Labour Party versus Margaret Thatcher

Ed Miliband instructed his MPs to act in a respectful manner during the parliamentarian tribute to Baroness Thatcher but some Labour members doubt this decision. What do you think about this instruction and why would you say some Labour ranks are not very happy about it?

Peter Snowdon, Researcher, The Politics Show at BBC News, Co-Author (with Anthony Sheldon) of the book The Conservative Party: An Illustrated History

I think Ed Miliband has a difficult balancing act to perform, as does David Cameron. He needs to strike a respectful tone in his own speech, acknowledging her huge impact on British politics over the last 30 years, as well as expressing his party’s understandable unease with her legacy. He will have urged his MPs to strike that balance as well, but there will be concerns among his advisers that some will want to use the occasion vent their anger about her record in office, which could embarrass him if it appears unstatesmanlike. It does of course beg the more fundamental question for Miliband which he has yet to address: reconciling himself to the post-Thatcher era, which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in large part accepted, or trying to move his party in a different direction, possibly more towards the Left, which is rhetoric so far suggests. Whether he does so will be one of the fascinating questions in British politics in the next couple of years.

Nicholas Randall, Lecturer in British Politics, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle

I think Ed Miliband has a very careful balancing act to maintain in respect of the remembrance of Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher was the most controversial Prime Minister of modern British history. Her governments presided over profound social, economic and legal changes. Many of these profoundly changed the working class communities which comprise Labour’s core constituency. In addition, she was determined to undermine the power of the Labour Party’s closest ally, the trade union movement. So naturally, there are many within Labour’s ranks who regard her and her governments with disdain. Some, particularly those most affected, for example in former industrial and coal mining areas, would go even further and express an attitude of contempt.

However, the Labour Party subsequently accepted many of these Thatcherite reforms. Indeed, Ed Miliband himself has identified Thatcherite policies, such as the sale of council housing, which he believes the party should never have opposed.

So, there is an ideological balance to be struck by Ed Miliband. But beyond this, Margaret Thatcher’s supporters in the Conservative Party, the press and the British electorate will be quick to draw attention to any insensitivity shown by the British Left. Hence the condemnation of figures like George Galloway and Ken Livingstone and of the ‘parties’ and other events which have occurred in places like Glasgow and Brixton which have ‘celebrated’ her death. For Miliband not to condemn disrespectful behaviour by the British Left would be to open him to the ferocious criticism of the Conservative supporting press and, indirectly, to potential electoral damage.

Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in Politics, POLIS, University of Leeds

Ed Miliband’s instructions to his MPs is really the only respectable thing he could do. It would be almost unthinkable for an opposition leader in the House of Commons to allow his MPs to act in a disrespectful way to a former PM after their death.

He hasn’t gone further than that though, so for example he hasn’t instructed MPs to attend, to the best of my knowledge. Such a move would be deeply unpopular amongst his party, and also amongst union leaders, who Miliband remains close to after his election as leader.

Thatcher was a very divisive leader, both in terms of policy and style. Some of her counterparts are still in the House of Commons and retain the views on her that they had during that period. However, those that were not in Parliament during her time in office still harbour strong feelings towards her, often encouraged by their electorate and their constituency location. Her combative style, the length of her time in office, the repercussions of her policies and perhaps also being a woman has stoked a fire inside some Labour MPs meaning they are not willing or able to attend the House of Commons today.

Philip Cowley, Professor of Parliamentary Government, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

Even more than 20 years after she left office she is easily the most divisive Prime Minister in the post-war era, and many of the left still deeply disagree with things she did – which is why some want to be more critical.  But Miliband knows that this would look wrong to more moderate voters, many of whom are much more positive about Mrs Thatcher’s achievements.

George JonesEmeritus Professor of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Miliband is torn between the leftists in his party and his assessment that he needs to make Labour not a party of protest but one of government. He realises that to attack Thatcher is out of touch with public opinion and would alienate voters. Watch what happens at the funeral on Wednesday. If the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party manages to mount a large protest at Thatcher’s funeral, Miliband knows Labour will fall in the opinion polls.

The Labour Party has never removed from its ranks those who are not democrats but believe in direct action to bring about a revolution to displace the elected government. Blair almost succeeded in wiping them out, but Miliband owes his position as Leader to them and is engaging in a precarious balancing act to win the next election in 2015.



2 Responses

  1. Tim Bale at Queen Mary University is also really worth talking to for anything to with the British Tories.

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