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Ross McKibbin on the summer of discontent

Ross McKibbin, 17 August 1989

... It was difficult over the last fortnight of July not to think about the Thatcher Miracle and what had become of it. The EEC reported that in the next two years Britain would have the lowest growth rate, highest inflation and biggest payments deficit of any of its member nations. The National Union of Railwaymen struck for the fourth week running; there was a national dock strike; the Local Government Officers (NALGO) struck for three days; the lightning strikes at the BBC continued ...

Who’s on the Ropes Now?

Ross McKibbin: A Bad Week for Gordon Brown, 1 November 2007

... That a week is a long time in politics is one of those wise sayings which usually turns out to be untrue. Not now. All those articles written only a couple of weeks ago and giving entirely good reasons why Gordon Brown was on top and David Cameron on the ropes now look faintly embarrassing. But at the beginning of October Brown was on top and no one can be faulted for failing to see his impending humiliation ...

At the Tory Conference

Ross McKibbin, 22 October 2009

... The most enthusiastic moment came when David Cameron promised to end poverty and pronounced the Tories the real party of the poor. The Conservatives have, of course, always thought themselves the real party of the poor but this time the claim was accompanied by some genuine rhetoric about inequality which they may come to regret. The party, to judge by what was said in the hall, has changed; and for the better ...

Big Acts

Ross McKibbin, 19 February 1981

Portrait of a Progressive: The Political Career of Christopher, Viscount Addison 
by Kenneth Morgan and Jane Morgan.
Oxford, 326 pp., £15, May 1980, 9780198224945
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... The Doctors Morgan had the happy idea of converting Jane Morgan’s doctoral thesis on the career of Christopher Addison into a book and the result is this important and sympathetic biography. As they point out in their preface, he has hitherto had no worthwhile study; R. J. Minney’s biography is, they rightly note, ‘very unsatisfactory’ and drawn from a narrow range of sources ...

Why did he risk it?

Ross McKibbin: Blair, Brown and the US, 3 April 2003

... Whether we agree with it or not, there was always a plausible argument for intervention in Iraq. The Prime Minister might, therefore, have fewer problems with public opinion in the future than he does now. The important political question to be asked is not whether his policy is right or wrong – that is a rather different ethical and moral question – but why a man usually so risk-averse was prepared to take so many risks with the unity of the Labour Party ...

The Anti-Candidate

Ross McKibbin: Jeremy Corbyn, 8 October 2015

... It was said​ of one of Neville Chamberlain’s ministerial appointments that it was the most improbable since Caligula made his horse a consul. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party is in the same category. Not that it is a joke; just that it was highly unlikely and almost without precedent in modern British party political history ...

If Labour Is Serious…

Ross McKibbin, 22 May 2014

... It would be a bold psephologist who predicted the result of the next general election on the strength of last week’s local and European elections. Several outcomes seem equally possible or equally unlikely: a Conservative majority; a Labour majority; the Conservatives as the largest party; Labour as the largest party; a coalition government; a minority government ...

Extravagance

Ross McKibbin, 2 February 1989

The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924-1936 
by Peter Clarke.
Oxford, 348 pp., £29.50, November 1988, 0 19 828304 0
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... A few years ago the present director-general of NEDO, Mr Walter Eltis, told me that in due course Keynes would simply be a footnote in the history of economic theory. If so, it will be a stupendously long footnote, for additions to the already vast Keynesian literature mount by the day, not least from Mr Eltis himself.* The reason why the literature mounts is obvious enough ...

Losers

Ross McKibbin, 23 October 1986

The Politics of the UCS Work-In: Class Alliances and the Right to Work 
by John Foster and Charles Woolfson.
Lawrence and Wishart, 446 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 85315 663 8
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A Lost Left: Three Studies in Socialism and Nationalism 
by David Howell.
Manchester, 351 pp., £29.95, July 1986, 0 7190 1959 1
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The Miners’ Strike 1984-5: Loss without Limit 
by Martin Adeney and John Lloyd.
Routledge, 319 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 7102 0694 1
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Red Hill: A Mining Community 
by Tony Parker.
Heinemann, 196 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 434 57771 5
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Strike Free: New Industrial Relations in Britain 
by Philip Bassett.
Macmillan, 197 pp., £10.95, August 1986, 9780333418000
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... The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in of 1971-72 has been so overlaid by industrial disaster that it is probably no longer even part of the folk memory. It is hard now to associate Jimmy Reid the benign television guide to the inhabited ruins of industrial Glasgow with the compelling CP shop-steward of 1971. Yet as Foster and Woolfson argue, the work-in was a definite moment in Scottish history and not just a symbol ...

Diary

Ross McKibbin: Mrs Thatcher’s Magic Pudding, 23 November 1989

... Although Mrs Thatcher and Mr Lawson are closely associated in the public mind, their aspirations are very different. Mrs Thatcher, for her part, is not really interested in the economy at all. She has little idea how it works, no notion of its complicated and delicate relationships, and only the most elementary conception of how it might work better ...

Mrs Thatcher’s Ecstasy

Ross McKibbin, 24 May 1990

... The local government elections have come and gone (more or less) as expected. Labour did not do as spectacularly well as some predicted, and in the event the caution of the Labour leadership was justified. The Conservatives did better than they feared they might. But they would be unwise to find too much consolation: Labour gains were not as spectacular partly because Labour was defending such a large proportion of the seats anyway, and partly because the increase in the Labour vote was not matched by a proportionate gain in seats ...

Third Way, Old Hat

Ross McKibbin: Amnesia at the Top, 3 September 1998

... The departure of Frank Field, the enthusiastic reception by the Parliamentary Labour Party of Gordon Brown’s spending plans, together with the increasingly desperate attempts by the Government’s leading members, particularly the Prime Minister himself, to discover a Third Way, represent an important moment in the history of New Labour. The hunt for the Third Way, which has been going on more or less since Blair announced the birth of New Labour, is in many respects paradoxical ...
Whatever Happened to the Tories: The Conservatives since 1945 
by Ian Gilmour and Mark Garnett.
Fourth Estate, 448 pp., £25, October 1997, 1 85702 475 3
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... Ian Gilmour is one of the most leftwing figures in British politics: a feat he has achieved by not moving. He remains upright amid the ruins of a Keynesian political economy while the two major parties quarrel over possession of the new orthodoxy. He has also written one of the best things on Thatcherism: Dancing with Dogma (1992), a book which will demonstrate to a later generation that not all Conservative politicians took leave of their senses in the Eighties ...

Labour Blues

Ross McKibbin, 11 February 1993

Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: Inside Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party 
by Richard Heffernan and Mike Marqusee.
Verso, 344 pp., £9.95, November 1992, 0 86091 351 1
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... This in its own way is a formidable book, but not one to hide its argument under a bushel. ‘The book that blows the lid off the Kinnock years’ is how the publisher’s press release describes it. It is the only one ‘to break the conspiracy of silence which has surrounded the rise and fall of the Labour Party under Kinnock’, a man who ‘destroyed the Party’s democratic structures whilst allowing a new careerist clique to install itself in every part of the Labour machine ...

The Sense of an Ending

Ross McKibbin, 28 May 1992

... The pollsters will no doubt eventually discover why voting Conservative is regarded by so many as a solitary vice to be disclosed (and then anonymously) to none but the returning officer; in the meantime we can only speculate about the election result on the basis of not very good evidence. Nevertheless, despite that, and what was recorded in those genuinely puzzling polls (particularly the exit polls), it seems reasonable to argue that a Labour victory was always unlikely, because 13 years of unremitting effort had gone into making it unlikely ...

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