WI: Labour Never Splits, Thatcher Defeated in '83

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Abe Lincoln, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    From a left-wing perspective, I have always considered the miners' strike to be the pivotal moment in the Thatcher premiership. It broke Labour's base and shattered the trade union movement. Moreover, it allowed Thatcher to pursue many of her most rightist policies as much of her first government had been focused upon monetarism and fighting immediate inflation, less so upon the long-term political and structural change of direction that she eventually came to symbolize.

    However, a year before the strike even began, it took a perfect storm to get Thatcher reelected. The Falklands war is usually pointed to as the reason. The wave of popularity a victorious war almost always brings is attributed to Thatcher. Yet, despite this, the Conservative Party's support fell by almost 2% from 1979-1983. Thus, even with Falkland, I'd point to the election of Michael Foot over Denis Healey and the resulting collapse and split of the Labour Party as the primary reason. After a breakthrough resurgence in February 1974, in which they received approx. 19%, the Liberal Party had been in decline, falling to 18% in October of '74 and 13% in '79. This loss of influence can be combined with political contentious time, the likes of which traditionally the post-war Liberal Party had fared poorly in. Thus, without their Alliance with the SDP and opposed by a more moderate Healey lead Labour Party, it would be hard to imagine the Liberals winning more then 10% of the vote. If we then safely assume that the 15% of additional votes for the Alliance came from dissatisfied Labour moderates, we can easily see a '83 election in which Labour wins, albeit narrowly.

    The question then, what is the result? Even a narrow Labour win in '83 would present the party with its biggest opportunity in 40 years. I disagree strongly personally with Thatcher's monetarist policies, but they would allow Labour to re enter as government a country with significantly lower inflation. Furthermore the economy had hit rock bottom by 1982 in terms of unemployment. It could not get worse. Thus, as unemployment fell rapidly, as it would from any logical economic perspective, the Labour Party would be able to claim credit for this. So even though their policies with a small majority would likely focus on job creation and moderate goals, their position would be significantly strengthened and they would almost certainly win a much more significant majority in the next elections, likely in '87 or '88.

    Therefore, as we enter the 90's, we have a strong, still socialist Labour Party with a trade union movement of surviving significance. On the other side, Thatcher, now in her mid-60's and having lost back to back elections, will be ill-able to fight of a challenge from moderate opposition in the party.

    Beyond these broad political trends, though, is a much different country from a Thatcherite 1990. So that's what I'm asking here. What does Britain look like in 1990? Or for that matter in 1985 of 1995 or 2005 without a lengthy Conservative reign and, more importantly, without many of Thatchers' policies?
     
  2. The Red A virulent, ignorant bigot

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    That would be incorrect, the Alliance drew support from Conservative and Labour voters roughly equally. Of course with Healey, no SDP, and no 'Suicide Note' you're going to have Labour doing better but with the Falklands still existing as a factor all you've done is turn 1983 from being a landslide to a narrow Tory victory.
     
  3. Pangur The Cat

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    Would a slim majority been enough for make her more moderate?
     
  4. The Red A virulent, ignorant bigot

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    Indeed, the Tory left would be bolstered by no SDP (unless they all went over to the Liberals, which is unlikely) she would have to be far less radical.
     
  5. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    In order for that to be true you'd have to assume at least 7% rise in the number of Tories in the country between 1979 and '84 as her poll numbers fell by only 0.2% between the two elections. I find that very difficult to believe and I see no evidence suggesting such a massive swing. Furthermore the decline of what became the Liberal Democrats in 1992 saw them lose approx. 4% and Labour pick up the same number while the Tories, again, remained stagnate. Therefore I stand by my initial analysis that the SDP (which is after all an explicit split from Labour) drew almost entirely from Labour voters.
     
  6. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    That's a question worth asking as well. With a majority in the 30s or 40s rather than the 140s it would be extremely difficult to push privatization or, more immediately, especially with Labour united, win the Miners' strike.
     
  7. The Red A virulent, ignorant bigot

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    1.5% actually, and you're assuming that the Liberal party would be squeezed more than they already had been in 1979, which helps account for your missing Tories as well.

    Make-up of party support can be gauged here:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2013
  8. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    My apologies for the statistic, I should have checked before I posted. The 0.2% drop I was thinking of was actually 1987-1992 and 0.3% not 0.2%.

    As for the Liberal voters. I think it is a fair assumption they would have been squeezed further then in '79. After the original resurgence of the Liberal Party they lost votes in every election until the Alliance was formed. Furthermore 3rd parties have nearly always fared poorly in narrow elections and, more particularly, ideologically divisive and pivotal ones. The Liberal Party was rapidly losing influence and had shed 5% of its votes between '74 and '79. There was abundant indication that they were falling back on their post-war core of about 6% of the electorate who were truly Liberals and not dissatisfied members of the main 2 parties.

    As for the amount of SDP Tories, second choices do not indicate which side they came from. The core of the Social Democratic Party had had it with Labour. Furthermore the Liberal Party core was much much more likely to list Tories as their second choice then Foot's Labour Party. Thus if we assume that traditional Liberals made up about 40% of the Alliance vote, as I did, and that traditional Liberals were likely to back Thatcher over Foot, then the second choice voters actually line up exactly.

    I'd like to add to this that the 1983 turnout (72.7%) was about 3 points lower then 1979 (76%) or 1987 (75.3%) and was in fact the lowest turn out until 1997. Historians and political scientists tend to point to this as part of a trend that emerges in for gone elections. Since the Conservatives thought they would win and thus had an excited base, they turned out in large numbers. Conversely, Labour supporters depressed by their minuscule chances tended to stay home. This meant the lower turnout was primarily attributable to Labour voters and thus further amplified the Tory majority.

    As a side note 1987 saw a rebound in the turnout despite ill prospects for the Labour Party. This could be attributable to how major the changes were in Thatcher's second government. The 1983 campaign was run against employment and monetarist policies, important issues but abstract and not part of Labour ideological core. The '87 campaign, conversely, stood on more immediate working-class issues in the aftermath of the miners' strike along with Thatchers broad privatization which attacked a core socialist tenant that had been in place successfully since 1945.
     
  9. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    By the way I'd like to add that this is one of the most intricate, historical, fact-driven discussions I've had on this site for a while.
     
  10. Sam R. Well-Known Member

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    It would be naïve to suggest that the neo-liberal and hard right actions of Labour in New Zealand and Labor in Australia were specific to those countries.

    I don't see why the election of Labour in the UK in the 1980s will prevent the substantive elements of neo-liberalism, particularly as the market is still "free."

    yours,
    Sam R.
     
  11. Abe Lincoln Abe Lincoln

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    Because the history of the party in Britain is entirely different. The British Labour Party of 1983 IOTL was essentially at its most left-wing point since before WWI. Healey is far far from being a right winger, in fact he was miles to the left of Blair, a man who adopted much of the SDP's platform. The politics of the British Labour Party are just entirely different, they were a more left-wing party with a stronger basis in the unions themselves. It was not until Thatcher killed the left (see Foot 1983) and the unions (miner's strike 1985) that the party became essentially capitalist.
     
  12. AndyC What's the worst that can happen?

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    NB - the Liberal second choices in 1979 were almost exactly split (very slightly more pro-Tory than pro-Labour, but by about +1% to the Tories.

    However, if we accept your contentions that:
    a - The Liberals are more likely to be pro-Tory
    b - The Liberals will be heavily squeezed.
    ... then the Tories would get the lion's share of that and be significantly boosted.

    The "second choice" of the Alliance voters will give an idea of who they'd vote for if their first choice did not exist, which is the core of what you're looking at, isn't it?

    As an aside, the British Election Study is a goldmine for data like this - at www.besis.org
    They've been running detailed analyses and huge face-to-face pre- and post-election studies since 1964. You have to register to get access to their archives, but that's free.
    It's really worth looking at, but warning - you can lose many, many hours when browsing through.

    Personally, I'd agree with The Red that a lack of SDP wouldn't have saved Labour in 1983. The key factor that the political analysts now credit isn't even the Falklands - it's that the economy had rebounded and the Tories were able to use the meme "it hurt but it worked". Tapping into the philosophy that "nothing worthwhile is easy" and tying it with "you've done the hard yards now and faced the challenge".

    Minus either of the SDP split/Labour leftwards lunge or the Falklands, you'd downgrade from "large landslide" to "comfortable win". Subtract both and it would be a "working majority"-level win. To get a Labour win in 1984 (because Maggie would never have gone for an election in 1983 if she hadn't been confident), you need to have the economy stall on its recovery. And then the other two factors become far less of an issue in any case. "It hurt and it didn't work" becomes a winner for Labour in that case, or for the Alliance if Foot still remains extant and turns off voters to a similar extent (either outcome would not be ASB)
     
  13. Thande Brexit Out Now, Funk Soul Brother

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    I think this point deserves repeating because it often seems to be forgotten.
     
  14. Blackadder mk 2 Well-Known Member

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    Thatcher even had to be convinced to call the election when she did IOTL as well, according to Cecil Parkinson.

    Anyway, shameless advertising, but in my own Thatcherism TL I had Healey win the Labour leadership election but Tony Benn's eventual challenge in 1981 and Healey's more moderate stance in the Falklands compared to Foot's ("you're not going to the UN enough and you are glorifying in the slaughter too much" instead of "we're backing you on this") and this, combined with splits with David Owen on the matter, stain Labour and Thatcher is able to increase the popular vote but has less of a majority.

    Feel free to read it.
     
  15. Sam R. Well-Known Member

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    May 11, 2011
    Would you like to suggest when the ALP became "essentially capitalist" or how Labour seriously advocated the end to the circulation of value? (There's a reason left factionalism in parliamentary parties called "entryism" amongst Leninists.) Also, see Chile for neo-liberalism's reaction to an elected right wing social democrat controlled by left wing unions.

    yours,
    Sam R.
     
  16. BillyShears Well-Known Member

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    Another fact is of course, a lot of people were put off Labour due to the media's appalling treatment of Foot - if Healey was leader this likely wouldn't exist, then there's the fact that Labour were seen to be a bunch of crazed leftie-loons, this wouldn't occur as Labour would probably remain roughly on the Callaghan area.

    No SDP is helpful, Labour would appear united and slicker, you'd have a more anxious Conservative Party. I believe, they could perhaps manage a similar '74 position with Labour getting more seats but the Conservatives slightly more votes.
     
  17. Blackadder mk 2 Well-Known Member

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    They really wouldn't.

    We seem to be going by the assumption that the Left are just going to go "curses, foiled again" and drop off the face of the planet. The Trotskyites are just going to play the "it wasn't legitimate as the electoral college wasn't used", Tony Benn is just going to challenge the leadership ITTL which will show a strong division in the party while Bennites heckle Healey and undermine him during protests as they did when he was Deputy Leader IOTL and his Falklands stance is going to get him in the shit.

    There will definitely be a smaller Conservative majority than OTL but I would say the worst the Tories are going to get is a similar majority to 1979, five seats south of that.