Classic Podium: End this grotesque chaos

Friday 25 September 1998 23:02

From Neil Kinnock's speech

to the Labour Party conference at Bournemouth, in which he attacked

the activities of the

Militant Tendency

(1 October, 1985)

I SHALL tell you again what you know. Because you are from the people, because you are of the people, because you live with the same realities as everybody else lives with, implausible promises don't win victories.

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far- fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council - a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short- term egos - I'm telling you, and you'll listen - you can't play politics with people's jobs, and with people's services or with their homes. Comrades, the voice of the people - not the people here; the voice of the real people with real needs - is louder than all the boos that can be assembled. Understand that, please, comrades. In your socialism, in your commitment to those people, understand it. The people will not, cannot, abide posturing. They cannot respect the gesture-generals or the tendency-tacticians.

Comrades, it seems to me lately that some of our number have become like latter-day public school-boys. It seems it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game. We cannot take that inspiration from Rudyard Kipling. Those game players get isolated, hammered, blocked off. They might try to blame others - workers, trade unions, some other leadership, the people of the city - for not showing sufficient revolutionary consciousness, always somebody else, and then they claim a victory. Whose victory? Not victory for the people, not victory for them. I see the casualties; we all see the casualties. They are not to be found among the leaders and some of the enthusiasts; they are to be found among the people whose jobs are destroyed, whose services are crushed, whose living standards are pushed down to deeper depths of insecurity and misery.

Comrades, these are vile times, under this Tory Government, for local democracy, and we have got to secure power to restore real local democracy.

But I look around this country and I see Labour councils, I see socialists, as good as any other socialists, who fought the good fight and who, at the point when they thought they might jeopardise people's jobs and people's services, had the intelligence, yes, and the courage, to adopt a different course. They truly put jobs and services first, before other considerations.

They had to make hellish choices. I understand it. You must agonise with them in the choices they had to make - very unpalatable, totally undesirable, but they did it. They found ways. They used all their creativity to find ways that would best protect those whom they employed, and those whom they were elected to defend.

Those people are leaders prepared to take decisions, to meet obligations, to give service. They know life is real, life is earnest - too real, too earnest to mistake a Conference Resolution for an accomplished fact; too real, too earnest to mistake a slogan for a strategy; too real, too earnest to allow them to mistake their own individual enthusiasms for mass movement; too real, too earnest to mistake barking for biting. I hope that becomes universal.

Comrades, I offer you this counsel. The victory of socialism, said a great socialist, does not have to be complete to be convincing. I have no time, he went on, for those who appear to threaten the whole of private property, but who, in practice, would threaten nothing; they are the purists and, therefore, barren.

Not the words of some hypnotised moderate, not some petrified pragmatist, but Aneurin Bevan in 1950, at the height of his socialist vision, and his radical power and conviction.

There are some who will say that power and principle are somehow in conflict. Those people who think that power and principle are in conflict only demonstrate the superficiality, the shallowness, of their own socialist convictions - for while they are bold enough to preach those convictions in little coteries, they do not have the depth of conviction to subject those convictions, those beliefs, that analysis, to the real test of putting them into operation in power.

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