Opposition Policies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:10 am on 19th January 1990.

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Photo of Ken Livingstone Ken Livingstone , Brent East 11:10 am, 19th January 1990

There was one flaw in the basis of the speech by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). He confused two documents—the election manifesto that we put before the people in 1983, which was rejected, and the Labour party's policy review. The 1983 manifesto was flawed because it tried to square too many circles. Rather than being clear, it blurred the commitment to unilateralism to hold all the strands of the party together, and too many compromises were struck on the economic policy that it put forward. To compare that five-year programme for government with the present policy review is a mistake.

The policy review is not a manifesto but a long shopping list of all the things that we would try to do, the majority of which are not controvesial and would be supported by members of the Green party, bits and pieces of the old alliance and many moderate Conservatives. The commitments to better training, to better research and development and to a more positive stance on the environment would be shared by the majority of British people. The only place in Britain where one would not find majority support for those objectives is the Cabinet, and some of its members may secretly harbour those views. The policy review is not a manifesto for five years of government and therefore is not costed. No one would deny that that has there has been a shift to the Right between 1983 and the present Labour party policy review.

This debate is not appropriate just to the present time. The Opposition—who 100 years ago were led predominantly by the Liberals but are now led predominantly by the Labour party—face one difficult and unpleasant fact. For a century, no party in opposition to the Conservatives has won a second term with a working majority. The Liberal Government of 1906 to 1910 failed to gain a majority and had to form a working arrangement with the Irish Nationalists, who held the balance of power. The 1945 Government and the Wilson Governments of 1966 and 1974 failed to win a second term. During the two years when I was a member of the policy review I concentrated on trying to understand the reason for that. It is not that we have not been sufficiently accommodating to the centre or to the status quo. The reason is that the the Labour party and the Liberals of the past failed to be sufficiently radical in transforming Britain when they held power. They made so many compromises and lost so many opportunities that they failed to consolidate their hold on power. Unlike Conservative Governments, they failed to hold their natural interests together as a governing block in order to win re-election.

The problem currently facing the Labour party faced the Opposition at the beginning of the century—how to pay for a legislative programme. Throughout the century, non-Tory Governments have faced that problem and have often alienated key groups of their supporters by imposing wage controls, higher taxation and policies that led to higher inflation. If Labour is to govern Britain in the 1990s and thereafter to win a second term in office it must resolve those problems. That means making difficult choices.

I have tremendous respect for the present leadership of the Tory party. I do not agree with almost anything that they do, but I recognise that, following the oil crisis in 1973, and faced with the shift in the world economy that that brought about, the end of the 25-year world boom and a much more rigorous future, the Tory party acted swiftly. It removed its old one-nation Tory leader, shifted its policies to the Right and decided which policies to defend, which it has done effectively over the past 10 years. The policies that the Prime Minister and those around her have chosen to defend are defence spending and the freedom of capital to invest abroad rather than in Britain. That is not a recent decision, because those problems faced the British economy at the beginning of the century.