Labour censors its century

It's been 100 glorious years, from Keir Hardie to Tony Blair (but don't mention Hatton or Stonehouse), writes Marie Woolf
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The Independent Online
HAVING spent years attempting to banish the ghosts of its turbulent - not to mention socialist - past, Labour is set to unveil a "new" version of its history.

The party will celebrate its 100th birthday at this month's annual conference. But while clenched fists, the red flag and the greeting "comrade" will make cameo appearances at a stage-managed rally, New Labour is nervous about its left-wing parentage and is unlikely to throw a spotlight on high taxes, strikes and Labour's flirtations with Militant and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Instead, the success of the post-war Attlee government, and the creation of the National Health Service, along with Labour's earliest efforts to give ordinary working people a voice in politics, will be highlighted. Labour will also take the opportunity to look forward to the next century - or "the 100-year Reich" as it has been dubbed by Millbank wits.

The centenary celebrations will include a gallery of Labour heroes. But characters who proved that the Tories do not have a monopoly on scandal, are unlikely to figure. John Stonehouse, the former Labour cabinet minister who faked his own drowning in Miami, is regarded by Millbank as best forgotten. And the career of Derek Hatton, the "loony-left" former deputy leader of Liverpool council, who was expelled from the Labour party during the struggle with Militant, will not be dwelt upon.

Instead, the party will focus on Tony Blair's achievements - neatly omitting former minister Ron Davies's mysterious interlude on Clapham Common. The Prime Minister will stand, perhaps a little awkwardly, alongside his party's grandest historical figures at a jamboree to celebrate the centenary.

Baroness Castle and Tony Benn - two of Mr Blair's harshest critics - will be asked to toast the party's first centenary alongside sharp-suited Millbank reformers at a star-studded "100-year rally". A specially commissioned video, including footage of early trades union marches, Clement Attlee's founding of the National Health Service and historic speeches, will be shown to delegates.

Neil Kinnock will be celebrated as a modernising hero, while Harold Wilson, who failed to deliver many of his promised reforms, will be rehabilitated as a popular 1960s figure. "Embarrassing" Wilson policies, including the refusal to allow Kenyan Asians who held British passports to enter the country, will be quietly ignored.

The Callaghan years, which saw unemployment reach one million and inflation top 25 per cent and the strike wave of the Winter of Discontent, will also be portrayed as mistakes. Labour's celebrations are also unlikely to dwell on the awkward sight of Michael Foot walking up to the Cenotaph in his donkey jacket. Similarly, there will not be any readings from the 1983 general election manifesto - which included withdrawal from the European Community, more nationalisation and unilateral disarmament - proclaimed by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman as "the longest suicide note in history".

"The fact that they gloss over their left-wing history is not terribly surprising," said Gavin Kelly, research director of the Fabian Society. "What is more interesting is the embarrassment about the Wilson and Callaghan governments. There are resonances between Wilson and the present government and there are similarities in much of the modernising rhetoric. Wilson's government came to power with huge expectations but it failed to deliver its objectives. Blair has said we want to deliver more than we promise. That is not a hidden reference to Wilson."

Many old-school Labour MPs fear that the celebrations will be more like a funeral oration and believe it is a final attempt by the Blairite modernisers to bury their socialist past. "The most therapeutic thing we can do at this conference is to make a coffin, scribble the name Labour party on a piece of paper and throw it in," said Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West. "Then we can bury it and shed a few tears for the party we have loved all our lives."

Conference papers will be rebranded with the "100 years" logo - which shows a rising sun - and all members will receive a potted history of the Labour party, from Keir Hardie, its founding MP, to Mr Blair.

A salutary daub of whitewash will be swept across the 18 wilderness years of Tory rule, which almost saw the annihilation of the Labour party in the 1980s and led to the founding by Labour defectors of the Social Democratic Party.

Labour says the purpose of the celebration is to learn from their mistakes. "We will be celebrating our achievements with a whole host of Labour party members old and new," said a Labour insider. "It's an honest look back. One of the lessons of our past is that we have never served two terms in government."

However, the expulsion notice to Ramsay MacDonald, Labour's first prime minister who formed a coalition with the Tories, is also unlikely be one of the decorations on Labour's birthday cake.

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