In the early 1980s, the Militant movement’s influence on the Labour Party was at its peak. Believing its influence to be growing and thus damaging Labour’s attempts to oust Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock launched a stinging attack on fellow party members at this conference.
Without actually referring to the Militant movement by name, Kinnock attacked the far left, and principally Liverpool City Council, for causing “grotesque chaos”. He went on to emphasise that this was “a Labour council — a Labour council”.
His successor John Smith called it “one of the most superb political performances I’ve ever seen”. Kinnock had already made a reputation as an orator before becoming Labour leader with his “I warn you” speech on the eve of the 1983 election.
I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council — a Labour council — hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers . . .
I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos — you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.
Anthony Howard says of the speech: “He was presenting himself as a figure willing to sacrifice his popularity among his party’s left wing in favour of the national interest. Although Labour lost the next election, Kinnock’s speech altered the lay of the land in British politics; David Owen later told me that he knew the SDP was done for after watching this speech.”
Peter Jay says: “The speech profoundly influenced perceptions of Kinnock by those outside the political bubble, making a much wider audience aware that he had the courage and determination to stand up to the loony left, whereas so many Labour leaders had been beholden to it.”
Click here for a video of the speech from the BBC.
Next speech: Sir Geoffrey Howe, resignation speech, House of Commons, November 1990.
Previous speech: Margaret Thatcher, Brighton bomb speech, Conservative party conference, October 1984.