Bunhill: Horror show at the party conference revisited

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The Independent Online
The conference was clearly hostile to the Chancellor. Not surprisingly, as delegates were meeting in the midst of an economic crisis, with sterling falling out of bed. There were cries for a more nationalistic, British-centred economic policy. The orthodox approach, according to a leading dissenter, would lead only to 'further deflation and rising unemployment'.

The Cabinet, itself thought to be split, was imposing a policy repugnant to many party supporters, who were worried about the abandonment of the tenets that had led to electoral successes. But the Chancellor was defiant, as was the Prime Minister, who had only recently taken over from a charismatic and successful predecessor.

The Prime Minister was up against a new and formidable leader of the opposition, as well as facing a deep split in his own party. It was his speech that triggered the greatest furore, largely because he reminded the conference that Britain couldn't live beyond its means and must accept stricter economic discipline to combat inflation - the Government's number one target.

Brighton 1992? Wrong. It was the Labour Party conference in 1976, just as the IMF was cracking down. The dramatis personae included James Callaghan as the new leader, Harold Wilson as his predecessor, Denis Healey as Chancellor, and Margaret Thatcher as the new leader of the opposition.

And the radical dissenter who recorded the events in his diary? Tony Benn.

The Government survived to live another day, and several more, despite the continuing hostility of its supporters. But the breach proved corrosively damaging to the party and helped it lose the next election.

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