BBC Parliament’s repeat today of the 1983 General Election results brings into sharp focus some of the arguments being put forward by some party members in response to our party’s current difficulties. If you want to know what happens when a party ignores the wider electorate, tune in to Sky channel 504.
I was a floating voter in 1983. I had used my vote for the first time a year earlier at the regional council elections to support the sitting Labour councillor, Jimmy Jennings. But by the time the general election came round, and despite pleadings from my parents to stick with Labour, I was utterly fed up with the party, its ludicrous defence policy, its renationalisation policy, its policy of withdrawal from Europe. And although I had some respect for Michael Foot, let’s just say I was unimpressed with his potential as prime minister.
In subsequent years, having joined the Labour Party, I was reluctant, for obvious reasons, to confess to comrades that I had voted SDP. But when Tony Blair and New Labour arrived, I realised there was nothing wrong in admitting, not only that Labour didn’t win my vote, but that Labour didn’t deserve my vote. And although there’s no prospect of our going down that self-destructive, arrogant, self-absorbed road ever again, 1983 should nevertheless stand as a reminder – or a warning – of what happens when parties start excluding part of the nation from their conversation.