The papers reproduced in this issue of nlr were all submitted to, and rejected by, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. The arguments contained in them reflect some of the concerns and views of a very substantial body of opinion, not accepted by the leadership of the party. Indeed the composition of the present nec reminds one strongly of the late fifties, when Hugh Gaitskell enjoyed the protection and support of the praetorian guard of right-wing trade union leaders who used their block votes, at conference, to isolate and defeat the Left. The justification which is now given for the policy of the nec is that Labour lost the 1983 election because of the Left, and that if we are to win next time the Left has to be isolated and rejected, and be seen to have been isolated and rejected. This too is the justification for the present wave of expulsions, which have gone far beyond those who are supporters of the ideas to be found in Militant. In short, an attempt is being made to obliterate the mainstream democratic, socialist and internationalist traditions of the party by presenting the only alternatives as being Moderate and Militant, with no space in between.

Given these circumstances, the task of those of us on the National Executive who try to represent that mainstream left tradition must be to put items on the agenda that require the nec at least to consider them, and that is exactly what these documents do. ‘Planning for a Labour Victory’ analysed what was actually happening in the party so that the movement could understand it, while ‘Labour Programme 1986’ argued that we should put a considered manifesto before the electorate and not rely on victory coming to us by mere image-building. More recently, we have put in papers related to specific matters, such as ‘The Case for Closing All US Bases in Britain’, arising out of the Libyan bombing, and ‘Next Steps in Phasing Out Nuclear Power’, which followed the Chernobyl disaster. All these papers are intended for the party as a whole, and an initial, predictable defeat at the nec is the beginning and not the end of any effective campaigning. In each case the papers have been put before the Campaign Group of Labour MPs and much of the work of pressing for them to become accepted will be done by Campaign Group supporters up and down the country.

Tony Benn

July 1986

This memorandum is submitted to the National Executive Committee for its consideration. It begins with the election defeat of 1983, and the various reasons given for it, goes on to list the changes that have been made inside the party since then, some of which have been put to Conference, and concludes with a series of recommendations designed to assist the party to prepare itself now for victory at the next election. Everyone in the party is determined to work unremittingly for the defeat of the present government. There is no one in the party who is secretly hoping that we shall lose, in the interests of some supposed ‘shift to the left’ after another election defeat, and suggestions that this view is held are both untrue and deeply damaging. We are all equally united in our resolve to secure the election of a Labour government, with a large working majority, at the next election, in the interests of the people whom we represent who are now suffering real hardships at the hands of the Tories. The real question that we have to discuss, and decide, in a spirit entirely free from personal animosity, is how best that desire for victory may be realized in practice, and we must also accept that there will be genuine and sincere differences of opinion about it.

The very serious electoral defeat suffered by the party in the 1983 general election has, quite properly, led to an examination of the weaknesses in party organization. Some of this examination has involved a political analysis, and the organizational aspects have been undertaken by the ‘Review of Reviews’ committee, whose official task it was to reexamine the organizational recommendations made by earlier committees of inquiry, to see what lessons might still be drawn from them. This ‘review’ committee was made up of members of the nec, and plp and tu representatives, and will report to the nec for decisions. Inevitably its work extended far beyond the problems of administration and, as the minutes submitted to the nec have shown, it has discussed a whole range of subjects including finance, and even the need for change in the nec sub-committee structure.

Many different reasons for our defeat in 1983 have been offered, depending upon the viewpoint of the people concerned. The consensus and liberal media explanation of our defeat may be summarized as follows:

There is however another, quite different view, widely held within the party, which attributes our defeat to very different factors: