Neil Kinnock’s speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party (04/07/16)

7 Jul

Lord Neil Kinnock delivers a fiery speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP):
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God knows, everybody here, no matter how old or how young, should understand the lessons. And never repeat that again. But there are some who, for whatever reason, are incapable of the instruction of reality. So they better wake up.

I don’t know what case is being made by saying that – and I quote – ‘Jeremy had the biggest majority in history’ – he didn’t. In 1988 – in a different electoral system, admittedly – my majority against Tony Benn was 88.6%. Tony got 11.4%, with the assistance of Dennis [Skinner], of course, and the assistance of Jeremy Corbyn, of course. No talk of unity or loyalty could suppress their enthusiasm. [Loud applause]

In the constituency parties, that in 1981 had overwhelmingly voted for Tony’s leadership candidature, the result was Kinnock 82%, Benn 18%. Why? Because the constituency parties, the rank and file, had decided they’d had enough of posturing and hectoring and they wanted to give the Labour party a real chance of securing advance and power. And we gained 3.1m votes because of those people.

Now then, we can take further instruction from modern history, the way in which, in the supermarket, people said: ‘I want to vote Labour, but I can’t vote for Ed Miliband’. I heard it, oh yes I heard it. Apply the supermarket test for Jeremy Corbyn and see what answer you get.

We know what answer we’re getting on the doorstep. Yes I’ve been around raising money like you Dennis [Skinner], for many, many, many years – I think it’s probably a bit more than a million. I’ve been around raising money and I go on the doorstep and I talk to people. I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Let’s face the facts. So here’s some very, very, very recent history. I could explore it more but I’m not going to take everybody’s time with this speech.

Nobody has ever said, Dennis, that this parliamentary party considers itself or should be considered to be more important than the rank and file, whether they paid three quid or whether they’ve given their lives to this movement. Whether they’ve threatened their managers, whether they’ve ruined their careers through their commitment to this movement. Nobody has said, ever, however recent or long-established members’ party membership is, that we are superior.

More history. Perhaps this is a time to a remind. In 1906 and then in the constitution of 1918, in clause 1 they laid down that it would be the purpose of the Labour party to establish and retain, in parliament and in the country, a political Labour party. Everybody’s happy. [At this point Kinnock is asked to finish.] I’m finishing now in a moment – well, I’m finishing the speech in a moment. [Loud applause]

In 1918, in the shadow of the Russian revolution, they made a deliberate, conscious, ideological choice, that they would not pursue the syndicalist road, that they would not pursue the revolutionary road – it was a real choice in those days. They would pursue the parliamentary road to socialism.

It is why, in all of the subsequent constitutions, we had a provision that requires the leader of the Labour party – that used to be, as Dennis will recall, to be elected only by the PLP. We worked like hell – Dennis, myself and many others – to change that to make sure that the rank and file would have a direct voice, that trade unions would be part of it, councils would be part of it, activists would be part of it, so we got one member one vote.

Because we are a democratic socialist party, committed to a parliamentary road to power, it is vital, essential, irreplaceable, that the leader of this party has substantial – at least substantial, if not majority – support from those who go to the country and seek election to become lawmakers, the way chosen by the people who established the Labour party.

Now remember history, remember that history, remember the people that joined the party are joining a party committed to the parliamentary road and that makes it crucial to have a leader that enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party.

A final, final point. Steve Reed made a very fine contribution. There will be no split! There will be no retreat! Dammit, this is our party! I’ve been in it for 60 years, I’m not leaving it to anybody!