Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Literary Creativity in Cinema

Part four of a forthcoming book called 'Collected Essays.'


Naked Lunch (1991) and Barton Fink (1991) were both released in the same year. They are similar films, as they both deal with writers. More specifically, they cinematically recreate the literary process. This might seem difficult to dramatise, as by definition writing is a mental exercise. Filmmakers David Cronenberg and the Coen Brothers use the typewriter as a motif to dramatise this process. In Cronenberg’s film, typewriters transmute into insects and strange creatures. The Coen Brothers’ often focus on the typewriter via close-ups. In both cases, the actual process reflects themes that the writers cover. Naked Lunch is very loosely based on the novel by William Burroughs. However, it is first and foremost a biopic and, more accurately, a film that recreates how Burroughs wrote the book. Whilst he writes it, the typewriters transform into strange creatures that mirror several of this literary themes. Cronenberg stated the following in an interview:
The reason why I have gone back to Burroughs directly, a man whose writing has been such an influence on me, was really to examine the process of human creativity – why you create worlds, structures and imagery. Why do you do that? What is the impulse? Where does it come from? How does it work? Does it do what you want it to do? (Beker 1992).
Several of Burroughs’ literary themes surface in the film. These include drug use, libertarianism, cosmopolitanism and paranoia. This essay will examine how the film recreates these themes. Meanwhile, Barton Fink is only obliquely based on Clifford Odets. Similarly, there is another character called W. P. Mayhew who is obliquely based on William Faulkner. Really, the Coens’ create a self-contained world that is not historically accurate. Tellingly, Barton Fink is a pretentious and pompous character who is often mocked by the Coens. Indeed, they called Odets ‘naive’ (p. 173, Cement and Niogret 2006). Cronenberg admired Burroughs greatly, and the film does indeed pay tribute to him, but Odets’ pretensions are lampooned by Coens. The film was written when the Coens were experiencing writer’s block whilst writing Millers’ Crossing (1990) and it actively explores the writing process. Fink struggles to write and many scenes in the film depict him immersed in the writing process. Like Naked Lunch, the typewriter is a crucial aspect in Fink’s literary process. Odets was active in left-wing politics and, like Odets, wants to create plays that lionise ‘the common man.’ In the film, he can only create when he is alone and he is highly misanthropic. Like Naked Lunch, the main theme of his writing surfaces whilst he is involved in the literary process – the common man. This essay will analyse how these two films recreate literary creativity and the literary process.

This essay will look at how Cronenberg recreates Burroughs’ themes. It will start by looking at how Burroughs’ became interested in such themes. Drugs were one of the most central themes in Burroughs’ fiction. Most of the characters in his novels seek it because they are libertarian-minded, want to break the law and seek hallucinogenic experiences. Burroughs began experimenting with drugs in 1944, which is highly unusual as drug use had been disrupted by the Second World War (Birmingham 2009). However, its regulation was laxer during this period and Burroughs took advantage of this. Interest in heroin was largely nostalgic, as it evoked memories of the 19th century Romantic/Decadent era, namely poems like Kubla Khan. For Burroughs, it was specifically an attempt to shed his aristocratic upper-class upbringing. He eventually moved to Mexico so that he could avoid American drug laws. He eventually moved to Tangiers in Morocco, which enabled him to live under laxer drug laws, meet other bohemians and escape America’s stuffy, moralist and puritanical attitude. Although Burroughs came from an aristocratic background, and because of his knowledge of medicine, he was able to access hard drugs. He relied on his class, education and race to circumvent doctors and the law. Additionally, drug use for Burroughs was an attempts at miscegenation. It involved racial mixing and tainted blood lines. At one point, Burroughs curiously believed that he had transformed into a black woman after consuming heroin. Finally, drug use for Burroughs was also sexual and it was strongly associated with homosexual sex (Birmingham).
In keeping with Burroughs’ writing, most of the scenes in Naked Lunch are drug-induced. However, when Burroughs drifts into his bizarre hallucinations, several of Burroughs’ themes surface. Pivotally, Burroughs hallucinates whenever he is writing on his typewriter, which highlights how central drugs are to his literary process. In the film, Burroughs’ typewriter often transforms into creatures that mirror aspects of Burroughs’ writing. Burroughs made much of the fact that he once worked as an exterminator and insects often permeate his writing. The typewriter transforms into a cockroach and it speaks through an anus attached at its back, which references the ‘Talking Asshole’ sketch in Burroughs’ novel. The insect-cum-typewriter often talks about ‘government secrets’ and ‘agents,’ which references themes about paranoia. Hence, the typewriter physically embodies all of these themes. The typewriter is essentially an externalisation of the literary process and it has been induced through drug use. Later in the novel, Burroughs has surreal sex which is arrived at via typing into a typewriter and drug use. However, it is heterosexual, largely because Cronenberg, as an heterosexual man, felt more comfortable doing this.
As this essay has already indicated, Burroughs’ interest in drugs was a by-product of his libertarian politics. Burroughs hated government interference and he loved guns, but he was not politically active. When politics intervened in his private life, he would simply move away to places like Tangiers, Mexico or France (Wills 2016). His novels often feature authoritarian figures – doctors, lawyers and shifty bureaucrats – who often stifle the freedom of individuals. Indeed, Burroughs envisaged systems of control and his novels often feature oppressive bureaucracies. He thought that artists, not politicians, are the agents of change. Hence, his novels often feature characters who rebel against these oppressive systems and who often try to change the order of things (Wills).
We see several authoritarian figures in Cronenberg’s film, many of whom are the product of Burroughs’ drug-induced fantasies. However, early on in the film Burroughs encounters some police officers who believe that Burroughs is once more taking drugs. We see a mid-shot of the officers confronting Burroughs. The colour is slightly saturated, there is light on half of Burroughs’ face whereas the rest of the frame, which the drug enforcement officers occupy, is obscured. The effect of this is that it makes the figures of authority seem morally dubious, as they enforce amoral and arbitrary laws.. There is a lot of depth of field in this mid-shot. The two authoritarian figures are obsucred whereas Burroughs is brought to prominence, which establishes a hero vs. villain and authority vs. liberty binary. The film seems to side with Burroughs’ libertarian and anarchist interests, even though it would be just as easy to side with law and order. Here – as in Burroughs’ writing – it is seen as an arbitrary law which is not determined by real moral values. Also, the government is actively interfering into his private life and there is whole bureaucracy that catalogues his life and habits: ‘You have quite a record, Bill.’ Interestingly, the sound of typewriters permeate this scene, although they are ostensibly used for administrative purposes. It still reifies the literary themes that permeate the film.
This is one of the few scenes set in something remotely resembling the ‘real world.’ However, libertarian themes often permeate Burroughs’ drug-induced fantasies. One would suspect that one of the main reasons why Burroughs takes drugs is to escape from reality. However, even in his parallel realities he is often hounded by imaginary governments and bureaucracies. Hence, his hallucinations are still highly paranoid and still feature these aspects. His typewriter-cum-insect speaks about him being an ‘agent.’ The typewriter tells him that he is an undercover agent who has been telepathically convinced to murder his wife. Although he uses the typewriter, his fiction and his drugs to escape from society and authoritarian persecution, his paranoid fantasies cannot escape from bureaucracy, authoritarianism and state interference. The insect/typewriter mentions: ‘We found in our files that she was the prime candidate for marriage,’ which suggests that this drug-induced libertarian fantasy also harbours its own mass bureaucracy. The insect/typewriter informs him that he is an undercover agent that has been telepathically convinced to do this, saying that this ‘does create ethical paradoxes.’ This would suggest that Burroughs is not in control of his own volition. Indeed, drug use does suggest a loss of control. If Burroughs has no control over his own behaviour, and is instead acting at the behest of drugs, is he really a libertarian? Libertarianism suggests human agency and choice. During this interaction, the insect/typewriter is portrayed via a 75 degree mid shot that dollies into a 75 degree close shot of its ‘talking asshole.’ The use of the camera angle, which focuses on the ‘talking asshole,’ emphasises how this entire scene is part of Burroughs’ own literary process.

Cosmopolitanism is another theme that permeates Burroughs’ writing, namely because his novels are often set in Arabic countries and feature characters from different parts of the world. Many of his settings are not even set in a concrete place – such as ‘Interzone’ - and instead seem to be places that are hallucinogenic composites of different topographies. Interzone was inspired by Tangiers, as in the late 1950s it was a cosmopolitan place which bohemians and beatniks frequented. Bohemians liked Tangiers because it was cosmopolitan, it was ‘free’ and it also harboured spies, criminals, businessmen and adventurers (Culture Trip 2016). It was tolerant place, where marijuana was grown locally and it had a tolerant police force. Indeed, more than two-hundred people arrived each month and they sought to escape high taxes and socially prohibitive taboos (Braeustrup 1964). Michael K. Walonen identifies Tangiers as a ‘place’; that is, it is conceptual. It is not a social place – it is not a market economy or a specific given culture. Rather, people who lived there chose to define it (p. 3, Walonen 2016). This is very pertinent, as Tangiers for Burroughs morphed into Interzone, a subjective fantasy. Interzone was Burroughs’ own subjective interpretation of Tangiers. Indeed, many artists went to Tangiers to experience something unusual or different (p. 9 Suver 2017). This is very much in line with ‘Orientalist’ attitudes, as Burroughs initially was scornful of the Moroccans. However, eventually the political situation changed Burroughs’ mind. He actively enjoyed seeing revolutionary riots in Tangiers (p. 9 ,Suver), which aligned with his own anti-authoritarian tendencies.
Cosmopolitan themes are recreated in a striking scene in a bar in Tangiers, where Burroughs writes. To begin with, the music in itself is very cosmopolitan. It unites Arabic wind instruments with music by free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Jazz is a quintessentially American form of music. It started in the USA in the 1920s and it has always been associated with literary bohemia. Indeed, Ornette Coleman released his most influential album – The Shape of Jazz to Come – the year that Naked Lunch was published. This fusion, hence, also encapsulates the ethos of Interzone. Interestingly, these two forms of music are not initially synchronised and they do indeed eventually synchronise. Burroughs initially found Oriental culture foreign and threatening, but he later embraced. Similarly, these distinct forms of music are initially dissonant, but they soon start to harmonise with one another. The timbre of Coleman’s saxophone is quite similar to the those of the Arabic instruments, which might be another way of represent the convergence of Oriental and American cultures in this scene. Interzone is a merger of several cultures, specifically Arabic and American cultures. In this scene, Burroughs is in a bar writing alongside several Arabic and American characters. The colour in the scene is murky and it is reminiscent of a 1950s saloon. The suits are also reminiscent of this type of attire – the suits and the glasses are reminiscent of 1950s chic – whereas the Arabic characters wear Moroccan hats/attire. The clacking typewriters once more continue the literary themes that permeate the previous scenes.
This particular scene starts with a high-angle mid-shot of Burroughs typing on his typewriter. The camera soon tilts forward to reveal a mid-shot solely comprised of Burroughs. The lighting once more brings him to the foreground which, for the time being, makes him look like an a singular individual who is immersed in an individual enterprise. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arabs who are typing are more darkly lit. The camera work soon edits to the rest of the Arabs, who are all typing on their typewriters and the close-up shot pans across them, levitating up and down. Later there is a mid-shot of two Arabs in the centre and two Caucasians, who are all typing. There is a sense in this scene that this is a synergetic fusion of literary creativity and Oriental and occidental cultures. There is a sense that literature is being used to converge these two distinct cultures. Writing is usually solitary and private, but in this particular case it is used to merge two distinct cultures. Writing is mental – or ‘metaphysical’ - but in this particular scene, mental activity seems to be synergetic and cosmopolitan.
As this essay has already identified, Burroughs often interacts with his own typewriter and they voice his own literary preoccupations. Another literary theme that is voiced by his insect-cum-typewriter is paranoia, which are of course triggered by his drug use. His libertarian politics are also highly paranoid, as he is constantly running away from government ‘agents’ and Burroughs himself often harboured strange conspiracy theories, such as belief in UFOs. Of course, this paranoia often permeates the writing of other post-war writers such as Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, who were reflecting anxieties about nuclear war and intrusive and covert institutions like the CIA. In Cronenberg’s film, the typewriters speak about ‘agents,’ hidden networks and nebulous individuals who control outcomes. Burroughs writes ‘reports’ about Interzone, as if he were an undercover agent. The typewriter-insect mentions that that ‘there have been changes at the top,’ which suggest that there is a hidden hierarchy which controls outcomes. The typewriter mentions: ‘Homosexuality is the best all-round-cover an agent ever had,’ which suggests that Burroughs is a spy who is sent to Interzone and write reports. Also, homosexuality at the time was illegal and considered depraved which, like the cosmopolitanism of Tangiers, suggests ‘otherness’ and the unknown. Burroughs using homosexuality to guise the fact that he is an undercover agent is drug-induced paranoia, as in reality he was obviously a bohemian who frequented Morocco and chased young boys for fun. Another major aspect about paranoia is fear of persecution. In one notable scene, Burroughs brings in another insect-shaped typewriter into his house and his own ‘Clarknova’ attacks it, kills it and eats it up. This typewriter shrieks and rattles its legs. His own typewriter says: ‘You should have known better than bringing an enemy agent into your own home. You were giving her access to your innermost vulnerabilities.’ There is constant fear of persecution. In this particular instance, the typewriter-insect that is persecuting him belongs to Joan who, according to his own paranoid delusions, he shot as an undercover agent to gain access to Interzone. So, in this particular case, this typewriter embodies his paranoia. It embodies Burroughs’ own hatred of women – at one particular point, the typewriter says ‘women aren’t human’ - as well as institutions that spy and persecute. There is a lot of emphasis on special effects and make up in this scene. The female typewriter is torn asunder and bloodied. The camera angles are zoomed in to extreme close-ups, which reveal the gruesome detail. This scene is darkly lit, which makes this scene all the more macabre. Paranoia permeates the writing of Burroughs’ and Cronenberg’s film. Cronenberg recreates this particular theme in this scene by recreating the typewriters and depicting a lot of gruesome detail, which is also in line with Burroughs’ own acerbic writing.
This essay will now turn to analyses of Barton Fink. Once more it will look at how film recreates the literary process and it will emphasise on how the typewriter is crucial in this process. The eponymous character, Barton Fink, is loosely based on the 1930s playwright Clifford Odets. Odets shares several similarities with the Coen Brothers’ character. He was part of ‘group theatre’ and success with left-wing social realist plays, dreaming of radical social change. Like Fink, he later moved to Hollywood in the 1930s to write screenplays. Odets lived alone and wrote plays in an apartment so small that he had to rest his typewriter on his lap, which is also similar to Fink’s misanthropic and solitary habits. Odets wrote screenplays for Hollywood that he called ‘fudge’ and ‘candy pie.’ He really felt that he was achieving social change with his plays, but felt that he was wasting his time writing light-hearted Hollywood movies. This once more resembles Fink, who seems to be quite contemptuous of Hollywood fare. Odets wanted to return to New York and write plays, which is once more similar to Fink, who feels imprisoned in Hollywood at the end of the film. Like Fink, he was also very self-regarding and portentous. He raised his fist on his death bed and shouted: ‘Clifford Odets, you have so much to do!’ Unlike Burroughs, Odets grew up in poverty, which informed his socialist politics. Odets also spoke loftily about the ‘common man,’ aiming to adopt their colloquialisms and writing about their experiences. He aimed to write about homelessness, poverty and exploitation. Despite this background, he did end up mingling with the glitterati. Despite being something of a socialite, he needed calm and isolation to write, which once more resembles Barton Fink. In the beginning of Barton Fink, we see Fink’s play receive rapturous applause. Similarly, Odet’s play Waiting for Lefty received a wild reception two minutes after it started (New York Times 2006).
Odet’s own plays addressed his own politics. Thematically, he is in some respects the complete opposite of Burroughs, as Burroughs’ writing was solipsistic and surreal. Odets also wrote in colloquial language whereas Burroughs wrote in a deliberately abstruse, garbled, formless and incoherent style. Burroughs was an elitist and wrote for hip ‘underground’ audiences whereas Odets’ writing was supposed to be universal and for ‘the masses.’ His plays received federal funding from Roosevelt’s government, which wanted to make the public aware about inequality and poverty. Although Odets was a member of the American communist party, he did not write as a communist sympathiser. Rather, he wanted to reveal the humanity in people who had been left behind. Odets wrote plays in which the actors interacted with the audience. His play Waiting for Lefty created a connection between the audience and the actors. Indeed, Odets called this communion ‘the very large flower of a social contract.’ The play invites the audience to participate in the play; it specifically invites them to shout ‘strike’ and take the side of the workers. Of course, in the 1930s capitalism was questioned, as there was mass unemployment, poor housing and economic stagnation. Despite this, the USA did not have a robust ‘left’ and the communist party was not large in the country, which means that the play’s success is somewhat surprising. Waiting for Lefty was an attempt at ‘community theatre,’ as it involved the audience in radical politics and actively tried to radicalise them. Inevitably, anti-communist organisations tried to clamp down on it (Voelker 2010).
Whenever we see the Barton Fink typing in the film, he usually works and thrives in isolation. However much he prattles on about the ‘common man,’ he thrives in solitude. He is constantly interrupted whilst he writes, however the main interruption is his neighbour, who is ostensibly a ‘common man.’ There is a contradiction here, as Fink clearly cannot stand this individual, does not listen to him speak and relentlessly pontificates as to how the goal of literature is to depict the plight of the common man, whose dreams are ‘as noble as those of any king.’ Fink struggles to write as soon as he moves into his new room. This scene is very sparse, but we continuously notice objects that distract him. Clearly, the Underwood Typewriter is the object that should occupy his attention, as the Coen Brothers depict it via a close-up. However, his attention is constantly diverted by other objects, such as papers, a painting of a woman sunbathing in the beach and a Gideon bible, which are all depicted via a mid-shot. A spacious mid-shot reveals the entire room, revealing mise-en-scene which is comprised of 1940s d├ęcor that is sooty and fusty. This makes the surroundings appear decadent, which is perhaps indicative of what Fink’s/Odet’s career will soon become. It is a very silent environment; the only sounds we hear includes the creaking chair, footsteps, Fink’s occasional sighs and the faint sound of traffic outside. Fink soon diverts his attention to the painting, which is an object that continuously diverts his attention. The camera dollies into a close-up of the painting. This is accompanied by grand orchestral music in a major key. The editing alternates between the angle that dollies into the painting and a close-up shot of Fink’s face. Swooshing sounds of waves also accompany these shots, which emphasises Fink’s immersion into the painting and his detachment from the literary process.

This is when Fink is interrupted by Charlie Meadows, who embodies the ‘common man.’ He clearly distresses Fink. Although his writing is centred on social realism and radical politics, Fink is clearly distressed and uninterested when he has to listen to Charlie speak. He would rather be left alone to introspect, rather than mingle with the ‘common man’ whom he writes about. In this particular case, Fink, like Burroughs in Cronenberg’s film, is confronted with one of the themes that he writes about. However, in Cronenberg’s film, the themes are surreal and hallucinatory whereas here it is a real person. Fink sermons Charlie about the ethos of his writing, but he does not listen to Charlie when he speaks. Although he writes working class people and their experiences, he is not interested about Charlie’s experiences. ‘Stories? I can tell you stories!’ Charlie shouts. Fink retorts: ‘And that is the point!’ Fink also assumes that Charlie is intellectually inferior due to his class origins: ‘I don’t assume that this makes much sense to you.’ Fink has stereotyped this individual as part of a class, when in fact he is a complex individual. Although Fink tries to pigeon-hole him as a member of a class, he does not in fact turn out to be at all ‘common.’ Eventually, Meadows turns out to be a serial killer who is psychologically tormented. Fink’s class politics are revealed to be too reductionist and simplistic. The Coen Brothers depict this via 90 degree mid-shots of Barton Fink and 75 degree mid-shots of Charlie Meadows. The editing is very classical and alternates between the characters when each of them speaks. Hence, the editing and the camera work is quite similar to the wrestling films that Meadows claims to like, however the themes are much darker and subversive.
Finally, this essay will analyse a scene where Fink writes his screenplay in one night. Throughout the entire film, Fink struggles to write anything. He eventually writes his screenplay in a flurry of inspiration. This essay will analyse this scene and will try to gauge how the film recreates the literary process The camera angles focus on the typewriter throughout via close-ups and dollie-ins, which emphasise how central the typewriter is to the literary process. For instance, we never see him taking notes and he solely writes on the typewriter. We hear grand orchestral music in a major key, accompanied by a grand mid-shot with a lot of depth of field. The camera is placed behind Barton, who is typing. This makes the process appear grand and dramatic, otherwise the situation might appear quite mundane, as it is merely depicting a man typing in a room. However, the music and the panoramic mid-shot capture the mental exhilaration that Fink is experiencing. He has experienced writer’s block for months and he had a deadline due to the following day. In a bout of inspiration, he writes the entire screenplay in a night. He eventually describes this screenplay as the apotheosis of his literary endeavours: ‘I think that this is really big.’ He is usually very negative and self-deprecating about this writing, so this scene captures his excitement. It eventually transpires that no-one likes the screenplay and it is eventually rejected, as it does not conform to the wrestling film formula. However, the scene captures the subjective excitement that Fink experiences whilst writing the script.
During this scene, the panoramic mid-shot tilts upwards, which reveals Fink whilst he writes. We hear the sounds of the clacking typewriter. There is a mid-shot of the desk, which is strewn with objects that distract Fink. There is a box that contains the severed head of Fink’s lover, crumpled papers and a telephone. However, the typewriter finally gains prominence and it becomes the object that he devotes all of his energies to. As such, most of the camera angles focus on the typewriter. There are extreme close-ups of the levers being pressed against the pages and close-ups of Fink hitting the keys with his fingers. There are also close-ups of Fink himself, who utters lines from the script, which emphasises how immersed he is. The editing alternates between shots of Fink and him typing on his typewriter. There is a mid-shot that pans across the entire room and Fink typing. Half of the shots in this scene are comprised either of the typewriter or of Fink, which once more highlights how important the typewriter is. The orchestral music builds up – to begin with it is quite restrained as Fink starts to write, but it eventually builds up as he is completely immersed in the process. It is in an andante tempo – that is, moderately slow – but as it builds up, the strings and horns reach higher registers, which adds dramatic tension to the scene. The typewriter continues to clack in the sound design, which continues to highlight the centrality of Fink’s literary process. This is Fink’s moment of self-realisation and it happens with a typewriter. It is not pre-meditated, as he does not plan the script over any length of time nor has he taken notes. Fink channels all of his energies onto the typewriter. Coincidentally, Odets also wrote his plays very quickly – for instance Waiting for Lefty was written over three days (New Yorker).
Both films recreate the literary process and use the typewriter as a central motif. In Naked Lunch, Cronenberg uses make-up and special effects that transform the typewriters into insects. These insects mirror several of Cronenberg’s themes: drug use, libertarianism, cosmopolitanism and paranoia. The use of drugs activate all of these hallucinations and it is clear that Burroughs takes drugs whilst he writes. Indeed, Burroughs later claimed that he did not remember writing Naked Lunch due to his use of heroin. Drug taking in Burroughs’ work had sexual connotations, but they were mainly homosexual. In Cronenberg’s film, they are heterosexual. Burroughs was a libertarian who frequently escaped government. In a scene, he is shown persecuted by the police due to his use of drugs. He even cannot escape authority figures in his hallucinatory fantasies, as they harbour imaginary bureaucracies and shadowy authority figures like ‘Benway.’ Indeed, his libertarian politics are an outgrowth of his paranoia, which was in keeping with the post-war spirit of the time. His insect-cum-typewriter often voices paranoid themes, as it speaks about ‘government agents’ and about Burroughs being a CIA agent. Essentially, Burroughs wants to be as free and reckless as possible, but this excessive openness means that he is highly paranoid. The insect-cum-typewriter attacks another such typewriter because it claims that it is a spy, which Cronenberg symbolically recreates. Cosmopolitanism is a theme that recurs in Burroughs’ writing, as he went to Tangiers to escape persecution. Tangiers was a very cosmopolitan place that welcomed bohemians and ‘beatniks’ who resembled Burroughs and who often escaped high taxes and persecution from drugs and homosexuality. In a very symbolic scene, Cronenberg recreates a scene where several Moroccans and Americans write at the same time. Once more, he uses the typewriter to recreate this process. Burroughs was initially sceptical about oriental cultures, but he later embraced it. As such, this scene recreates a mental synergy between opposing occidental and oriental cultures. They do this by writing literary fiction, which is usually a very private enterprise. Barton Fink thrives on isolation to write. Despite this, he is constantly distracted by objects surrounding him, which the Coen Brothers recreate. It is clear that the typewriter is crucial in his literary process and the Coen Brothers frequently recreate it via close-ups. Also, he works directly on the typewriter and never takes notes. Like Burroughs in Naked Lunch, Fink is confronted with the themes that he writes about. In this case, he is visited by someone who is ostensibly a ‘common man.’ However, Fink clearly does not enjoy his company, as he wants to be left alone to write and he is highly disparaging about him. Also, he is not interested in what he is like as an individual and reduces him as being a stereotypical member of a class. He later turns out to be a complex individual who is a serial killer. When the film finally depicts writing – as opposed to dealing with writer’s block – he writes the screenplay in a single night. The film depicts this as a flurry of creative inspiration, but it depicts Fink’s subjective excitement. This is very appropriate, as Hollywood rejects the script and no-one likes it. The Coen Brothers recreate this excitement through panoramic mid-shots, close-ups of the typewriter, close-ups of an excited Fink and exalted orchestral music. These are the ways in which Naked Lunch and Barton Fink recreate the literary process in a cinematic way.

Works Cited
Beker, Jeanne. (1992) David Cronenberg: Naked Lunch Interview. [Online video] MT. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqhe1v6nb68
Birmingham, Jed. (2009) William Burroughs and the History of Heroin. [Online] Reality Studio. Available from: http://realitystudio.org/bibliographic-bunker/william-burroughs-and-the-history-of-heroin/
Braeustrup, Peter. (1964) The Talk of Tangier. [Online] The New York Times. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/1964/06/20/the-talk-of-tangier.html
Cement and Niogret. Ed. Rodney Allen, William. (2006) The Coen Brothers: Interviews. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
Suver, Stacey Andrew. (2017) ‘Interzone’s a Riot: William S. Burroughs and Writing the Moroccan Revolution.’ In Journal of Transnational American Studies. 8:1.
Unknown Author. (2016) The International Zone: Expat Writers in Tangier. [Online] Culture Trip. Available from: https://theculturetrip.com/africa/morocco/articles/the-international-zone-expat-writers-in-tangier/
Unknown author. (2006) Stage Left: The Trial of Clifford Odets. [Online] The New Yorker. Available from: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/04/17/stage-left
Walonen, Michael K. (2016) Writing Tangier in the Postcolonial Transition: Space and Power in North African Literature. London: Routledge.
Willis, David S. (2016) The Complicated Politics of the Beat Triumvirate. [Online] Beatdom Available from: http://www.beatdom.com/complicated-politics-beat-triumvirate/
Voelker, Selena. (2010) The Power of Art and the Fear of Labor: Seattle’s Production of Waiting for Lefty. [Online] The Great Depression in Washington State. Available from: http://depts.washington.edu
Filmography
Coen Brothers. Barton Fink (1991) 20th Century Fox.
Cronenberg, David. Naked Lunch. (1991) 20th Century Fox.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Assumptions

It is good not to make assumptions. A responsible and honest person would critically scrutinise his own assumptions, which is foundation of philosophy. However, this is something - and others, I've noticed - struggle with. I hate becoming embroiled on arguments on social media because the other person will invariably think that 1) I am stupid or misinformed for thinking the opposite of what they think, 2) misconstrue/misunderstand what I said and 3) insult me for thinking the opposite of what they think. I imagine that if I frequented more specialised forums that this would not happen, but I'd say that this happens 50% of the time that I leave a comment on social media.

However, I was thinking about three ideas recently which strike me as so obvious that seem like truisms. That is, if anyone were to assert it in public, it would just be a platitude. But many people do challenge these ideas, so am I just making assumptions? But it does surprise me a lot when people challenge the following three assertions:

1) Social justice can be reconciled with democratic principles and individual liberties

This does seem kind of obvious to me, but there are some right-wing nutters who'd claim otherwise. In the 19th century, this was not seen as obvious. The laissez-faire system could not tampered with. If you regulated how many hours people worked each week, provided socialised insurance, socialised health care, raised wages, welfare benefits or passed other social reforms that tackled different types of inequality, the whole system would be depressed and come crashing down. Eventually, some limited reforms were introduced in Germy in the 1880s, in England in the 1910s and France and the USA in the 1930s. They were made universal after WWII. And, whilst economic stagnation did occur in the 1970s, these reforms brought women to work, created better living conditions, softened exploitation and created fairer and more equal societies.

I like liberalism as a political ideology, but it is very abstract. Social democratic/labour movements arose from real problems that most people faced. I value individual liberty and freedom of thought, but I think it's nonsense that somehow your individual liberties are infringed because the government introduces an equal pay act, progressive taxes or some other form of regulation. If anything, they protect your freedom and enhance the freedoms of people in lower economic strata. I find it hyperbolic when classical liberals/conservatives claim that they are being oppressed whenever the government has introduced some sort of social reform. They think that it's undemocratic and illiberal when it clearly affirms democratic and liberal principles.

Laissez-faire liberals want to just 'live and let live.' That is, if you are being exploited, find another job. This strikes me as way too ideological. Our standards of living - and our personal liberties - are enhanced when we have progressive union laws and redistributive safety nets.

2) Science has nothing to say on value judgements or morality

Again, this also strikes me as obvious, but there are many people who deny this. It is a given that science is value-neutral because it is meant to establish objective truths about the natural world. It doesn't care about whether that is good or bad or important - it is there. Philosophy of science would address those questions.

However, 'positivists' would say that you can take the scientific method and apply it to value judgements. There is a lot of use in collating empirical data about social issues, but is that really hard science?

And how would science 'solve' questions like morality, which depends on subjective values? It could collate empirical data on the real world, but that data could lead to immoral conclusions because science is value free. Moral judgements would come in when you interpret the data and decide what to do with it. You can use research to support your values, but you are still bending and twisting that particular research so that it supports your world-view. That's what annoys me about some economists.

But then, there have always been 'positivists' who claim that that there can be a scientific theory that explains everything. I've noticed that these are usually popularises - people like Sam Harris or Steven Pinker. They propose these broad theories in popular science books. Real scientists are concerned with much more specialised questions and write for specialised journals. They claim that there 'limits' to reason and are much more humble. If anything, this is one of the positive attributes about science - humbleness and intellectual honesty.

3) Capitalism is natural

People who deny this seem to be Marxist ideologues who are often detached from reality. Whenever 'the means of production' have been 'seized,' black markets have surfaced. Why? The answer is blindingly obvious - there is a demand for certain goods and they need to be supplied. You cannot 'plan' an economy completely because you do not there are might be a demand for certain services.

Even other forms of statist interventions seem to ignore this. When 'wage and price controls' have been introduced in democratic economies - to control inflation - business and unions did not want to co-operate. When prices were imposed on business, a black market emerged because they needed to sell certain products for higher prices because they wanted to achieve higher profits. Unions would clamour for higher wages and strikes because prices kept going up.

But whenever you point out these obvious observations to certain Marxists, their objections are philosophical. They claim that human nature can be changed - i.e. humans are not by nature competitive, that's a result of capitalism. If you abolish capitalism completely, human nature can be changed and inequalities can be levelled out. Capitalism is an artificial construct and the inequalities that it creates are not a result of human nature.


But it is still not right to assume that you an idea is correct just because you think it is correct. I have made many assumptions in this post. The responsible thing to do is to critically question your assumptions and provide reasons as to why you think that they are true.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Labour Leaders

I mainly regurgitated a whole lot of facts that I already knew here. I don't know why post-war British politics interests me so much - I can certainly think of other more interesting things to think about!

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Ramsay McDonald: 1922-1931

McDonald, in the eyes of many Labour supporters, is Judas incarnate. In the midst of economic turmoil, he left the Labour Party to form a National Government. He did this largely with Conversative MPs, winning a total of 470 seats. The Labour Party became a depleted force and it was left on the brink of extinction. The National Government was a notoriously ineffective entity – it presided over mass unemployment and a depressed economy – and McDonald lashed out at the Labour Party during this period.
McDonald was crucial in helping the Labour transition from a protest movement to a party of government. McDonald’s politics were a synthesis of liberalism and socialism. He transcended class divisions and he helped the Labour Party reach a broader electorate.
Unemployment, inequality and poverty were reaching boiling point in the 1920s. Nothing was being done on issues like housing and health care. The Liberal party weren’t going the full hog – they introduced limited means-tested benefits in the 1910s. Several parties surfaced at this period and the Labour Party emerged triumphant. Helped by the universal vote, they sneaked in as the second largest party. The Labour Party emerged as a minority government in 1924 – despite amassing a smaller share of MPs – but this fell apart in a matter of months.
Subsequently, Winston Churchill was a dreadful chancellor under Stanley Baldwin. He decided to return to the gold standard and lowered interest rates. This artificially overvalued the pound, the cost of production fell and investment stalled. Unemployment and poverty soared.
McDonald and the Labour Party sneaked in as a minority government again in 1929. Unlike the Conservatives, who were protectionist and nationalist, McDonald advocated free trade and low tariffs, as they kept prices low for workers.
However, the Great Depression struck in the United States and made its way to Europe. This threw a spanner in the works for the minority Labour Government. McDonald and his chancellor Philip Snowden turned to advice to the City of London and ignored the radical ideas of John Maynard Keynes. They devalued the pound in 1930. MacDonald and Snoweden were forced to make drastic cuts, which their socialist MPs were vehemently against. The King George V – in quite like the last royal intervention in British politics – urged him to form a National Government. As the crisis reached breaking point, McDonald threw the towel in, deserted the Labour Party, formed the National Government and called a general election in 1931. The ailing Labour Party were wiped out and were left with a meagre 52 MPs.
George Lansbury: 1931-1935

Labour were all but wiped out after the 1931 general election. Several heavyweights such as Herbert Morrison had lost their seats whilst others like Snowden joined the National Government and Oswald Mosley became a fervent fascist.
George Lansbury, a firebrand leftist, was selected as their leader. Labour MPs like Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps entered their most left-wing period during this phase. Attlee – to his later embarrassment – envisioned the idea of commissars commanding local councils. Stafford Cripps during this period was maturing from communism, but he still wanted all left-wing groups from all over Europe – socialists, labourites and communists – to form an alliance. He also wanted Britain to appease the USSR.
The small group of MPs were a very organised unit. Lansbury had a lot of energy, toured the entire country and gave speeches endlessly. However, he was prone to emotional and platitudinous rhetoric which embarrassed most of his MPs. He was prone to making overblown speeches that were very light on detail and policy.
Most worryingly, Lansbury was a staunch pacifist. He met up with Hitler and Mussolini and wanted to secure peace across Europe. This was a disturbing position to adopt with European and British values jeopardised by the rising tide of fascism. Lansbury fell ill in late 1934 and Clement Attlee filled in as temporary leader. Lansbury was dropped before the 1935 general election.
He died in 1937. In an ironic postscript, his house was bombed to smithereens during the war.
Clement Attlee: 1935-1955



The appointment of Attlee was only meant to be temporary, a stop-gap measure before someone abler came along. He stayed on as Labour leader for twenty years. There is no doubt for many people that he is the best leader that Labour ever had and some argue that he is Britain’s greatest peace-time prime minister. Selfless, modest, curt and somewhat taciturn, Churchill claimed that ‘he is a modest man with much to be modest about.’
Labour recovered well in the 1935 election, gaining 154 seats. Attlee provided stern opposition to Stanley Baldwin and later to Neville Chamberlain. He denounced and opposed Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.
Once Britain went to war, Labour formed part of a coalition government and Attlee became deputy prime minister. He was fiercely loyal to Winston Churchill and always trusted his judgement.
The consensus was changing during the war. The state played a much greater role in controlling the economy. The Beveridge Report sold 600,000 copies during this period. Beveridge called for a universal welfare state, full employment and the elimination of poverty.
Hitler, of course, was defeated and Churchill was a hero. In quite largely the biggest electoral upset in British history – and the biggest swing – Labour won a landslide with a majority of 156 MPs.
Labour’s manifesto was ambitious, promising nationalisation of key industries and a universal welfare state. Britian had been left bankrupt by the war and everyone urged Attlee to make cuts, but Attlee stuck to his guns.
Britain were no doubt boosted by the Marshall Plan as well as a large loan. There were many grumbles in Washington about the idea of funding socialism in Britain.
Attlee introduced national insurance and a whole spate of generous welfare benefits. These were designed to ‘take the shame out of need.’ There was a concerted effort not to return to the depression and the rampant unemployment of the 1920s and 30s.
Labour built thousands of council houses during this period, ensuring that the post-war generation had somewhere to live.
Labour delivered on their promise of full employment and production increased. Britain decided to increase exports and limit imports. The latter was done so that they could afford to enact their ambitious spending aims. All goods were rationed for a long time and post-war austerity lasted longer than other countries in Europe.
Labour initially aimed to create a ‘planned economy,’ which was really a reaction against the economic ruin bequeathed by the previous laissez-faire system. They initially aimed to plan all aspects of the economy, but they found it inordinately difficult to compromise this with democratic principles. This idea was largely shelved after 1947, though some planning was introduced.
Quite possibly the most lasting legacy of this government was the NHS. Hospitals were nationalised and all health care was made free at the point of use. This was delegated to the left-wing firebrand Anuerin Bevan, who was unenviably also tasked with the ministry of housing. ‘No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means,’ he claimed. Britain’s health care quickly became the envy of the world.
The Attlee administration also nationalised all utilities – electricity, gas, water, telephones, buses, trains – as well as the coal and steel industries and the bank of England. 20% of the economy was nationalised. Indeed, part of the ‘post-war consensus’ that emerged accepted a generous welfare state and a ‘mixed economy’ as part of a new social contract. Although the NHS was created in an imaginative way, the new nationalised industries were anything but. They were ran in the same way and the previous owners formed part of boards. Nationalisation was not the panacea that many people in the Labour Party were hoping it to be.
The Attlee government also gave workers’ unheralded rights. A spate of regulations were introduced and trade unions were given the right to strike whenever they wanted to, which created problems by the 1970s. ‘Collective bargaining’ was introduced and trade unions enjoyed greater power than before. Government, unions and business merged to form a large single entity. This has been called ‘corporatism.’
With Ervin Bevin as foreign secretary, Labour adopted a staunchly anti-communist position. They formed part of NATO and created a nuclear deterrent. They sided with the United States in the cold war against the Soviet Union.
Attlee also effectively ended the empire by granting independence to India and all other the other colonies. A ‘commonwealth’ was created and all the former colonies kept close ties with the United Kingdom. Although as a youth Attlee was a Conservative who was proud of empire, he came to see poverty as an aberration and he also regretted the way in which Britain had imposed its will on so much of the third world. India became a major preoccupation and he regarded independence as paramount.
The government redistributed wealth, but there were grumbles that they were not creating wealth, that there was not enough competition and that there too many monopolies in several industries. The middle and upper classes were heavily taxed and they were alienating several people who voted for them in the 1945 election. The notoriously austere chancellor Stafford Cripps was forced to devalue the pound after the dollar fell in value, which the British economy relied on.
Attlee called on the country to keep making ‘sacrifices’
and the public kept being told that they would have to wait for rations to be lifted. After going through the second world war, such rhetoric grated a bit.
Labour increased their share of the vote to a historic thirteen million votes in 1950, but they were only returned with a majority of five MPs. Most of the Labour Party grandees were exhausted after fighting in a world war and delivering on the promises of an ambitious manifesto. Cripps resigned in ill health and died in 1952, Enrnest Bevin died in 1951, Morrison died in the late 50s and Hugh Dalton died in the early 60s.
The UK joined the Korean war in 1950. Chancellor Hugh Gaitskell made cuts to the NHS to fund armament, which infuriated Bevan. Gaitskell made cuts to dental care, drug prescriptions and glasses, which had all been free. This infuriated Bevan, since the principle of the NHS was that all its services should be free at the point of use. Bevan resigned and this created a split between the leftist Bevanites and the right-wing Gaitskellites.
The Conservatives had opposed all of Labour’s reforms to begin with, however they accepted they post-war consensus in a document called ‘One Nation’ in 1950. They were now rejuvenated and Churchill was once more full of energy.
Attlee lost patience with his slim majority and called another election in 1951 to increase it. Labour amassed nearly fourteen million votes, which until 1992 was the most votes ever obtained by a political party and to this day remains the largest share of the popular vote ever achieved by Labour. They still won the popular vote, but due to the idiosyncrasies of the first-past-the-post system the Conservatives were returned to power with a majority of 17 MPs.
Most people
assumed that the new Churchill administration would only be temporary. Few people suspected that Labour would be out of power for thirteen years. The Conservatives told voters that they would benefit from the Attlee settlement, but that they would also enjoy more freedoms. They lifted price controls, increased imports and most rations were lifted by 1953.
Attlee stayed on after 1951, partly because he didn’t want Herbert Morrison to take over. The Conservatives increased their majority in 1955 and he resigned.
Hugh Gaitskell: 1955-1963

A centrist and scold of the party’s left, Gaitskell was a fiery and confrontational figure. The term ‘Butskellism’ was coined during this period, which amalgamated the name of Butler, the conservative chancellor with the then shadow chancellor Gaitskell. At a time of ‘consensus politics,’ people found very little difference between the politics of either figures.
Gaitskell constantly ran into confrontations with the Bevanites. Although Bevan was pro-defence, his acolytes advocated unilateral disarmament. In a notable conference, Gaitskell confronted them and averred that he would ‘fight and fight and fight to save the party we love.’
Gaitskell was also a statist nationalist. When the Conservative government attempted to join the European Economic Community, otherwise known as the Common Market, he opposed it. He claimed ‘that it
is the end of the nation state – the end of a thousand years of history.’ Indeed, this was an argument that did chime with the Labour left, who did not want to pool sovereignty to a group of bureaucrats in Brussels.
The Conservatives were devastated by the invasion of Suez, when Britain invaded Egypt after they nationalised the Suez canal. Britain’s international reputation dipped and the disgraced Antony Eden was replaced by Harold Macmillan.
This was, really, the high point of consensus. The model left by Stafford Cripps slotted into place and British industry boomed. The welfare state had mollified poverty. Macmillan continued a policy of full employment, building several factories in poor towns. The government was spending more than the level of production, which angered people like Enoch Powell and these policies caused mild inflation by creating higher levels of supply. British people also became consumers, which angered leftists like Bevan. Macmillan claimed that ‘you have never had it so good.’
This was the context of the general election in 1959. Labour were enjoying leads in the polls. However, Gaitskell was pressed as to whether he would raise taxes, which he denied, and this sat uncomfortably with Labour’s ambitious spending plans. A heat wave led to high consumption and the Conservatives exploited this in their propaganda. As such, the Conservatives increased their majority to 101 seats.
However, the Conservatives were beset by a series of scandals in the early 1960s. The ‘Profumo Scandal’ tarnished their lofty reputation for moral puritanism. Macmillan sacked most of his cabinet ministers in what was called ‘the night of the long knives,’ which only created a sense of party disunity. Economic problems had started to increase. What was called ‘stagflation’ - stagnation and inflation – started during this period. Finally, Harold Macmillan’s attempt to join Europe had been vetoed by Charles DeGaulle.
It seemed more and more likely that Gaitskell would become prime minister. However, he suffered a stroke and died in January 1963.
Harold Wilson: 1963-1976

Wilson had only earned a reputation for duplicity by 1955. He had joined Bevan by resigning from Attlee’s cabinet during the Korean war, however he chose to join Gaitskell’s shadow cabinet in 1955. Although ostensibly a member of the party’s left, he earned a reputation for being unprincipled during his period as prime minister.
Wilson certainly proved to be a formidable parliamentary performer. In 1963, he promised to deliver a ‘technological revolution’. He claimed: ‘In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.’ He came from a working-class background and had gone on to get a first from Oxford and, indeed, become prime minister. He represented a new meritocracy and this was a threat to fusty upper-class Tories like Harold Macmillan and Sir Doug-Alec Hume. He also cultivated a ‘man of the people’ image by smoking pipes – many people did indeed smoke pipes back then – and professing his love for HP sauce and fish and chips.
Wilson also created greater party unity than Gaitskell. His idealistic rhetoric excited the party’s left and he also consoled the right-wing by promising to be realistic about the economy.
Wilson won ‘by a whisker’ in 1964, achieving a slender majority of four MPs. The Conservative government had left a balance of payment deficit of [] and Britain was importing too much and exporting too little.
Indeed, Wilson was beset with one economic problem or another during his premiership. He set up the ambitious Department of Economic Affairs to put more emphasis on planning, but this department was scrapped very quickly. The aim of the department was to modernise a stagnant private sector through scientific and technocratic planning. The planned economy assumed as part of its program that a twenty-five percent increase in output would occur within five years. The Labour Party did not take into consideration what would happen to wages and unions if this did not occur.
Wilson called another election in 1966 to increase his majority. The Conservatives were struggling to find direction under their new leader Edward Heath and the gamble paid off – Labour were returned with a majority of 96 MPs.
The Wilson government had claimed that it would never devalue the currency. Wilson claimed that he didn’t want Labour to be ‘the party of devaluation,’ having devalued the pound in 1930 and 1949. However, the inevitable could not be staved off and the government was forced to devalue in 1967. Chancellor James Callaghan resigned. Wilson’s personality ratings never recovered after he appeared on television claiming that ‘the pound on your pocket’ would be worth just as much as before.
Wilson’s ‘technological revolution’ never really took off. They invested heavily in technology that people did not really need, such as the Concord. British industry did not modernise and stagnation continued.
‘Town planning’ was also a prevalent idea during this period. ‘Progress’ was a fashionable idea, but the modern council buildings that they built during this period aged terribly and no-one wanted to live in them. The few remaining buildings during this period look like monstrosities. Most of them have been destroyed.
However, the government did live up to its meritocratic credentials. Led by intellectual guru Anthony Crosland, the government abolished eleven-plus exams, closed grammar schools and increased comprehensive education. ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll close every fucking grammar school in England. And Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales,’ Crosland asserted. The Wilson years were first and foremost about increasing equality of opportunity and ending the culture of deference.
Wilson also created the Open University in 1969, which was his idea. He wanted to give other people from his working-class background the opportunity to study at university. The institution continues to this day.
The Labour government abolished capital punishment in early 1965. Roy Jenkins was shortly after appointed as Home Secretary. His eighteen-month stint was wildly successful and he has gone down as the most liberal home secretary in history. He had pining for the job for years and he had a clear agenda. During his period as home secretary, Jenkins – with the assistance of other Labour, Liberal and Conservative MPs – enacted a whole spate of radical reforms. He legalised homosexuality, legalised abortion, relaxed divorce laws, relaxed censorship and legalised the pill. He also legislated racial laws which specified that racial minorities should not be denied employment or housing. Jenkins also increased immigration from the commonwealth countries, aiming to create a diverse multi-cultural society that recognised and appreciated each other’s differences. This spurred Enoch Powell to make his highly controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham. Jenkins was insistent that the empire had come to an end and that it was now time for Britain to reach out to the countries that it had colonised. Although Wilson was not a social liberal, he gave Jenkins complete freedom to pursue his agenda. Jenkins was lampooned by Conservatives for unleashing a decadent and amoral society, but Jenkins insisted that ‘the permissive society is the civilised society’ and that individuals should be allowed to do what they want with their private lives. This is why this particular Labour government is associated with ‘Swinging London.’
Wilson introduced statutory income and price controls to control inflation in 1966. This would continue to be a political hot potato well into the end of the 1970s. This infuriated their trade union base, who frequently organised strikes in protest against frozen wages. Barbara Castle’s proposed union reform, ‘In Place of Strife,’ was eventually quashed by then home secretary James Callaghan, who had come from a union background.
Following devaluation, James Callaghan switched roles with Roy Jenkins. Jenkins had the unenviable task of healing Britain’s sick economy. Devaluation was done primarily to increase exports and they did indeed increase, as British goods were cheaper to buy thanks to the lower value of the pound. This did mean that inflation continued to rise – approaching 10% - as it became more expensive to import goods. Jenkins also made numerous cuts to welfare and defence and increased taxes. Eventually, by
1970 the balance of payments deficit was overturned from the £400 million bequeathed by the Conservatives to a record surplus of £550 million. Jenkins’ spending cuts and tax increases also meant that he had achieved a budget surplus, which had also been high when the Conservatives left office.
The Conservatives had been well ahead in the polls after the devaluation of the pound. However, the economic recovery meant that Labour had recovered in the polls as well.
By 1970, it was a given that Labour would win the next election. Buoyed by poll figures, Wilson called an election for June 1970 (which coincided with the World Cup). The Conservatives surprisingly won with a majority of 3[] MPs.
Wilson clung on as leader of the party. However, the party swiftly tilted to the left. Although Wilson did try to join Europe and it had been official Labour policy to join, Wilson changed tack by opposing membership of the Common Market once the majority of his MPs revolted. Roy Jenkins – the only British politician to have ever been president of the European Commission – resigned as deputy leader of the party. Once Heath managed to get Britain to join the Common Market in 1973, Wilson promised to hold a referendum in 1975. Once the referendum was held, 70% of the public voted to remain, which was the outcome that Wilson wanted.
Heath promised to end consensus politics once he had been elected. However, unemployment rose to one million in 1971. Having lived through the 1930s, this spooked him. Having scrapped them upon assuming his premiership, he reinstated price and income controls in 1972.
His attempt at union reform, The Industrial Relations Act, incurred their wrath.
British industry continued to struggle and Heath bailed out ailing British companies like British Leylands and Ferranti. The Conservatives even nationalised Rolls Royce. Heath recklessly pushed for growth and he created an artificial boom for a few months – 18% growth – which led to a bust. The government printed money to finance these ventures, which worsened inflation.
However, it was the oil shock in 1973 that irreparably damaged the Heath government. There was an oil embargo after Arab countries refused to sell oil to the west following the Israeli-Palestine war, which led to inflated prices in all western countries.
Coal had been getting more expensive to mine, but the oil shock made it even more expensive. Heath decided to ration the use of coal, which led to mass union strikes. Heath limited the use of gas and electricity, which meant that all television ended by ten pm and several black-outs occurred.
Strikes continued, which meant that several working hours were lost and this harmed productivity. Heath decided to call an election in February in 1974, seeking a mandate to confront the unions. He framed it with the question ‘Who Governs Britain?’ Surprisingly, it resulted in a hung parliament. Labour emerged as the largest party, despite getting a slightly smaller share of the popular vote.
Wilson had gone into the campaign promising to get the miners back to work. As such, Labour were on the side of the unions, which meant that it now had a much more left-wing program. Heath tried to form a coalition with the Liberals, but this fell through. Wilson led a minority Labour government for a few months before calling another general election for October 1974. Although inflation remained extremely high, Wilson claimed that Labour had solved the miners’ dispute. Labour managed to gain a tiny majority of three MPs.
Wilson settled the miners’ dispute by raising their wages, which accelerated inflation. This meant that inflation rose from 18% under Heath in 1974 to an historic 30% in 1975.
Wilson also assuaged the left of the party by appointing leftists Tony Benn as Industry Secretary, Michael Foot as Employment Secretary and Peter Shore as Trade Secretary. Benn scared industry by tentatively proposing mass nationalisation and planning. He wanted to create a ‘siege economy’ by raising tariffs and erecting other types of import controls. Peter Shore was also thinking on these lines. Parts of British Leylands were also nationalised, but these protectionist measures only managed to depress British industry even more. Michael Foot as Employment Secretary was keen to please trade unions as much as he could. All three ministers were soon removed from these posts.
Chancellor Dennis Healey increased income taxes to historic highs. The top rates were now 83% and, in some cases, 98%. Such taxes were meant to confiscate ‘unearned incomes.’ These revenues were pumped into the NHS and other social services. However, this also created a flight of capital, as several high earners left the country.
Despite their precarious majority, Labour still pushed several reforms through in this period: Social Pensions Act, Health and Safety Act, Employment Protection Act, Sexual Discrimination Act, Child Benefit Act, Homeless Persons Act and many others.
Wilson resigned in April 1976. By this point, he was completely beleaguered. He had not achieved many of his lofty promises and the country was in serious economic turmoil. He looked older than his years. Against the odds, he still achieved party unity and several worthy social reforms. He would soon develop Alzheimer’s.
James Callaghan: 1976-1980

The leadership election that followed boasted some heavyweight names: James Callaghan, Dennis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Tony Crosland. Callaghan, a self-made working class boy who never gone to university, came on top. He was the only politician to have ever held the three biggest ministerial positions – chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary. He was on the right of the party and had close links to the trade unions. It was said that, whilst his political judgement might not be sound, that he would be the most suitable leader to deal with the unions. The opposite turned out to be the case.
Callaghan lost his majority a month after assuming office. This meant that Labour had to form an informal alliance with the Liberals, called the ‘Lab-Lib pact.’
The ongoing economic problems soon reached boiling point. The pound had been trailing the dollar by 18%. A speculative attack on the currency meant that the pound almost collapsed. Dennis Healey met the IMF and agreed terms for a loan. Healey agreed a £3.9 million loan in exchange for £2 billion in cuts to social services.
Additionally, Healey cut interest rates and started to tightly control the supply of money, which was really the start of ‘monetarism.’ Healey started to open up Britain to world markets and the economy gradually started to heal at this point. Although the Thatcher government has been seen as the end of consensus, others have identified this as the moment in which Kenyesianism had run out of steam.
Callaghan addressed a Labour conference, claiming that ‘I tell you, in all candour that option [to spend our way out of a recession] no longer exists. And in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion… by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step…’ This was not wholly accurate, as inflation had been modest when Labour and Conservative governments spent heavily throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. Inflation started to soar after the devaluation of the pound and its impact would not have been so great had Wilson and Callaghan not postponed it. Healey also acknowledged that Keynesianism had come to an end and he believed that the Labour Party’s guru had underestimated how disruptive trade unions and finance are to statist governments that like to spend. Unions disrupt industry by striking when inflation goes up whilst finance attack currencies when they are weak.
The economy started to heal over the next two years and inflation had gone just below double digits by 1978. Labour had a lead in the polls, but Callaghan wanted to give the economy another year to heal before fighting a general election.
Callaghan formed a pact with the unions in 1978 whereby they agreed to wage restraint to curb restricted government spending and also to ease inflation. As such, strict wage controls were imposed on all public sector workers. However, trade unions – who had been radicalised by Marxist entryists throughout the 1970s – called strikes, which have been called the ‘Winter of Discontent.’ Many hours of work were lost, dead bodies were left in the streets, patients were not treated and rubbish was left uncollected. Callaghan came back from a holiday and appeared to dismiss the concerns of the press as ‘parochial.’ Many of the tabloids had in the past supported Labour, but publications like The Sun lurched to the Conservatives when they were bought by Rupert Murdoch. They lashed out at the government, with the Sun declaring ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ Margaret Thatcher issued a motion of no confidence as leader of the opposition, which she won by a single vote. The Conservatives won the 1979 election by a landslide.
Once more, Labour lurched to the left in opposition – this time even more radically. Tony Benn thought that he should seize the opportunity and sought to implement his radical economic plan. The constituency Labour parties had been infiltrated by Trotskyites. Benn sought to ‘democratise’ the party by devolving more power to Labour members. He wanted to give members the right to deselect MPs and he saw members of parliament as being delegates, not representatives. This made a mockery of parliamentary democracy. Benn stirred up radical activists by claiming that the Labour Party had betrayed its socialist principles in government.
The Trotskyite entryists were knowns as ‘Militants’ and were highly organised. Callaghan resigned a month before constitutional reforms were due to be introduced, which was a way to get back at Benn. The next leader would be elected by the members of parliament, not the party members or the trade unions.
Michael Foot: 1980-1983

Dennis Healey seemed to destined to take over as party leader. He was a forceful character, so he was bound to confront the Miltants, the left and Margaret Thatcher effectively. However, Michael Foot entered the race later on and won. He was seen as a ‘unity candidate’ who would be able to bridge the divides in the party. Although he was well on the left of the party, he was an affable man and many people thought that he would appease the right as well as the left more than Healey. This assessment turned out to be dramatically wrong.
Foot had been a totemic figure in the left, penning a manifesto called Keep Left! In the 1940s in which he argued that Labour should commit itself to unilateral disarmament and appeasement to the Soviet Union. He was a highly learned man of letters, who wrote an influential book about Jonathan Swift in the 1950s. A colourful eccentric, he was a passionate and eloquent orator who was perhaps more suited to the backbenchers rather than the frontbenchers. He did, however, prove his administrative acumen as Employment Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister in the 1970s.
The party soon committed itself to a program that included unilateral disarmament, leaving the European Community and mass nationalisation. Meanwhile, Roy Jenkins came back from his stint as leader of the European Commission and was aghast by the state of the Labour Party. He formed a new centrist party called the SDP alongside David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers. Whilst they soared in the opinion polls for a year, they ultimately split the vote and cemented Thatcher’s grip on power.
The Militant tendency continued to permeate the party, who continued to receive Tony Benn’s support. Foot seemed weak and unable to control the problem. Labour seemed eons away from power.
Thatcher’s first term was far from successful and she was very unpopular. Her harsh monetarist policies meant that 20% of British manufacturing had been destroyed, unemployment went up to an unprecedented three million – 12% of the total workforce – there were high levels of poverty and low-tax policies meant that public services were chronically underfunded throughout the 1980s.
However, the invasion of the Falkland islands led to a surge in patriotism and the Conservatives shot up in the polls. Labour’s manifesto pledges also seemed wholly ill-suited to the problems of the 1980s. Their obsession with a state-run economy seemed painfully ill-suited to Britain’s economic recovery in the 1980s. Their pledge to reinstate trade union power seemed ominous to voters a few years after the winter of discontent. Their pledge to completely jettison the nuclear deterrent seemed nonsensical as the cold war continued.
The Labour Party manifesto for the 1983 election was dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’ by Gerald Kaufman. Labour were soon slaughtered by the Conservatives, returned with [] seats. It was Labour’s worst electoral defeat since 1931. Foot was soon forced to resign.
Neil Kinnock: 1983-1992

Although he was young and had never held a ministerial post, Neil Kinnock was chosen as the new Labour leader. Kinnock had been a firebrand leftist in the 1970s, but many MPs thought that he had the oratorical skills and the charisma to be leader.
Kinnock soon defied the Militant tendency. He lashed out at them in a conference in 1985, claiming that their promises were ‘irrelevant to the real needs of voters.’ Militant and other communist organisations were judged to have breached the constitution of the Labour Party and parliamentary democracy. Thousands of Labour Party members were expelled.
Thatcher won another landslide in 1987 during an economic boom, but Kinnock staged a spirited campaign and won more seats. By the late 1980s, Labour were gradually returning to the centre. By 1989, they had dropped its most unpopular policies – unilateral disarmament and they became firmly committed to Europe.
Thatcher continued to implement unpopular policies, such as the privatisation of utilities. However, this reached boiling point with her ‘poll tax,’ where everyone was forced to pay the same high rate of council tax. She was forced to resign in late 1990.
Kinnock now urged the party to drop its commitment to nationalisation. He wanted the Labour Party to accept the market economy, but to instead focus on more equality and fairness within that system.
Labour now had a lead in the polls. By the time of the 1992 general election, however, several tabloids ridiculed Kinnock’s awkward persona. They claimed that Labour’s plans would lead to ‘a bombshell of taxes.’ Kinnock remained confident and Labour led an unusually Americanised event at a stadium in Sheffield. Kinnock awkwardly yelled ‘we’re all right! we’re all right!,’ which appeared arrogant and overconfident. A day before the election, The Sun published a headline that asked ‘If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?’ John Major eventually won the election with a majority of twenty-four MPs. The Sun published a headline that asserted ‘It’s The Sun wot won it.’
Although Kinnock might not have won a general election, he won more seats and vanquished the Militant tendency. He had made an unelectable train wreck electable.
John Smith: 1992-1994

Kinnock was often pilloried by the media – he was often regarded as bumbling, incoherent and incompetent. Smith, who held a cabinet position under Callaghan, was more respected by the media. Although he was staunchly on the party’s right, he somewhat ironically came to embody ‘Old Labour.’
Britain fell out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism after the 1992 General Election and the Conservatives had also presided over a recession, so they were no longer trusted with economic management. They were also tearing themselves apart over Europe – the internecine battles within Major’s party meant that they looked weak, scattered and incompetent. Labour was now staunchly European and its own bloody internal battles seemed to be a thing of the past. As such, it was almost a certainty that John Smith would become prime minister.
Some of Smith’s policy initiatives were later implemented by Tony Blair, such as devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the minimum wage.
John Smith had already suffered one heart attack and he was to suffer another one in early 1994, which killed him. This triggered a leadership election and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who had already been plotting for a while, seized the moment.
Tony Blair: 1994-2007

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson conceived New Labour. The idea was that Labour should embrace globalisation, which had created so much wealth and opportunities across the third world. However, they thought that the state should be also play a part in correcting market failure. Labour would embrace economics that ostensibly worked without dropping their commitment to social reform. Brown had first conceived the idea and had a detailed plan, so he wanted to become leader. However, Blair was considered more charismatic and prime ministerial, so it was agreed that he should be leader. The agreement would be that he would stand down after his second term, so that Brown could take over.
In a way that was reminiscent of the early 1960s, Blair, like Wilson, played up to his image of modernity, youth, novelty and popularity. The Conservatives again seemed old and fusty. Blair’s talk of ‘aspiration’ meant that Labour ate into the Conservative vote in the south of England, as well the upper middle-classes. There was very much a ‘spirit’ surrounding Labour at the time (although most of this, really, was ‘spin’), as there was in 1945. Most newspapers – from tabloids like The Sun to intellectual broadsheets like The Guardian – endorsed Labour. Labour won an unprecedented majority – a total of 420 seats. The majority was so large that several Labour MPs had to sit on the opposition benches.
One of the first measures that was introduced was Bank of England independence, which meant that the setting of interest rates would be devolved to the Bank of England as well as the printing of money. Brown argued that this would depoliticise these decisions and that the economy would benefit from it. In the past, Labour governments had inflated the economy by raising interest rates and printing money whereas the Conservatives had depressed it by doing the opposite. The British economy had been too ‘boom and bust.’ Now, the Bank of England would take these apolitical decisions in accordance with how the economic climate fared. The result was that the British economy enjoyed its longest economic boom in history as well as its lowest rate of inflation.
More controversially, Brown deregulated the banks from the oversight of the British central bank. This was certainly following the trend at the time – the more financial deregulation the merrier – but it would subsequently prove disastrous. Brown later said that he regretted doing it.
More radically, Brown imposed a ‘windfall tax’ on excessive profits earned by shareholders of privatised utility companies. He used these revenues to fund a ‘New Deal’ so as to help thousands of people from welfare payments to work. Unemployment, as such, was very low during this period.
Blair’s greatest achievement was perhaps the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, IRA terrorism had been a major problem since the 1970s. Blair read several documents carefully and co-ordinated talks between Northern Irish republican separatists and the unionists.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cooke promised to have an ‘ethical’ foreign policy which, in light of later events, proved ominous. However, Britain initially conducted successful interventions in Bosnia and Sierra Leon. This success clouded his own judgement and Blair would later become victim of his own hubris.
Labour also devolved constitutional powers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They would all now have their own parliaments and their own elected representatives.
Labour also finally introduced a minimum wage. This would finally protect workers from being exploited or underpaid in this regard. Union laws remained extremely strict, but Labour did protect workers through this legislation.
Brown also started a ‘Sure Start’ scheme that provided young children with financial assistance and to help them make the most of their opportunities. He later implemented tax credits whereby tax payers could apply to receive tax exemptions if they were struggling financially. Such measures reduced poverty considerably. As such, there was some redistribution of wealth in this regard, as lower income workers earned more and higher income workers paid more.
The 2001 General Election was basically a repeat of the 1997 landslide. The Conservatives had lurched to the right and were firmly anti-Europe and pro-austerity.
‘Tax and spend’ had been a phrase that had been derogatorily applied to Labour. After the experience of the 1992 election, Labour became extremely weary at the prospect of raising income taxes if it cost them a general election. As such, income tax was not raised. However, Brown pursued a ‘stealth tax’ and he raised considerable revenues. Eventually, he raised National Insurance in 2003. They also involved private companies to raise more funds for public services As such, Labour spent record amounts on hospitals, schools, the civil service and prisons. [] billion pounds was spent on the NHS in 2008.
There major tussles between Blair and Brown during this period. Blair wanted a more marketised NHS and several private contractors were introduced, which Brown was firmly against. Blair wanted Britain to join the Euro, which Brown thought would be imprudent (he was subsequently vindicated). Blair continued to push for more privatisation and deregulation in the economy whereas Brown was more cautions, claiming that regulations should be enforced when they needed to be enforced and that there was no need to deregulate for the sake of it. These issues made people question if there was anything remotely Labour about Tony Blair.
However, things would become toxic after 9/11. George Bush and his neo-conservative friends waged war on Afghanistan and declared a ‘war on terror.’ Blair was keen to preserve the special relationship with the USA, something that previous Labour governments had been considered weak on. For instance, Wilson decided not to send British troops to Vietnam.
British troops were sent to Afghanistan. However, several neo-con crackpots arbitrarily decided that somehow there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Robin Cooke resigned in a dignified way as Foreign Secretary and was replaced with Jack Straw. Blair and the neo-cons speciously claimed that the country harboured weapons of mass destruction. Spin doctor Alistair Campbell produced a ‘dodgy dossier’ supporting these allegation. The US subsequently invaded Iraq. The invasion soon unleashed a sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims who had supported Sadaam Hussein were removed from power and replaced with Shia Muslims. The bloody sectarian conflict continued for years. No evidence of weapons of mass destruction were found. The US and the UK started to loftily talk about nation building, a completely flawed idea. Iraq became a failed state. Because the US and the UK concentrated on Iraq, they diverted their attention from Afghanistan and foreign policy in that region became extremely confused.
Tony Blair still decided to stay on, as he was selfishly concerned about his legacy and did not want to bow out at this period in time. He had become increasingly autocratic and he used his unhealthy majority to justify this. Cabinet meetings were more presidential and there was little collective decision making, which had been the hallmark in previous Labour governments. Cabinet meetings concentrated more on ‘spin’ and targeting the media.
Labour won the 2005 General Election with a reduced majority of 66 seats, but they did so with the lowest share of the popular vote ever obtained by a party with a majority. Several Labour voters had defected to the Liberal Democrats, who had opposed the Iraq war. It was an unprecedented result, however, as Labour had never won a third term before.
Blair eventually resigned in 2007 and Brown finally took over. Although New Labour boasted some considerable achievements – they did a lot more for the poor and the disenfranchised than left-wingers would like to admit (I, for instance, benefited from Early Intervention support, which has subsequently been scrapped, and NHS treatment which had much more funds) – his legacy has been tarnished by Iraq. He has become a villain and a war criminal. His reputation has – justifiably – deteriorated year by year.
Gordon Brown: 2007-2010

The majority of the Labour party were happy when Brown took over because he wasn’t Tony Blair. It was considered inevitable that Brown would take over and it is all the more ironic that he did, as several ‘inevitable’ prime ministers, like Roy Jenkins and Dennis Healey, never reached those lofty heights. He had been the longest-serving chancellor in history, had presided over the longest boom in British economic history and he had a lot political clout. Brown initially wanted to put partisan interests aside and to rule ‘the nation’ and appointed people from the world of finance in his cabinet. He also invited Margaret Thatcher to 10 Downing Street – again, in an attempt to appear non-partisan and non-doctrinaire. Brown’s plan was to be a ‘national’ leader for a two or three years and to later implement an ambitious program of spending and stimulus in the economy.
Labour were well ahead in the polls at the time and many people assumed that Brown would call one to seek a mandate. He was caught planning one, which was the most partisan thing that he could do, so he decided against as it did not bode well with his talk of leading in the national interest.
However, financial crisis soon struck. Like 1929, it originated from Wall Street and made its way to the rest of the world. The lax regulation had meant that a ‘shadow banking’ system emerged, in which bankers invested in irresponsible ways. National Rock defaulted and Brown had no choice apart from nationalising it.
Brown co-ordinated with the Bank of England to bail out the banks, which would have otherwise defaulted (which is what the Conservatives wanted to happen). People’s savings were secure, but it meant that Brown had ratcheted up a deficit of []. Brown joined other world leaders to save the international banks and a stimulus package lift the global economy, as well printing currency to stave off depression. Paul Krugman claimed in a column that he had ‘saved the world.’
Brown wanted the British economy to grow for a few years and to later enforce spending cuts to bring the deficit down. However, David Cameron and George Osbourne claimed that the deficit had been the result of wasteful government spending (which was untrue). They claimed that Brown had been an irresponsible (which is ironic, as for years he was seen as having been prudent). The spin largely worked and David Cameron continued to score points against Brown at PMQs. By 2009, the Conservatives had a large lead in the polls.
Brown was also been ridiculed for his awkwardness and he was wholly unpopular by this point. His confrontational style meant that many figures had left his cabinet, which meant that he had to bring back his arch enemy Peter Mandelson. Talks of a coup had surfaced by 2007, but this died down because he proved to be the most qualified and accomplished politician able to rescue the world banks.
2010 surprisingly resulted in a hung parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest party. Brown tried to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, trying to convince Nick Clegg that 15 million people had voted for pro-growth progressive policies whereas only 10 million people voted for Tory austerity. However, Clegg noted that a Lab-Lib coalition would have only resulted in a majority of eleven MPs and he eventually decided to form one with Cameron.
Gordon Brown’s legacy was not good when he resigned as leader but, unlike Blair’s, it will improve. He saved the financial banks and the Tories’ toxic brand of austerity and anti-EU mania has subsequently proved disastrous and unpopular. He also spearheaded some of Labour’s proudest achievements as chancellor.
Ed Miliband: 2010-2015

David Miliband seemed destined to become leader of the Labour Party. He won the most votes from members of parliament, but in an ironic and tragic twist his more left-leaning brother threw his hat in the ring and won the leadership election, largely with trade union support.
Ed Miliband struggled to find direction as party leader. He changed tack every year and often spoke in abstruse and academic terms. He wanted to distance himself from New Labour, but he seemed to think that this meant that he did not have to defend their record in government. Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg hyperbolically and spuriously bashed their record, but Milliband never went out his way to say that Labour did not overspend.
The party started to lose its working-class base in the north, which defected to Ukip. Most urgently, it was losing its base in Scotland, which was defecting en masse to the Scottish Nationalist Party.
Labour had a lead in the polls throughout Miliband’s reign, but this was largely by default. Cameron had made billions of cuts and the economy was by and large stagnant.
By 2015, Labour had a ‘shopping list’ of policies, but no real narrative. As such, its pitch was incoherent. They wanted to freeze energy prices, control immigration and impose a mansion tax, but none of these things had a framing narrative or a philosophy about its vision for the country. Its more interventionist streak – like the price freeze – also jarred with Conservative spin about Labour’s economic mismanagement.
Another hung parliament seemed likely. The Conservatives exploited this by saying that this would mean that Labour would be controlled by the SNP, who wanted to break up the union and jettison Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Their campaign largely worked and they were returned with a majority of twelve MPs. Miliband resigned.
Jeremy Corbyn: 2015 -

Many people claimed that one major thing that could be salvaged about Miliband’s period as leader was that, unlike 1951, 1970 and 1979, Labour had not imploded and retreated into left-right sectarian battles. He had by and large achieved party unity. However, that fell to pieces when Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
Miliband introduced ‘one member, one vote,’ as several of his Blairite MPs were recalcitrant when the trade unions elected him. However, there was wide-scale entryism when Jeremy Corbyn was elected and he was elected with a whopping majority. (I had been toying with the idea of joining the Labour Party for a year, as I was intrigued with its history. I eventually did, but I never did anything about it and let it expire, as the whole Momentum/social movement thing put me off.)
Jeremy Corbyn had been a Bennite in the 1980s and had supported many trendy leftist causes, such as opposing NATO, Trident and the EU. He had shared platforms with Hamas. Many people thought that this was the road to electoral oblivion for the Labour Party. He was easily its most left-wing leader in its history.
Corbyn proved to be an incompetent leader of the opposition and there was constant in-fighting. By the time of the EU referendum, Corbyn campaigned half-heartedly and Brexit one. He had a long history of Euroscepticism and many people assumed that he was secretly happy about the outcome. When his own MPs launched a coup and another leadership election, they also cited the fact that he never put any time or effort into policy either.
Corbyn won another leadership campaign against another weak candidate. Corbyn and McDonnell spuriously cited that they were respecting ‘democracy,’ notwithstanding that Labour has always been a parliamentary party. Nine million people had voted for a Labour MP whereas only 600,000 members had voted in the leadership election.
The Conservatives were enjoying huge leads in the polls. By 2017, its new leader Theresa May called another General Election to seek a comfortable mandate for her Brexit negotiations. The Conservatives subsequently led a terrible campaign whereas Corbyn and Labour led a spirited campaign and manifesto. Young people also voted in record numbers. The nature of Brexit meant that Britain had returned to two-party politics, even though remaining in the European Union was not Labour’s official policy. It resulted in a hung parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest party.
Many people claim that Corbyn is a prime minister in waiting, but he is still a sloppy opposition leader. He has cemented his grip on power, but his party remains hopelessly divided over Europe and the economy.