensiveness is the extent to which the Labour Party is happy to be thought the ‘caring’ party but is plainly less happy to be thought the ‘competent’ party, even though there seems no logical reason why it could not be both. It thus apologises for the Wilson and Callaghan governments because the activists said they fell below perfection while those in economic and cultural authority said they failed. But there are entirely adequate justifications for these governments which the Labour leadership should start making. Although it seems scarcely possible, the majority of the electorate still believes that the Conservatives are more ‘competent’ economic managers than Labour, and this basically means that they think the Tories are more fit to govern. We can be fairly certain that as an election approaches this belief will become more intense – much to Labour’s detriment. The Labour leadership must, therefore, assert that the Wilson and Callaghan governments were more ‘competent’ than their predecessors and successors, which they were, and sound as though they mean that as a compliment, and also recognise that their policies, though indeed imperfect, were better suited to a sluggish, rather uncohesive society than the alternatives. They might then be able to argue that the rather rough-hewn social democracy with which the Labour Party is historically associated has worked very much more in the national interest than anything else we are likely to have. And that we are more likely to have a productive capitalism under Labour than under its principal opponent. A Labour Party which restores itself to its own past might, having perceived its strengths, accept its weaknesses: namely, that under our present institutional and constitutional arrangements its spells in office may be fitful and unrewarding."

If you read the rest of the essay or other writings by McKibbin it is quite clear that he isn't a Blairite (or Brownite) by any stretch of the imagination. As such, perhaps someone ought to send every Corbynista a copy of this essay to illustrate their folly in repeating the mistakes of the last generation by denying the many great achievements between 1997 and 2010.

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I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that Corbyn will lead Labour into the next GE now, even if it's in 2020 as scheduled. And lose heavily. Frankly, if Labour get anywhere near the performance Kinnock managed in 1992, they'll have confounded most people's expectations. Certainly mine.
Depressingly, I couldn't agree more! What is the feeling of an early election back there? I've been reading about its possibility over here but didn't think May would actually go ahead with it.

I wonder if in a weird way the Corbynistas have been emboldened, ever so indirectly, by the election of Trump, in that it gives hope to The Outsider or those perceived to be outside the establishment. Brexit and Trump have reminded centre-left politicians that the electorate cannot and should never be taken for granted (particularly in dicey economic periods), whatever the resources at your disposal. With Le Pen and the AfD looking to make further gains in next year's elections, it's not a great time to be a moderate almost anywhere in the West (bar Canada).