My Column – In 1983 Newcastle Central voted Conservative – have Labour learned the lessons of history?

My father-in-law was a miner, and one of my wife’s earliest memories is receiving food parcels during the strike.

So believe me, I understand where the antipathy towards Thatcher comes from. But just before the strike, in 1983, Newcastle Central voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives (as did Darlington and Tynemouth).

The first reaction of anyone who grew up under Thatcher will be shock – how is this even possible? I wonder how many readers will head to Wikipedia to check that fact for themselves. The answer is, that Labour had chosen a Corbyn-style radical, Michael Foot, as leader.

The Labour Party was out of power for a generation, and it could be headed that way again. Whilst they won Newcastle Central back quickly, Darlington and Tynemouth took a little longer.

This time, it’s not Newcastle Central that will be at risk to the Tories – but seats like Hartlepool under threat to UKIP.

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, the whole character of British politics has changed.

In one sense, that’s a good thing for democracy. There was a time, not so long ago, when the policies of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were so similar to one another that only UKIP was offering anything substantially different to the status quo.

Lack of real choice leads to inability to effect change; that in turn leads to apathy, and apathy to low turnout at elections. In that sense, I welcome the change in Labour leadership.

In another, the thought of a 1970s-style tax and spend economy (which had inflation running over 25%) is rather chilling. You don’t help the poorest people by making the country poorer, you do it by making the country richer. We shouldn’t hand the Falklands to Argentina, or give up most of the country’s ability to defend itself.

There are problems, too, with a radical leading a non-radical party.

With most of the top talent in the Labour Party refusing to serve in a frontbench position under Corbyn, he’s resorted to appointing a convicted arsonist (sentenced to 16 months in prison) as his Education spokesman in the Lords.

His new shadow chancellor has, under pressure, offered a lukewarm apology for pro-terrorist comments.

I won’t rehearse the full list of Corbyn gaffes; there isn’t space in this column. I will merely say this: he is auditioning for the job of Prime Minister. Things you can get away with as a backbench campaigner won’t pass muster as Leader of the Opposition. Divided parties lose elections, badly.

Ultimately, though, the reason the Conservatives won so many Labour strongholds in 1983 was economics.

When you’re a backbench MP in opposition, you can get away with proposing a string of bizarre uncosted measures and back it up with fairytale economics. Sooner or later, though, you have to grow up.

I know the feeling: UKIP’s 2010 manifesto felt great, but had more holes than Swiss cheese. We had to grow up, and we did. Our 2015 manifesto was professionally, independently costed – unlike any other manifesto of any other Party.

Yet Jeremy Corbyn seems wedded to the idea of saving, and spending, massive amounts of money through clamping down on tax avoidance and tax evasion. I’m all for clamping down on those things, but a dose of realism is necessary. The astronomical sums suggested cannot be raised for the exchequer.

He may have thought of a catchy phrase in People’s Quantitative Easing (PQE) but history teaches us that printing money to boost public spending doesn’t work. It caused mass inflation and poverty in Zimbabwe and Weimar Germany. It caused the Latin American debt crisis of the 1970s.

There is an initial attraction and appeal of new ideas. Once they’ve been tested in debate and during a General Election campaign, their flaws become obvious. Who would want to risk a return to the kind of economy we had in the 1970s?

Back in 1983, the people of Newcastle Central were so scared that they elected a Conservative MP. In 2020, there will be another show in town. Those unhappy with Labour may well find a new home in the pro-working class UKIP.

Labour have not learned the lessons of history. Those that do not, are doomed to repeat it.

You can read this article in full on The Chronicle website here.

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