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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 ...

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 ...

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 Reshuffle and After

Ross McKibbin: Why Brown should Resign, 25 May 2006

... If the prime minister hoped to deflect attention from the local election results by a well-timed reshuffle he has certainly succeeded. Much was thought to hang on the election results and they were as bad as Labour expected. Despite the panicky reshuffle, however, it isn’t clear how much we can read into them. Local elections in the last days of John Major’s government did, it’s true, accurately predict the outcome of the 1997 general election, but that is very unusual ...

Cursing and Breast-Beating

Ross McKibbin: Manning Clark’s Legacy, 23 February 2012

An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark 
by Mark McKenna.
Miegunyah, 793 pp., £57.95, May 2011, 978 0 522 85617 0
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... Manning Clark’s funeral, on 27 May 1991 at – to the surprise of many – St Christopher’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Canberra, was attended by much of Australia’s ‘progressive’ elite: the governor-general (Bill Hayden), the prime minister (Bob Hawke), the deputy prime minister and future prime minister (Paul Keating), all of them at one time leaders of the Labor Party, along with much of the federal cabinet, the chief justice of the High Court and six hundred others ...

‘Wisely I decided to say nothing’

Ross McKibbin: Jack Straw, 22 November 2012

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor 
by Jack Straw.
Macmillan, 582 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4472 2275 0
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... Jack Straw was one of the longest serving ministers in the history of the Labour Party. He spent 13 years in office, as home secretary, foreign secretary, leader of the House of Commons and justice minister. His book’s title, Last Man Standing, derives from the curious rule by which the lord chancellor (which Straw became in 2007, at the same time as being secretary of state for justice) is the last member of an outgoing government to resign ...

The Luck of the Tories

Ross McKibbin: The Debt to Kinnock, 7 March 2002

Kinnock: The Biography 
by Martin Westlake.
Little, Brown, 768 pp., £25, October 2001, 0 316 84871 9
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... Neil Kinnock is a problematic figure in modern British politics. He was leader of the Labour Party for nine years and presided over a number of profound changes in both its structure and its policy. All nine years, however, were spent in opposition. He was, furthermore, the only Labour leader (at least since Labour began electing ‘leaders’) never to have held a ministerial post – being PPS to Michael Foot for a year does not count ...
The Alternative: Politics for a Change 
edited by Ben Pimlott, Anthony Wright and Tony Flower.
W.H. Allen, 260 pp., £14.95, July 1990, 9781852271688
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... British politics at the moment seem curiously provisional. The failures of the present government are so gross and obvious that hardly anyone, even its nominal supporters, attempts to defend it ideologically. Yet at the same time hardly anyone believes that Labour will really win the next election, or that it could cope even if it did. There is also a strong sense that the re-ordering of continental Europe, whose outcome is itself indeterminate, has rendered our political life even more provisional: it has obliterated the old landmarks but made it quite unclear where we now go ...

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 ...

Making things happen

Ross McKibbin, 26 July 1990

Heroes and Villains: Selected Essays 
by R.W. Johnson.
Harvester, 347 pp., £25, July 1990, 9780745007359
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... This Johnson is an energetic essayist. His energy is not simply physical, though he has plenty of that: it is mental too. He seems to write quickly – how else the productivity? – but he writes also with a kind of cerebral force, apparent in all these essays, which are themselves the tip of an intellectual iceberg: he has also written standard books on both South Africa and the French Left which combine contemporary political description with historical analysis in an admirable and often memorable way ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...
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 ...

Sleazy, Humiliated, Despised

Ross McKibbin: Can Labour survive Blair?, 7 September 2006

... There is general agreement that the government is in a mess: sleazy, corrupt, humiliated and, probably even more than the Conservative government in its last days, despised by many of its natural supporters. It is difficult to remember a cabinet held in such contempt by so many. Yet the reasons for the contempt and the extent to which it is shared by the electorate as a whole are less easy to judge ...

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