100 good reasons to be a republican

Put not your trust in Princes - Psalm 146.

1) Certainly that people needs be mad or strangely infatuated that build the chief hope of their common happiness or safety on a single person; who, if he happen to be good, can do no more than another man; if he happen to be bad, hath in his hands to do more evil without check than millions of other men. 

John Milton, 1660


2) Class! Yes, it is still here. Terrific staying power, and against the historical odds. What is it with that old, old crap? The class system just doesn't know when to call it a day. 

Martin AmisLondon Fields, 1989


3) To inherit a government is to inherit the people. 

Tom Paine, 1791


4) The insuperable objection to monarchy is that the king or queen is elevated, and respect is accorded, for no reason other than birth . . . No one who believes either in the claims of merit or in the pursuit of equality can defend the system. 

Mervyn Jones, 1977


5) It has been said, not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch was insane. 

Walter Bagehot, 1867


6) [Monarchy] is as absurd as an hereditary mathematician. 

Tom Paine, 1791


7) It is in principle wrong and absurd that people should wield power on the basis of birth, not merit or election . . . There are no conceivable grounds for maintaining this system. 

Tony Blair, 1996


8) You should study the peerage, Gerald . . . It is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done. 

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)


9) The old elites, establishments that have run our professions and our country for too long. Who have kept women and black and Asian talent out of our top jobs and senior parts of government and the services. Who keep our bright inner-city kids from our best universities. And who still think the House of Lords should be run by hereditary peers in the interests of the Tory party. 

Tony Blair, 1999 Labour Party conference


10) She holds a unique place in the heart of the nation and many people across the world. 

Tony Blair at a service for the Queen Mother, 13 July 2000


11) This romancing about the royal family is, I fear, only a minor symptom of the softening of the brain of socialists enervated by affluence, social prestige and political power.

Beatrice Webb on the 1929 Labour government


12) One of the most depressing experiences of my life was to hear the propagandised uniformity of the responses from people who were ordinarily cheerful, decent, democratic and rather subversive in some of their manners . . . "I wouldn't have her job." Well, I wanted to say, no one is going to ask you. And if they did, you could not say yes, because you were not born in the right place. 

Christopher Hitchens, 1994


13) I wish men to be free
As much from mobs as kings -
From you as me.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)


14) An islander from Tuvalu or Kiribati coming to Britain, especially if he was a Polynesian anthropologist, would think: What gives here? What is the extraordinary credulity and deference of these people? What will they not believe? 

Christopher Hitchens, 1994


15) The metaphor of the king as the shepherd of his people goes back to ancient Egypt. Perhaps the use of this particular convention is due to the fact that, being stupid, affectionate, gregarious and easily stampeded, the societies formed by sheep are most like human ones. 

Northrop Frye, Canadian literary critic, 1957


16) When it is said that our royal family is the envy of foreigners, I have always noticed that what foreigners particularly like is that it is ours and not theirs.

David Hare, 1994


17) Of course they should keep it - for our entertainment.

Editorial in the New York Times, 1996


18) Strip your Louis XIV of his king-gear, and there is nothing left but a poor forked radish with a head fantastically carved. 

Thomas Carlyle, 1840


19) It's a sign of the tragic immaturity of Britain as a nation that we should be obsessed in the year 2000 with a reactionary old woman who has never done anything except act as a parasite on the body politic. 

Piers Brendon, 2000


20) We must call up battles and banners and many ghosts and glories before we see whatever it is that we do see in the picture of a princess feeding a bear with a bun. 

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)


21) If Britain has become a quaint spectacle, a licensed and pensioned relief from the modern world, a Ruritania for condescending delectation, the monarchy is the special article for the customers with Diners cards. 

Mervyn Jones, 1977


22) [Monarchy is like] something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss . . . but when, by any accident, the curtain happens to be open, and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter.

Tom Paine, 1791


23) How is it that the British, the first modern industrial society, should have such a blatant anachronism at their centre? Isn't this a huge example of a failure of self-analysis? An inability to see ourselves as others see us?

Republican Alliance, 2000


24) People with an over-abundance of dignity and an oversupply of power have always in the end been targets for laughter.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)


25) Made you a moron. 

Sex Pistols, 1977


26) I have often thought that the case against retaining the monarchy, which I usually construct in terms of the way it institutionalises deference, can be expressed much more simply: it rots the brain. 

Joan Smith, 2000


27) Crown: A headgear that makes the head superfluous.

Gabriel Laub, Polish author, b 1928


28) Once you touch the trappings of monarchy, like opening an Egyptian tomb, the inside is liable to crumble. 

Anthony Sampson, 1965


29) Of the various forms of government that have prevailed in the world, a hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule. 

Edward GibbonDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (1776-1788)


30) All monarchy rests upon deference, the instinct to cringe. Its opposite is the association of free autonomous citizens thinking for themselves. Monarchy, once despotism, has dwindled by way of crowd control into a sickly cult of the hereditary celeb. 

Edward Pearce, 2000


31) Royalty is but a feather in a man's cap; let children enjoy their rattle.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)


32) I think the royal family in great danger of reinventing themselves out of existence and boring the nation to death. 

Paul Flynn MP, 2000


33) Kings are not born; they are made by universal hallucination. 

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)


34) A modern monarchy is possible - just as it is possible to buy alcohol-free lager or vegetarian sausages that look and smell vaguely like pork. But what's the point? 

Francis Wheen, 1998


35) A state can only survive as a true republic or a true monarchy.

Niccolo MachiavelliThe Prince, 1532


36) We assert that no nation can long endure half republic and half empire.

Democratic National Platform, 1900


37) The brood of that dutiful and pleasant gentlewoman Elizabeth II and her immediate connections is now distending the country with a brand new and brazen aristocracy; a nouveau ancien regime

New Statesman, 1986


38) Whereas Charles Stuart, King of England, is standeth convicted, attainted and condemned of high treason and other high crimes; and sentence upon Saturday last was pronounced against him by this court, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body; of which sentence execution yet remaineth to be done. These are therefore to will and require you to see the said sentence executed, in the open street before Whitehall, upon the morrow . . . And these are to require all officers and soldiers, and others of the good people of this nation of England, to be assisting unto you in this service.

High Court of Justice, January 1649


39) Free not to have to puff some prince's wedding,
free to say up yours to Tony Blair,
to write an ode on Charles I's beheading
and regret the restoration of his heir . . . 
. . . 30th January, 1649,
though it's hard to use the date for self-promotion
the anniversary's gone with not a line
from toadies like Di-deifying Motion.

Tony Harrison's reaction to rumours that he would entertain an offer to become Poet Laureate in 1999 (Andrew Motion accepted)


40) Accountability of the executive is fundamental to any democracy. Where power is based not upon statute but upon the royal prerogative, it is this accountability which suffers. 

Jack Straw, 1994


41) A Parliament of knaves and sots,
Members by name you must not mention,
He keeps in pay, and buys their votes,
Here with a place, there with a pension:
When to give money he can't cologue 'em,
He doth with scorn porogue, porogue 'em.

New upstarts, pimps, bastards, whores,
That locust-like devour the land,
By shutting up the Exchequer doors
(When thither our money was trepanned)
Have rendered Charles his Restoration
But a small blessing for the nation.

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, on Charles II, 1672


42) The royal refugee our breed restores
With foreign courtiers and with foreign whores,
And carefully repeopled us again
Throughout his lazy, long, lascivious reign.

Daniel Defoe on the restoration of Charles II, 1701


43) When Charles duly betrayed her best friend's granddaughter, continuing his affair with a fellow officer's wife before, during and after their marriage, the Queen Mother betrayed all her apparent principles by condoning her grandson's adultery and taking his side against the girl she had trapped into marrying him.

Anthony Holden, 1997


44) Our first-born is the greatest ass, the greatest liar, the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world, and we heartily wish he was out of it.

George II on his son Frederick, Prince of Wales


45) The family who were once icons of cleanliness in a dirty world have turned out to be the most single-minded bunch of shaggers in Christendom. 

Julie Burchill, 1999


46) An obstinate, self-indulgent, miserly martinet with an insatiable sexual appetite. 

Frederick, Prince of Wales on his father George II


47) I hope the best for Wills but, because that's the maddest family since the Munsters, we wouldn't be shocked if he turned out to be a cross-dresser who wanted to marry a corgi.

Julie Burchill, 1999


48) Here lies Fred,
Who was alive and is dead.
Had it been his father,
I had much rather.
Had it been his brother,
Still better than another.
Had it been his sister,
No one would have missed her.
Had it been the whole generation,
The better for the nation.
But since 'tis only Fred,
Who was alive, and is dead,
There's no more to be said.

Anonymous lines on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751


49) An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king. 

Shelley on George III


50) Nor should Prince Charles succeed our present queen,
and spare us some toad's ode on coronation.
I'd like all suchlike odes there have ever been
Binned by a truly democratic nation.

Tony Harrison, "Laureate's Block", 1999


51) Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn - mud from a muddy spring -
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling.

Shelley, 1819


52) It is this basic turn of mind - the country is theirs not in trust, but by right - which has lately given the monarchy its peculiarly sullen character. The House of Windsor has not bothered to be generous because, literally, it does not see why it needs to be. 

David Hare, 1994


53) And when the gorgeous coffin was laid low,
It seem'd the mockery of hell to fold
The rottenness of eighty years in gold. 

Byron on the funeral of George III


54) Those in the cheaper seats clap. The rest of you rattle your jewellery. 

John Lennon, 1963 Royal Variety Performance


55) Most gracious Queen, we thee implore
To go away and sin no more,
But if that effort prove too great,
To go away at any rate.

Anonymous epigram on Queen Caroline, 1820


56) I believe, in a case like yours, the man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down. 

Lord Mountbatten (1900-79) to Prince Charles


57) A libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of demi-reps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity. 

Leigh Hunt on the 50th birthday of the future King George IV, 1812


58) [Then] choose a sweet-charactered girl before she meets anyone else she might fall for. 

Lord Mountbatten to Prince Charles


59) There have been good and wise kings, but not many of them. Take them one with another, they are of an inferior character, and this I believe to be one of the worst of the kind. The littleness of his character prevents his displaying the dangerous faults that belong to great minds, but with vices and weaknesses of the lowest and most contemptible order it would be difficult to find a disposition more abundantly furnished.

Charles Cavendish Greville on George IV


60) Two-thirds of our government is unelected. The head of state enjoys power, wealth and status due solely to an accident of birth. Isn't it time to think again? 

South London Republican Forum, 2000


61) Though useless, kings are very expensive. 

Richard Carlile, 1820


62) Things get harder when the distance that lends enchantment cedes to the contempt bred of familiarity . . . The dominant impression the Windsors convey - by design rather than by accident - is of a clan of stolid zombies, barren of feeling and clenched of brain. 

Glen Newey, 1998


63) There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased King. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one sob of unmercenary sorrow?

The Times on the death of George IV, 1830


64) Royalty is a neurosis.
Get well soon.

Adrian Mitchell to Charles Windsor


65) His late Majesty, though at times a jovial and, for a king, an honest man, was a weak, ignorant, commonplace sort of person. 

The Spectator on the death of William IV, 1837


66) No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast the Queen.

Seamus Heaney, who also had no intention of becoming Poet Laureate in 1999


67) These commanding premises to be let or sold, in consequence of the late inhabitant's declining business. 

Notice pinned to the railings of Buckingham Palace after Queen Victoria's withdrawal to Windsor, 1864


68) While the castle stands it is theirs, but when it burns down it is ours. 

Janet Daley, 1992, when the public was told to pay for the cost of the Windsor Castle fire


69) If you can show me a fair chance that a republic here will be free from the political corruption that hangs about monarchy, I say, for my part - and I believe the middle classes in general will say - let it come!

Sir Charles Dilke, 1871


70) This boy [the future Edward VIII] will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation. A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over. 

Keir Hardie, 28 June 1894


71) She does not belong to us, she belongs to them. She is not Queen of England. She is Queen of the Establishment." 

Billy Bragg on Elizabeth II, 1994


72) I am going to see that well-known opera "The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha". 

Kaiser Wilhelm II on hearing that his cousin, George V, had changed the family name to Windsor during the First World War


73) All the monarchical governments are military. War is their trade.

Tom Paine, 1791


74) He, too, is going the dictator way, and is pro-German, against Russia, and against too much slipshod democracy. I shouldn't be surprised if he aimed at making himself a mild dictator. 

Chips Channon on Edward VIII, 1936


75) It would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler was overthrown. 

Edward VIII as Duke of Windsor to Liberty magazine, 1941


76) She would have made a good Queen. 

Adolf Hitler on the Duchess of Windsor, September 1939


77) The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.

William Blake (1757-1827)


78) When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich on 30 September 1938, he was driven straight from Heston aerodrome to Buckingham Palace - where, by royal invitation, he stood alongside the King and Queen on the balcony to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd. John Grigg once described this photo opportunity, which took place before parliament could debate or vote on the Munich agreement, as "the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century". 

Francis Wheen on the Queen Mother, 2000


79) [The royal family] often drink a toast at the end of the dinner to Mrs Thatcher. She [the Queen Mother] adores Mrs Thatcher. 

Woodrow Wyatt Diaries, 1986


80) She [the Queen Mother] thinks that it is awful how the BBC and media misrepresent everything that Botha is trying to do. 

Woodrow Wyatt Diaries, 1986


81) When wilt thou save the people Oh God of Mercy? When? The people, Lord, the people! Not thrones and crowns, but men! 

Ebenezer Eliott, "The People's Anthem", (1781-1849)


82) The president this country needs would have no executive authority . . . Ideally, it should be somebody of whom we have never heard. I challenge you to tell me the name of the president of Germany. Perhaps more important, in the summer of 2000, we can be absolutely sure that his mother is not exalted above all others or that, when he dies, his widow will not be elevated to the status of saint and martyr. Nor will his son automatically succeed him in the presidency. If that seems a reasonable state of affairs, whether you know it or not, you are a republican.

Roy Hattersley, 2000


83) We have explored the temple of royalty, and have found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes that see not, ears that hear not our prayers, and a heart like the nethermillstone.

Samuel Adams, speech in Philadelphia, 1776


84) The Queen's relationship to God changes as she moves over the Scottish border. She becomes less important.

Andrew DuncanThe Reality of Monarchy, 1970


85) The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that!

Robert Burns (1759-1796)


86) As children we learned how to do without the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Now we're grown-ups, shouldn't we learn how to do without the monarchy?

Claire Rayner, 2000


87) Republics in which high birth gives no right to the government of the state are, in that respect, the most happy; for the people have less reason to envy an authority. 

MontesquieuCauses de la grandeur des Romains et de leur decadence


88) It's odd - being the 21st century, at a time of fundamental constitutional reform, to be saddled with a 19th-century monarchy. The waves of reform need to lap a bit further up the beach. 

Norman Baker MP, 2000


89) Our first concern as lovers of our country must be to enlighten it. Why are the nations of the world so patient under despotism? . . . Show them they are men, and they will act like men. 

Reverend Richard PriceOn the Love of Our Country, 1789


90) I was much an enemy to monarchy before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries which may not be traced to their king as its source, nor a good which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them.

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Washington, 1788


91) Democracies are commonly more quiet and less subject to sedition than where there are stirps of nobles.

Francis BaconEssays, 1625


92) Real democracy will exist only when "every man is, in his own proper self a king" - when the ordinary has become extraordinary.

Tom Nairn, 1988


93) Put not your trust in 

Psalm 146


94) I believe that it's Elizabeth the Last. 

Stephen Haseler, chairman of the Republican Society, 2000


95) It's curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear. 

Stone Roses, 1989


96) We know in our hearts that the monarchy is a historical absurdity. But because we lack the courage to abolish it (as indeed we lack the courage for any radical undertaking), we are taking out our anger at our own bad faith and torturing the individuals involved. 

David Hare, 1994


97) One is the objection that a king, once in office, can't be got rid of. The answer is that kings are got rid of very often, and usually very easily. 

H L Mencken, 1933


98) All republicans have to do is keep their nerve. The old bullfrog is puffing itself up for its last croak. 

Tom Nairn, 2000


99) He deign'd not to belie his soul in songs,
Nor turn his very talent to a crime;
He did not loathe the Sire to laud the Son,
But closed the tyrant-hater he begun.

Byron on Milton's republicanism, 1818


100) What I have spoken is the language of that which is not called amiss "The Good Old Cause". 

John Milton, 1660


Compiled by Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen, Steve Richards, Tessa Bold, Julius Walker, Caroline Igguiden. 7 August 2000.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on a recent tour of Oman. Photo: Getty.

Letters, articles and notes from the New Statesman's centenary archive.

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Roy Hattersley: Labour is far closer to extinction now than in the 1980s

 If the takeover of the party by the far-left succeeds there will be no opportunity to rescue it from the wilder shores of socialism, says the former deputy leader.

The comparison with the Eighties is irresistible but misconceived. Labour is far closer to extinction as a major party than it was 35 years ago. That is not because Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of leading the party to victory — although he is. Nor is it because his supporters threaten the political assassination of anyone who says so — although they do. It is because, for the first time in its history, Labour is in real danger of a permanent domination by the unrepresentative and unelectable left.

All the other regular crises in the party’s history — German rearmament, nuclear disarmament, the defection of the Gang of Four to found the SPD — were resolved by mistakes being rectified, resolutions reversed and Labour resuming its place in the mainstream of British politics. Nor was there any genuine risk that the infiltrators from the far left would play a decisive part in national policy making. The Militant Tendency controlled municipal politics in Liverpool and attempted, with mixed success, to unseat vulnerable mainstream MP’s. But there was no possibility of them subverting the whole party. Now the far left operating through Momentum  aspires to make a decisive, and irreversible shift in Labour’s core ideology by initiating a purge of mainstream Labour MPs and a cull of headquarters office staff, reducing the part that the parliamentary party plays in choosing the leader and making the election manifesto the preserve of the annual conference. If the putsch — described by its instigators as an extension of party democracy — succeeds, there will be no opportunity for a latter day Neil Kinnock to rescue Labour from the wilder shores of socialism and the odds on its survival lengthen.

The crisis could have been averted. The parliamentary party  with the exception of a handful of residual Blairites  is ready for some sort of compromise. That is why, three weeks ago, it gave its overwhelming support to the proposal that the shadow cabinet should be elected by Labour MPs rather than chosen by the leader. The change was intended to allow an honourable return to the front bench for the shadow ministers who resigned in the spring. As a move towards unity, it is no more than papering over the cracks but better that than gaping fractures. Although Corbyn had neither the sense nor the grace immediately to accept the gesture of conciliation, the choice between an uneasy peace and continued guerrilla warfare still lies with him. If — as his victory speech suggests — he regards last Saturday’s victory as a mandate to impose his sectarian will on the party, the battle is likely end with mutual self-destruction.

Even if Jeremy Corbin succeeds in his attempts to create a permanent far-left hegemony, the Labour Party is unlikely to split as it did 30 years ago . The fate of the SDP — absorption into a Liberal Party which kept the Tory-led coalition in office or defiant independence that ended in the ignominy of polling fewer by-election votes than the Monster Raving Loony Party — has dampened enthusiasm for a breakaway movement. Nor are there charismatic potential leaders who stand ready to lead their followers into battle in the way that Roy Jenkins and David Owen (the Fidel Castro and Che Guevara of social democracy) marched a dozen Labour MPs into the valley of political death. But a futile attempt to form a new party would at least imply the hope of some sort ofresurrection. The more likely outcome would be the product of pure despair — the parliamentary Labour party would not divide and instead would begin slowly to disintegrate.

If the worst happens some Labour MPs will suddenly discover previously undetected virtues in Corbyn and Corbynism and line up behind him. Others will grow weary of being abused by local extremists and fade away. Contrary to public opinion, most MPs could earn more from less demanding jobs outside parliament. The politically dedicated, determined to be candidates in the next election, will accept the challenge of reselection. More will succeed than fail, but the harm to the party’s reputation will be immense.

One feature of the 1980 desertion will certainly be replicated. When the Gang of Four defected, the damage done by the loss of glamorous leadership was more than matched by the loss of hard working membership. If Labour MPs begin to believe that the battle for reason and recovery is no longer worth fighting the disenchantment will become infectious. Jeremy Corbyn’s devotees would still turn out for the rallies. But the enthusiasm with which they would tramp the streets on rainy nights, or spend boring weekends telephoning target voters, is in doubt. Reliance on the notion that the election can be won online is the refuge of politicians who either have not identified or do not understand the floating voters.

The haemorrhage has already begun — increased by the behaviour of recently recruited Corbynites who do not seem to have heard that their hero has an olive tree outside his office door. All over the country they are bullying and filibustering their way into the control of local parties — excoriating mainstream members, manipulating the rules of debate and postponing votes until late in the evening. Of course, the men and women who oppose them could play the same game. But they are, by their nature, reasonable people and they want to lead reasonable lives. That is why they represent the sort of Labour Party with which voters can identify. 

Unfortunately, many of the Labour MPs who should have led the campaign to recreate an electable party have spent the last year either sulking or complaining. They have been anti Corbyn but pro very little. Owen Smith’s leadership campaign ended in disaster not because of the size of the incumbent’s votes but because of the challenger’s failure to set out an alternative vision of the society that socialists hope to create. Angela Eagle would have won fewer votes, but she would come closer to reassuring party members that "moderates" (a deadening description which should be abandoned) have principles and policies. A campaign that relied on nothing except the obvious truth that Jeremy Corbyn would lead Labour to defeat was doomed from the start. A majority of the party members who joined before 2015 voted for Smith. Think of how many more would have done the same had he offered them more to vote for than disapproval of his opponent.

Corbyn, and many of the Corbynites, are unmoved by the evidence that they are heading straight to defeat. That is, in part, because Corbyn himself is in what psychiatrists call “total denial.” There were times last year when he seemed to be implementing a carefully coordinated plan to alienate all the middle-of-road voters on whose support a Labour victory depends. He has proposed the unilateral abandonment of the British nuclear deterrent, refused to back Britain’s continued membership of the European Single Market and defended his historic association with apologists for terrorism — all items on the curriculum vitae of a Labour leader who might have been invented by Conservative Central Office. No political leader in British history has been so careless about his party’s prospects at the ballot box. But that is only one of the reasons why the threat of defeat will do little to halt the party's leftward gallop.

There is, within the ranks of Corbyn supporters, a substantial number of activists who — since they do not believe that parliamentary democracy can create the socialist Utopia of their dreams — regard the election of a Labour Government as an irrelevance. Indeed they believe that a prolonged period of Tory misrule will bring forward the day when a spontaneous uprising will herald the new dawn. It is near to inconceivable that Corbyn believes in such millenarian nonsense. But he appear to subscribe to the equally fatuous view that the first task is to make Labour a genuinely socialist party and that winning elections can wait until it is accomplished.

That is clearly the view of those correspondents to the New Statesman who complain about Corbyn’s critics obsession with what they call “electablity”. It is easy for their cynics to sneer about putting power before principle, but winning is a matter of principle too. Labour exists to make those changes in society which can only be achieved in power. In 2016 the fight — to quote the former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell in 1962 — is less about saving “the party we love” than about rescuing the nation from long years of  Tory bigotry. To behave in a way which diminishes — indeed for a time extinguishes — Labour’s chance of fulfilling its historic purpose is worse than self indulgent. It is betrayal.

There are major figures in the current drama of the Labour Party whose attitude towards the prospect of government is both inexcusable and incomprehensible. Chief among them is Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite and a man whose every bombastic television appearance is worth thousands of votes to the Tories. The members he represents have the strongest possible vested interest in a Labour victory at the next election. Yet many of his policies and pronouncements — particularly his risibly unsuccessful attempts to bully MPs into supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership — contribute to the Conservatives’ opinion poll lead and increases the danger of massive defeat at the next election turning into total destruction.

Anyone who doubts that Labour could be reduced to the status of the Liberal Democrats or the Greens — struggling for influence without even hoping for power — should be sent to canvas for the party in Scotland. But the near oblivion north of the border is not yet inevitable in the south. Recovery will take time and before Labour can begin effectively to deal with the challenges from outside the party it must struggle back into the mainstream of politics — a process which has to begin with an acceptance that Jeremy Corbyn’s first election was more than a combination of the Peasants’ Revolt and the Children’s Crusade. For many of the men and women who voted for the first time in 2015 his victory represented the end of a decade of disillusion. At first they had felt no more than disappointment at opportunities that successive Blair Governments missed — their delight in the landslide victory of 1997 fading away until it was finally extinguished on the battlefields of Iraq.

The Peak District village in which I live is home to more Labour party members than the tourists may imagine. Two of them  —  a retired bank manager and an emeritus professor of cardiac surgery — voted for Corbyn in 2015. In part they were motivated by a desire to “give socialism a chance for once.” But they also thought that they were drawing a line under the years of “the third way” and triangulation. New Labour, in which they had once devoutly believed, had come to mean private enterprise edging its way into the health service, the surreptitious extension of secondary selection and light regulation of the City of London. Jeremy Corbyn, like the Scottish National Party, has much to thank Tony Blair for.

For some people Jeremy Corbyn was, like Donald Trump and Marine LePen, a welcome alternative to the politics of the establishment. To many more he was, by the very nature of his unelectability, the antidote to the opportunism which they (wrongly) believe characterises life in Westminster. Now, a mainstream candidate for the Labour leadership will have to make clear that they are guided not by opinion polls but by a vision of a new and better society. The next leader must concentrate every nerve and sinew on winning, but they must have faith in their ability to carry the country for reasonable revolution.

Unfortunately the members of the Labour mainstream are notoriously reticent about  discussing first principles. They find talk of “the vision thing” embarrassing and believe that the task which faces them is too obvious to need justification by any “fancy theories.” Yet there is a great body of work — by the likes of TH Green, RH Tawney. Anthony Crosland and John Rawls — which set out the theory of democratic socialism and descriptions of why it is especially relevant today – Joseph E Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality and The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — abound. The recovery of reason has to begin with Chukka Umuuna explaining the virtues of equality, Yvette Cooper describing Britain’s obligations to the developing world and Dan Jarvis defining the role of the state in protecting the weak against the strong. Or any of them talking about what they stand for instead of assuming that their convictions are taken for granted. The Daily Mail might not report their speeches, but moderate party members will treat the related Fabian Society pamphlets like water in the desert.

If, as they must, the reasonable majority of Labour MPs choose to stay and fight, they have to organise — inside the parliamentary party and, more importantly in the constituencies. I have spent much recent time insisting, to sceptical friends that the occupants of the opposition back benches are as competent and committed as were members of any of the governments, or shadow governments, in which I served. But I do not even try to argue that they are as active as my contemporaries once were in reclaiming the party. Success and survival depends on the constant demonstration that reasonable radicals still have a home in the Labour Party.  

One refugee from Corbyn’s original shadow cabinet assured me that like-minded Labour MPs do occasionally meet. When I asked what they discussed, I was told that they “wait for something to turn up.” But, something will only turn up if it is prepared and promoted by the men and women who have the courage and commitment to lead Labour out of the wilderness. The journey will be long and hard and there can be no guarantee of arrival at the desired destination. But those of us who believe that Labour can still provide the best prospect of a more equal society have to begin the trek toward the promised land — and we need to set out straight away.

Roy Hattersley was deputy leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992.