Why Ed M’s PM ambitions are all but impossible (Part 2). It took 33 years to find A BLAIR

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    3rd October 2010

    Click to Buy Tony Blair’s ‘A Journey’

    Part 1 here

    Ed Miliband’s task: Leading Labour to Number 10? All but impossible



    But first, some electoral facts and figures (the below is taken from my third section ‘MIND THE GAP’) –

    • 1. Ramsay MacDonald (4th & 8th Labour leader) won in 1923 – was the first Labour Prime Minister but only in a coalition with the Conservatives. Then 22 years later
    • 2. Clement Attlee (11th leader) 1945. Then 19 years later
    • 3. Harold Wilson (14th leader) 1964. Then 33 years later
    • 4. Tony Blair (20th leader) 1997 …????

    It is a simple, provable, historical fact – though largely ignored – that it took 33 long years for Labour to find itself an election-winning leader after Harold Wilson was first elected in 1964. The oft-quoted ’18 wilderness years’ are, in fact a red herring.  If this indisputable fact does not indicate something profound about British politics, leadership and the Labour party itself, I am talking to myself.

    Following on from here Part 1 perhaps I should clarify something.

    You may be wondering – surely the Labour party has had more than FOUR Labour Prime Ministers in its 100+ years existence? Well, yes, it has.

    TWO more, to be precise. All of two. Labour has only ever had SIX Prime Ministers, including two who stepped in mid-term, and were not elected as would-be waiting leaders. These were –

    James Callaghan, who took over from Harold Wilson when he resigned in 1976, and Gordon Brown, who took over from Labour’s greatest electoral success Tony Blair when he resigned in 2007. Both Callaghan and Brown served as prime ministers for only three years prior to being ejected by the electorate. (See chart here – SIX Labour Prime Ministers only. Ever.)


    James Callaghan, known as "Sunny Jim", exits 10 Downing Street after losing the 1979 general election, 4 May 1979. Credit: Getty Images


    1. THE POLITICAL WILDERNESS (aka 1979-1997)

    Labour’s exit under Callaghan, an unelected leader, made 1979 famously the start of their Wilderness Years – 18 years of  Conservative government. Blair broke this trajectory in 1997, with a landslide majority of 179 seats. But with Blair’s arrival in Downing Street it had been 33 years since a Labour leader had broken the Conservative grip to lead his party to victory.

    The idea has perpetuated that this 18 Wilderness Years period was unusual. In fact long periods out of office have been very much “usual” for Labour.

    And now, partly because they are historically illiterate, partly because they are fighting old battles over their party’s direction, and partly because they are stupid, many within Labour and perhaps even the country forget how earth-shatteringly unique Blair and his three election victories actually were.

    He is simply and unquestionably THE most successful leader Labour has ever had.

    Blair is the only leader to have won three consecutive elections. All of them provided overall majorities without the need for coalition with others. And Blair was the only Labour leader to win two landslides. He is also their longest-serving Prime Minister, serving 10 years compared to MacDonald’s and Attlee’s 6 years apiece, and Wilson’s 8 years.

    Having watched Tony Blair’s dominance of British politics since he became party leader in 1994 and immediately rid the Labour party of its historic Clause IV baggage many today, including many in the Labour party, have allowed themselves to be lulled into the belief that Labour is somehow the natural party of government. Nothing could be further from the truth.


    Gordon Brown, known as anything other than "sunny", leaves Downing Street in May this year, with his wife and young sons after the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had agreed to form a coalition.



    As if history repeats itself – as if – Gordon Brown, an unelected leader like Callaghan, was also to serve only three years before losing the May 2010 election. Whether or not Brown was leading his party back to the political wilderness in the above picture only time will tell. But the historical lessons make the prospects unpromising for Labour.

    Neither Callaghan nor Brown is remembered for anything spectacularly reforming in their short periods in power. Callaghan lost after the Winter of Discontent. Brown, though personally I am not entirely convinced, is often declared an incompetent Chancellor under Blair. How easily the decade of growing economic strength in Britain is forgotten. It is clearly fallacious to blame Brown for Britain’s present economic downturn starting as it did in the USA housing markets. The question of banking control is also, in my opinion, a debatable issue, since all the world’s major banks are so tied together. Brown could hardly have altered and regulated OUR British banks to an extent that would have saved US and yet not affected the rest. Especially when the City of London had grown since 1997 into such a world capital for banking.

    And, don’t forget that despite the economic turmoil, the Conservatives still failed to WIN outright in May this year. They are now in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, whose vote actually decreased in May 2010 c/w 2005.

    Brown’s failure of leadership when he DID finally lead his party into an election in May was more the failure of lacking the requisite skills, particularly in comparison to his ousted predecessor, Tony Blair. The political wilderness, was however, normally, Labour’s natural home from home.


    The history of the three main parties in Britain goes back many decades. It is widely accepted that Ramsay MacDonald’s 1924 election, which he lost for Labour, was nonetheless the beginning of the end for the Liberals (the precursors to today’s Liberal Democrats, and under a different name, like the Conservatives a far older party. But herein lies another more modern story.)

    Labour in the early 1920s was determined to destroy the Liberals and become the sole party of the left. Ramsay MacDonald was forced into a snap election in 1924, and although his government was defeated, he achieved his objective of virtually wiping the Liberals out as many more radical voters now moved to Labour whilst moderate middle-class Liberal voters concerned about socialism moved to the Conservatives. The Liberals were reduced to a mere forty seats in Parliament, only seven of which had been won against candidates from both parties and none of these formed a coherent area of Liberal survival. The party seemed finished and during this period some Liberals, such as Churchill, went over to the Conservatives, while others went over to Labour. (Several Labour ministers of later generations, such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn, were the sons of Liberal MPs.) [See Liberal Decline, Wikipedia]




    If I mentioned these names, would they ring any bells with you?

    George Nicoll BarnesJohn Robert ClynesWilliam Adamson … No? Here’s a clue – they have something in common with Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. You MUST remember these two? Yes, all five were leaders of the Labour party. Mainly successful within their party, after a fashion, but never, any of them, prime ministers.

    Of course it is true that there have been reasons why Labour has failed  so frequently to achieve power. There have been “events” on a major international scale where the voters have, in the past, felt more comfortable with the Conservatives. And, possibly above all there was Labour’s perpetual problem  – internal party differences over its roots, it class-based place in the world and its raison d’être.

    And so here we are again.

    One issue they never had to cope with in recent decades was a real challenge from the third party – the  Liberals/Liberal Democrats. Until the last election when the Liberal Democrats shared an equal televised platform with the two largest parties, they were invariably in third place with voting percentages under 20%, even under 10%.

    Now the Liberal Democrats, despite polling lower than in 2005, share coalition government with the Tories and their leader is the Deputy Prime Minister. Another mistake Blair would never have made.



    But for me the main interesting historical fact is how long after being removed from office, Labour had to wait before A NEW LEADER returned them to power.

    We all know about Labour’s 18 YEARS IN the political wilderness (1979 – 1997). But do we understand that prior to Thatcher’s 1979 win the previous Labour leader to win power was Harold Wilson, in March 1964? At 10 years old, Tony Blair would soon be worried about his sick father. Little would he have thought that 33 years later HE would be the NEXT Labour PM to become prime minister as prime minister-elect, prime-minister-in-waiting of that party. The Labour party was not elected to office during Wilson’s/Callaghan’s time or Blair’s/Brown’s time with Callaghan or Brown as expected PMs, as far as the electorate was concerned.

    Even if we bend this rule and calculate the time-lapse from Wilson’s return to office in 1974, that is still 23 years before another Labour leader was to lead his party to victory (Tony Blair in 1997.)

    CATCH 22 YEARS – 19 YEARS – 33 YEARS?

    The first emboldened year mentioned in each reference below is the first year of each Labour leader winning; second emboldened number is the time between that aforementioned year and the next Labour leader’s win:

    • 1. Ramsay MacDonald (4th & 8th Labour leader) won in 1923 – was the first Labour Prime Minister but only in a coalition with the Conservatives. Then 22 years later
    • 2. Clement Attlee (11th leader) 1945. Then 19 years later
    • 3. Harold Wilson (14th leader) 1964. Then 33 years later, or 23 if taken from Wilson’s interrupted return in 1974
    • 4. Tony Blair (20th leader) 1997 …????

    If we average these gaps of 22 + 19 + 23 we get a gap averaging over 21 years, or 24 and a half (if taken from Wilson’s first term in 1964.)

    As I mentioned in a previous post here“Another striking aspect of the length of time Labour leaders have served is how short most of them were. With Clement Attlee way out ahead at 20 years , only Blair and Wilson served 10 years or more (both served 13). Excluding those three and the three temporary leaders of 1963, 1994 and 2010, the average time served as leaders was 5.3 years.”

    Yet somehow, Tony Blair’s dominance and impact on the British political scene has lulled Labour people into believing that THEY are the natural party of government. AND that they, with a less than brilliant leader can command Number 10 next time round.

    It’s laughable nonsense.

    Tony Blair was… still is, a political genius and one of a kind.

    The idea that somehow HE was the problem and not the answer is derisory to anyone who professes to take any interest whatsoever in politics. We have almost forgotten there was another PM after him so dominating was Blair’s influence and electoral POWER, potency and influence.

    And another thing –


    • MacDonald, already ill and incoherent was defeated at the 1935 general election; he was returned in a by-election the next year but was finally defeated by ill-health and died a broken man in 1937, hated and all but exiled by the party he had led into power.
    • Attlee was defeated in the 1951 general election by Winston Churchill’s Conservatives – Attlee continued to lead the party in opposition. His last four years as leader are widely seen as one of the Labour Party’s weaker periods.[10] The party became split between its right wing led by Hugh Gaitskell and its left led by Aneurin Bevan.  Attlee, now aged 72, contested the 1955 general election against Anthony Eden, which saw the Conservative majority increase. He stood down as Leader of the Opposition in November 1955, and retired as leader of the Labour party on 14 December 1955, having led the party for over twenty years, and was succeeded by Hugh Gaitskell.[4]
    • Wilson, although his party lost one of the elections he stood for in 1970 to Heath’s Conservatives, won power back from Heath in 1974. His departure two years later when he handed over to James Callaghan was a surprise and his own choice. Callaghan, back to where we were, was an unelected leader who lost in 1979 to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives.
    • Tony Blair, as prime minister, and in contrast to all three above – MacDonald, Attlee and Wilson – was never rejected or ejected by the electorate, only by elements within his own historically dumb and electorally immature party.

    My point in this post and the previous one is to show that despite Labour having had 22 leaders up to and including Gordon Brown, seldom had a Labour party leader actually LED his party to victory. And NEVER had one of these leaders/prime ministers remained electorally undefeated. NEVER …


    I rest my case.




    Labour Prime Ministers

    Name↓ Portrait↓ Country of birth↓ Periods in Office↓
    Ramsay MacDonald Ramsay MacDonald ggbain.29588.jpg Scotland 1924; 19291931
    Clement Attlee Attlee BW cropped.jpg England 19451950; 19501951
    Harold Wilson Dodwilson.JPG England 19641966; 19661970; 1974; 19741976
    James Callaghan James Callaghan.JPG England 19761979
    Tony Blair TonyBlairBasra.JPG Scotland 19972001; 20012005; 20052007
    Gordon Brown GordonBrown1234 cropped .jpg Scotland 20072010

    Back to top

    List of UK Prime Ministers, from 1714



    An intriguing thought here below, which I may develop at a later post. If however I find that there are still only 24 hours in a day, and other matters take priority I may not get round to it. So, read this at The Standpoint

    “Blair’s journey, as he calls it, is not over yet. He is still youngish, vigorous, healthy, unbroken in spirit, and optimistic. He has not made the mistake of imprisoning himself in that whited sepulchre the House of Lords, or that eunuch’s harem the Brussels bureaucracy. The British political system is moving into uncharted waters. If, as I suspect, both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party will shortly split, Blair would be well placed to unite and lead the responsible rumps of both. Stranger things have happened. In an age of coalitions, Blair is by far the best equipped to be a natural, instinctive and happy coalition leader, unburdened by convictions and enemies. He is a valuable national asset and I for one hope the country finds further use for him.”

    Fanciful? Perhaps. Then again.


    [Missed Part 1 on Ed M’s impossible task? – It’s here]

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    Recent comments:

    “Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the priviledge of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”

    AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”

    AND – I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is a honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”

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    One Response to “Why Ed M’s PM ambitions are all but impossible (Part 2). It took 33 years to find A BLAIR”

    1. A right Royal spin around the missing Garter: Pt 2 “The Royals & Something Red” « Tony Blair Says:

      […] never one of them. They put up with him because he was a winner. Three times a winner. And it took THIRTY THREE years for Labour to find one.  He was historically unique in their party. They just failed to […]

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