Kinnock and Starmer
How the current Labour leader is following in the footsteps of one of his predecessors
The last week has seen Labour Party leader Keir Starmer inflict a blow on the far left wing of the party. The expulsion of former leader Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism accusations has threatened to tear the party in two, with a number of his allies leaving or threatening to leave if he is not reinstated. It was a bold move which could have been necessary, and it also echoes the actions of a Labour leader of yesteryear.
In 1985, Neil Kinnock gave a speech at the Labour Party Conference condemning the actions of a militant takeover of Liverpool City Council. Three years earlier, the council had adopted a hardened left-wing ideology. Over the years, the group responsible for the influence within the council, Militant tendency, had helped to significantly increase the number of Labour voters in every seat on the council.
However, it was certain illegal actions which drew the attention of the national press and the wider Labour Party. On 14 June 1985, the council passed an illegal budget in which its spending would outweigh the income of the council. They demanded that the government make up the amount as they argued that Liverpool had been robbed of millions by the Thatcher administration.
In late August, councillors were warned by the District Auditor that they had breached legal rulings and that they would not be able to pay the 30,000 council employees by December. In September, the employees were sent letters outlining their redundancy. However, the council didn’t intend on making anyone redundant, and it was looked back on as a poor decision by some within the group.
The Party Conference took place in October 1985, and Kinnock used this opportunity to condemn the actions of the Labour council.
During his speech, he attacked Militant, saying: ‘I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions; they are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-placed, outdated, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.
‘I tell you — and you’ll listen — you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and people’s homes and people’s services.’
By 1986, Kinnock had dismissed the Deputy Leader of the council, Derek Hatton, from the party. An investigation into the actions of the council concluded that because of what the Militant did in Liverpool, the Conservatives were able to reorganise and comfortably win the 1987 election.
Kinnock took swift action in taking out the left wing militancy which threatened the integrity of the party. Keir Starmer is doing the same.
Jeremy Corbyn and his hard-left supporters led Labour to its heaviest election defeat in over two decades. If Starmer wants to take the party forward and away from the hangover of his predecessor’s time of leadership, he needs to remove Corbynism from within Labour.
Centralising the Labour Party wasn’t enough to get Neil Kinnock into number 10, but with Keir Starmer opposing a far weaker Conservative Party then it might be enough to at least give Labour a fighting chance at the next General Election.