unofficial labour historyunofficial labour party history
Make your own free website on
January 1980A strike in the steel industry erupts, reflectig discontent with a 6% pay offer and fears of plant closures and redundancies. These fears are entirely justified.
March 1980A viciously deflationary budget, allied with high interest rates, plunges the British economy into deep recession. Labour moves ahead in opinion polls as unemployment rises sharply.
September 1980Left activity in branches around the country increases. The powerbases of the International Marxist Group and Militant sects are consolidated.
The Labour Left wins total control of the Party's National Executive. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is adopted as Party policy. The GMWU backs a resolution calling for a 35-hour week, import controls and reflation of public spending.
The first proposals are made to enable the de-selection of MPs failing to represent their branch policies.
The 1980 Employment Act contains a raft of legislation, restricting secondary pickets, requiring an 80% ballot for unions to declare a strike, repealing many statutory recognition rights and restricting maternity pay.
October 1980An Atlanticist group of pro-Common Market MPs begin to meet regularly. Prominent among them are Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Lord Jenkins and David Owen. Throughout the winter, preparations are made for a new political party.
Jim Callaghan resigns as Party leader. Michael Foot beats Denis Healey as a leftist candidate. Healey becomes Deputy Leader in order to prevent a total Left takeover of the Party.
December 1980Benn tours the country speaking to packed rallies, creating a media panic among journalists unused to populist socialism. For many of the grassroots membership, this was an invigorating time, as the differences between the political parties grew wider.
The Thatcher government presses on with its agenda, unveiling new legislation giving people the right to buy council houses and undermining the bases of organised labour by draining strongly unionised areas of funds. Subsidies to industry are slashed.
Therefore the first steps to create a new "service" economy are underway - an industrial economy biased towards household consumption. This also introduced people to the "covert ideology" of property ownership.
January 1981At a special conference, a new constitution is adopted, creating an electoral college for the election of the Labour leadership. Members, affiliated unions and MPs all now vote in leadership ballots.
Tony Benn challenges Denis Healey under the rules of the new constitution. Benn narrowly loses to Healey, who retains his support with MPs and trade unions. However, the new constitution destroys the chances of David Owen, who is widely disliked by the membership and unions (and many MPs).
In a related development, The "Council for Social Democracy," including David Owen, officially announce their intention to set up a new political party.
February 1981The National Coal Board announces a major pit closures programme. The NUM threatens to halt coal production totally. Ten days later, Margaret Thatcher intervenes to reverse the closure policy. The miners then submit a 9.3% pay rise.
March 1981Launch of the Social Democratic Party, who accept much of the economic liberalism of Thatcher, a NATO foreign policy, but wish to combine this with compassion and reform of the political system. 13 Labour MPs leave to join the SDP. Prominent ex-Labour ministers include Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and David Owen.
May 1981In the local elections, radical Labour councils gain power in London and a host of important cities. Their agendas focus upon localised Keynesian initiatives, equal opportunities and experimental schemes funded from the local rates. Many see these as a blueprint for a future radical Labour government.
June 1981In a coup engineered by the Left, Ken Livingstone becomes leader of the GLC, surprising the Party leadership.
August 1981A hot summer combined with growing poverty, hardship and decay in many inner-city areas results in many riots around the country, particularly in Brixton, Bristol and Liverpool.
September 1981NATO decides to base intermediate-range cruise missiles with nuclear warheads at Greenham Common in Berkshire. A march organised by Women for Life on Earth reaches the US base.
The SDP and Liberals form a centrist "Alliance".
October 1981British Telecom is broken from the Post Office, and put in a seperate public corporation.
A Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally attracts more than 250,000 people, with Labour Party figures prominent.
March 1982The first blockade of Greenham Common. 34 arrests are made.
April 1982Argentina invades the Falkland Islands in a quick gesture aimed at consolidating the power of the ruling military junta. A taskforce is quickly sent to recapture the islands against the advice of defence officials, and against the interests of the USA, who support the military regime.
May 1982The first eviction of Greenham Common peace camp with police and bailiffs attempting to clear the base. The camp relocates.
June 1982The Falklands are reclaimed for Britain and Mrs Thatcher becomes a massively popular leader. She is widely perceived as restoring Britain's prestige. More than 800 people died during the conflict.
Meanwhile, Michael Foot's leadership is being questioned by the Right and Left of the Party. Whilst pro-taskforce, his statements regarding the conflict lack clarity and it is left to Tam Dalyell to ask serious questions about the sinking of the Belgrano. The Bennite left are inclined to oppose the military operations.
These divisions are increasingly exposed in relation to defence, as many centrists in the Shadow Cabinet express guarded unease with unilateralist Labour policy.
September 1982The Conservative Central Office begins preparations for an election, focusing on nationalism, private wealth, opportunity and Labour's extremism.
The Employment Act gives employers the rights to seek injunctions against unions and attempts to undermine the closed shop.
November 1982The media focus on Michael Foot's appearance at the Cenotaph. His duffle jacket is considered by some to be a sign of disrespect to Britain's war dead.
December 198230,000 women join hands and hold Greenham Common in an embrace. Union membership in the UK is now 10.3 million, down drastically from 12.6 million in 1979.
January 1983Labour drafts its election manifesto according to the most open and transparent methods. The result is a huge document of hastily added compromises and policy documents. The campaign committee is a politically-balanced group of 40 people.
Court proceedings are started to evict the Greenham Common women.
March 1983The election campaign begins with a slick Conservative propaganda machine moving onto its chosen agenda of defence and wealth. Meanwhile Labour look shambolic. Many of the photo opportunities are suspect, leaving Michael Foot exposed to a brutal media. Labour's election materials are unprofessional and often grammatically incorrect.
The Conservative manifesto contains proposals for privatisations and the abolition of the GLC and 6 Left-controlled metropolitan councils.
May 1983A Labour administration dominated by Militant takes over Liverpool City Council and immediately embarks on a large public works program.
June 1983Election campaign 1983. There is no co-ordination between Shadow Cabinet members. Compared with the Conservatives, who employ hundreds of full-time agents, Labour fails to support its candidates in marginal constituencies. However, in some of its strongholds, election meetings are reported to be full, with enthusiasm for a left-wing Labour government.
The SDP is level with Labour in the last week of the campaign. In an interview with Robin Day, Michael Foot's efforts at compromise are exposed as vague and inconsistent. It is only then that the more "moderate" "heavyweights" such as Denis Healey and Peter Shore are used extensively in the media. This appears to gain Labour a crucial edge over the SDP-Liberal Alliance.
Labour eventually take 28.3% of the popular vote. There are practically no Labour Party MPs in the South of England other than in London, with the SDP-Liberal Alliance becoming the opposition in many areas. Deposits are lost in 112 constituencies. Among the many MPs to lose their seats is Tony Benn - a hugely symbolic indicator. A generation of potential leaders has been wiped out of the PLP, in the worst result since 1918 with Labour reduced to 209 seats.
July 1983Control of the Labour Party administration is effectively handed back to Transport House, with many staff leaving or sacked. Less than 40% of trade unionists voted Labour. The inclination of many at the TUC is to move the party back towards the mainstream of politics.
August 1983Michael Foot resigns as leader. Denis Healey announces that he is not standing for the leadership. A re-alignment is underway in the depleted Parliamentary Labour Party, with the "left" groups dividing into distinct categories.
September 1983Four candidates stand for the leadership, in the first full test of the new constitution. On the left, Liverpool warhorse Eric Heffer is an extremely idealistic Christian socialist and an uncompromisingly kind individual, widely respected for his integrity. In terms of wider electability he is not highly rated. Peter Shore is another Liverpudlian, extremely capable and intelligent, who had drafted Harold Wilson's manifesto of 1964. Shore lacks support in Parliament, and his involvement in the 1976-79 Labour government's programmes denies him Left-wing support. Neil Kinnock, meanwhile, had not been a cabinet minister in the last Labour government, and had been critical of many of the austerity measures, which seems to place him on the left of the party. He is a lively speaker, and well-liked by the majority of those that meet him. Roy Hattersley was a junior minister in the Callaghan government, with portfolios in education and defence. A right-winger prepared to enter into dialogue with the those on the left, he prefers not to join the SDP and aims to become a beneficiary of the increasingly cautious nature of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
October 1983Neil Kinnock wins easily with 71% of the votes cast in the electoral college. Roy Hattersley becomes deputy leader. This is described as the "dream ticket" by some commentators. The biggest CND rally yet takes place, drawing around half a million people into central London.
November 1980The new and inexperienced leadership is almost immediately tested by a new raft of anti-union legislation and a vigorous, determined Thatcher government at the height of its powers.
The first cruise missiles arrive at Greenham Common, building to a total of 95.
December 1983Preparations are underway to build up surplus stocks of coal in the event of a coal strike. In an associated development, the government releases some plans of its energy strategy. This alarms the miners' leadership. Chairman of the Coal Board, Ian MacGregor announces that 20 uneconomic pits will have to close.
January 1984The government prepares to ban trades unions from GCHQ in Cheltenham.
March 1984The NUM declares a strike. This is without a full ballot of its membership, but there is little doubt that the action would have been approved. The NUM relies on flying pickets to ensure the strike is held. The TUC uncomfortably and belatedly supports the miners case, whilst Neil Kinnock calls for arbitration and a non-confrontative approach. This does not succeed as a flying picket dies outside Ollerton Colliery, illustrating the bitterness surrounding the dispute. The government already has 4 months supply of coal stockpiled.
April 1984Determined to break the strike, and to ensure the continued operation of Britain's energy supply, police cordon many sensitive sites. Violence erupts outside power stations and around coal processing centres.
The TUC resists all calls for a widening of the strike. Arthur Scargill rejects calls for a national ballot. A huge demonstration in London supports the miners.
70,000 CND supporters link hands to join Aldermaston, Greenham Common and Burghfield. 200 women dressed as furry animals break into Greenham Common.
May 1984Incidents at Orgreave and allegations of violence are said to weaken the public's support for the miners. The Labour leadership finds itself repeatedly condemning the violent miners, with no comment regarding the often provocative police.
July 1984Margaret Thatcher makes her infamous comment about "the enemy within." Meanwhile secret service involvement in the NUM leads to allegations that the NUM has been accepting "Kremlin gold."
August 1984British Telecom becomes British Telecom plc.
September 1984Some of the Nottinghamshire miners vote to return to work. They are expelled from the NUM and form the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, a "scab" union. Despite widespread pickets, some coal is produced. However, the real effect is symbolic.
Incidents at Mallingby and Kellingly show miners battling with riot police. A judge declares the strike illegal.
October 1984It becomes apparent that much of the real material support for the miners comes from local Labour branches rather than the central Party HQ. Labour launches "Jobs and Industry" campaign which is moderately successful.
November 1984Two miners are charged with murdering a taxi driver. This leads to further discrediting of the miners case in newspapers and media. The miners are successfully portrayed as extremist.
British Telecom is sold to the public, companies and employees in a general shares issue. The government maintains a "Golden Share" until July 1997 when BT becomes a fully private company. This becomes one of the first sell-offs, which the government undertakes to raise money, as the public finances are deep in the red. The 2.3 million applicants for British Telecom shares make instant, massive profits.
December 1984There is massive support for the striking miners and their families from the Labour movement, with many collections, benefits and Christmas activities.
However, there is no indication that the government will relent. There are enough fuel stocks to last through what is a fairly mild winter and transport is still running. NUM funds are placed in sequestration by a High Court order, having allegedly broken some of the new trades union legislation.
The government offers various pay incentives to persuade miners to return to work before Christmas. The strike begins to crumble.
February 1985Some miners are already drifting back to work due to financial hardship. There is a "Switch on at 6" campaign to drain the National Grid. But already it is realised that this is now too late.
March 1985The miners officially return to work with no guarantees. This is more than a symbolic defeat, as miners' communities face decimation in the years ahead.
May 1985The new General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, makes a speech in which he offers to make serious reductions in the USSR's nuclear arsenal, and declares a wish to see the end of the arms race. Margaret Thatcher reacts angrily and derisively, describing the offer as "insincere."
July 1985Many Labour councils are faced with either cutting services or breaking the law, under the new rate-capping regime introduced by the government.
October 1985Neil Kinnock attacks Militant and Derek Hatton in a speech at Labour's conference. In a passionate speech, he accuses the Liverpool council of "playing games with services and people's lives." Half of the conference applaud, the other half are horrified that at a time of crucial defeats for labour, the leadership was more interested in attacking socialists.
January 1986After months of protracted negotiation with Rupert Murdoch's News International, 6000 print and media workers go on strike, represented by SOGAT, the NGA and AEWU. The company is demanding an agreement which incorporated flexible working, a no-strike clause, new technology and the abandonment of the closed shop. All striking workers are immediately dismissed. Production of the influential and Conservative-supporting Sun and Times is moved to News International's new computerised plant in Wapping.
The unions organise demonstrations, marches and a boycott of the newspapers. The EETPU provide a scab workforce prepared to accept the employer's demands. The police react by heavy-handed riot policing to ensure operation of the plant. This co-incides with the re-development of the old working-class areas of London's Docklands. The dispute pits many of the local residents and print workers against police drafted in from outside the area.
Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan resign from the government over the Westland Helicopers rescue package, Heseltine accusing Margaret Thatcher of duplicity. This weakens Margaret Thatcher's hold on the government.
March 1986The GLC is finally abolished despite a long and popular campaign to preserve London's government. The Inner London Education Authority, a central focal point of progressive education in Britain, is left isolated until 1988, when it is also abolished.
The GLC was popular for its work and enterprise policies, showing how worker co-operatives could be used as social enterprises and followed socially inclusive policies which were to be copied elsewhere. The GLC had constructed the Thames Barrier, showing that it was capable of managing major projects effectively. It had implemented progressive transport policies, with low fares and discounts. There is a wide feeling within the London Labour Party that the Parliamentary Labour Party has failed to defend the Council. Personal animosity between the PLP leadership and the GLC leadership makes such defence unlikely.
June 1986British Gas is sold to small and large shareholders, in a highly publicised invitation to "people's capitalism."
September 1986Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell starts work on a documentary about a spy satellite known by code-name ZIRCON.
British Gas is sold off following a massive advertising campaign for its shares.
November 1986The government tries to stop Peter Wright's memoirs being published in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull defends Wright to the embarrassment of the UK government.
Neil Kinnock fails to capitalise on the episode in Parliament, prompting quiet speculation regarding his effectiveness. Peter Wright details how the Secret Service had conspired against Labour governments in the 1960. A phone call from Neil Kinnock's office to Australia leads to Mrs Thatcher denouncing Neil Kinnock in the Commons for talking to traitors. Never mind that she obviously finds out about the phone call from MI6.
January 1987Major violence erupts at Wapping. News International threatens the unions with legal action. By now, public support for the unions is declining. The unions are perceived to be against the use of technology and in favour of restrictive practices.
The New Statesman publishes details of the spy satellite codename ZIRCON, in an article written by Duncan Campbell, after his BBC documentary was cancelled. The police raid the BBC offices in Glasgow and the offices of the New Statesman.
The SDP's Rosie Barnes wins the Greenwich by-election. This is a crucial blow for Labour months before the General Election. Media campaigns about the "loony left" are blamed for the defeat. The victory revives the flagging SDP in London and the South.
February 1987The Wapping dispute finishes with a defeat for the unions. The ZIRCON satellite is cancelled.
The privatisation of British Airways, Rolls Royce and the British Airports Authority proceeds with huge profits being made by investors.
March 1987An Australian court rejects the UK Government's attempts to prevent publication of Spycatcher. The book refers for the first time to an MI6 which does not officially exist.
April 1987The General Election campaign starts with greatly improved presentation by Labour. But there are problems for Labour on a number of fronts. The economy is putting money into lots of people's pockets, despite a massive trade deficit. The Westland incident does not become a campaign issue.
May 1987Labour attempt to focus on the issues where they are trusted - health and education, under the campaign direction of Peter Mandelson and Bryan Gould. Adopting the European symbol of a red rose, Labour's manifesto in 1987 contains far less solid commitments than four years previously. There is no pledge to leave NATO and Europe. The manifesto finishes with the 1970 slogan, "Britain will win with Labour."
The programme is redistributive and welfarist, emphasising the caring nature of the Labour Party as opposed to the harsh Mrs Thatcher. Mrs Thatcher duly obliges by making a number of gaffes, hinting that education could be by payment, private healthcare is her absolute right and that she would go "on and on."
June 1987At the start of the campaign, Labour only had 29% in the polls and by the end this had risen to 31.5%. The Conservatives win again, with a majority of over 100 seats. This is largely achieved by the "miracle" Chancellor, Nigel Lawson. However, the highly effective Conservative scaremongering - "Britain Is Great Again - Don't Let Labour Wreck It" almost definitely has a real impact upon younger voters.
The Alliance shows signs of crumbling, failing to achieve a breakthrough and losing 1 seat. The SDP, now only holding 5 seats, were defining themselves in opposition to Labour, whilst this was obviously against the instincts of most Liberals, who were often shocked by an extremely illiberal Conservative government.
Once again, the overwhelming majority was anti-Conservative, even in England. The Tories were almost driven out of Scotland and Wales. The first black MPs were returned.
For many, this is seen as a time of unsustainable greed, on the basis of privatisation revenue, and North Sea Oil. A new global situation is emerging with disarmament between the USA and USSR, which means that Britain's security moves beyond the Cold War era. It is hard to see why most people would vote against the re-instatement of SERPS, or the explicit encouragement of co-operatives.
Hidden within the Conservative manifesto are a number of crazy schemes and plans, attempts to extend the reach of Thatcherism into every sphere. Inevitably, these time-bombs would explode. A complicit media and Conservative Party has simply not read the Tory manifesto.
July 1987Neil Kinnock orders complete reviews of all policy. These changes signal fundamental changes in the structure, credibility and composure of the Labour Party, with the Right-wing now in total ascendency.

For the index, close this window if the index is open or click here for the last page or here for the next page