It is too soon to tell whether the month-old Social Democratic Party will replace the Labour Party as the main anti-Conservative force in Britain. What is certain is that the omens are far more propitious than anyone could reasonably have expected as recently as three months go. The death-wish which has gripped the Labour Party for the last two years shows no sign of loosening its hold. Though it is hard to believe that Tony Benn can actually win the deputy leadership, his attempt to do so is bound to inflict yet more damage on his torn and battered colleagues. Roy Hattersley's quaintly-named Solidarity Campaign may reverse some of the wilder decisions taken at the Wembley conference in January, but even if it does the Party will still be committed to an electoral college of some sort, and the leadership will still be even more obviously in thrall to an incompetent and unpopular trade-union movement than it used to be in the past. Meanwhile the issue of compulsory reselection is ticking away in the background, and is almost certain to produce more Parliamentary defections to the Social Democrats as and when it explodes. More important than any of this, it is now as certain as anything in politics ever can be that Labour's right wing has lost the battle over policy: that the positions which the Party took up at Blackpool last October will not be changed in any fundamental way and that Michael Foot and Denis Healey will therefore have to fight the next election on a programme closer to the French Communist Party's than to that of any other important working-class party in the Western world.
LRB 7 May 1981 | PDF Download