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More political speeches

Three more speeches that didn't quite make our top ten.

1. John Major, announcement of leadership vote, rose garden, Downing Street, June 1995

Following months of speculation about his leadership, John Major decided that enough was enough after returning from the G7 conference in Nova Scotia, Canada. He called the press to the Downing Street rose garden and announced that he was putting his leadership on the line to reassert his authority. As he said: "In short, it is time to put up or shut up."

Shirley Williams picked this as her top political speech when we asked contributors back in 2008:

Major's actions gave him his first favourable press coverage for years, and of course he won the subsequent leadership election. Although the Tories were doomed to electoral wipeout in 1997, he managed to hold the party together over the next two years at least.

Suffering from acute physical pain and fed up with the endless backbiting in the press, he had gone beyond calculating the political risks of his actions and didn't care whether he won or lost. It was a courageous measure in desperate times which contains a lesson for the current resident of No 10.

2. Neil Kinnock, "I warn you" speech, Welsh Labour party conference, June 1983

This speech was only just pipped to the post for our top ten by another famous speech of Neil Kinnock's, directed at the Militant tendency. On the eve of the 1983 election -- knowing, after poor poll results, that his party was likely to lose -- he laid out a nightmarish vision of the future: "If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old."

Kevin Maguire picked this:

The desperate, emotional appeal of Neil Kinnock's "I warn you" speech on the eve of the June 1983 election captured the frustration of the left when Thatcher was in her vindictive pomp. Here was a leading member of Labour who knew the party would lose, but was powerless to stop her destroying the communities he loved. Most great speeches offer a vision. Kinnock's was a vision of hell.

The blogger Ellie Gellard (Stilettoed Socialist) chose this, too:

For pure passionate, political oratory, you have to go some to beat Kinnock's "I warn you" speech: powerful, direct and prophetic. He lived up to his, and my, hero Nye Bevan with that call to a nation to reject a Thatcher government which was slowly eroding our society. I can weep just reading it.

3. Roy Jenkins's "Home Thoughts from Abroad", Richard Dimbleby Lecture, November 1979

Roy Jenkins, then president of the European Commission, gave the annual Dimbleby Lecture, titling his speech "Home Thoughts from Abroad". In it, he drew attention to problems associated with the two-party system, blaming it for Britain's underperformance. He advocated a new "radical centre" and called for a new political grouping.

The speech prefigured his defection from Labour just over a year later to form the Social Democratic Party under the banner of the "Gang of Four" -- Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers.

David Marquand said:

In this speech, Jenkins broke the ultimate taboo in Labour politics at the time by hinting at the possibility of a break from the party. The effect of his call for a new "radical centre" was immense. Suddenly, he was no longer a distant figure brooding in his Brussels eyrie; he was once again a player in the hurly-burly of domestic politics . . .

I think he felt guilty that he hadn't done more to resist the rise of the far left in Labour while he was still at Westminster, and gradually came to believe that it was his duty to fight for his values, if necessary by breaking with the party. The "Home Thoughts from Abroad" lecture was a signal that he was now prepared to do this -- a toe dipped in the water to see how much support he would gather.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times