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New Left Review I/140, July-August 1983

Eric Heffer

Socialists and the Labour Party

Labour’s defeat in the General Election offers a profound challenge to the Party. It clearly calls for a period of sober reflection in which a serious analysis of the results can be made. We must forge new links with those too often thought of as natural Labour supporters. We must develop a socialist response to the problems of those who voted against Margaret Thatcher yet were attracted to the sdp/Liberal Alliance rather than to the Labour Party. We will also have to examine why it was that many who were angry about unemployment still did not accept that we had an effective strategy for overcoming it. There will be those on the Right predisposed to argue that the Left must be blamed for the defeat. They will argue that the policies and constitutional changes proposed by the Left were the source of our unpopularity and should therefore be thrown out as soon as possible. The Left will be entitled to reply that even the best policies do not guarantee instant success; they have to be effectively and convincingly advocated. The Party Manifesto embodied some major policy advances even if some leading spokesmen were not fully convinced of this. The Party’s programme and constitution will certainly need to be improved in the light of experience, but attempts to reverse its socialist objectives, weaken its commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, or challenge the move towards democratic internal procedures will have to be strongly resisted. Indeed if the Party is to rise to the challenge of this defeat it must become a more coherent force for socialist change and a more convincing instrument for meeting the aspirations of working people. The callous workings of the capitalist system and the appalling threat of the nuclear arms race make any dilution of our programme an act of folly and irresponsibility. It would deprive the electorate of real choice at a time when an alternative is more urgently needed than ever before.

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Eric Heffer, ‘Socialists and the Labour Party’, NLR I/140: £3

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