What happened at the Blackpool Labour Party Conference in 1980?

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I came across Thatcher's infamous The Lady's Not For Turning speech at the Tory Party Conference in 1980. She starts and ends her speech with references to the Labour Party Conference that had previously taken place in Blackpool:

This week at Brighton we have heard a good deal about last week at Blackpool. I will have a little more to say about that strange assembly later, but for the moment I want to say just this. Because of what happened at that conference, there has been, behind all our deliberations this week, a heightened awareness that now, more than ever, our Conservative government must succeed. We just must, because now there is even more at stake than some had realised...

I have always known that that task was vital. Since last week it has become even more vital than ever. We close our conference in the aftermath of that sinister utopia unveiled at Blackpool. Let Labour's Orwellian nightmare of the left be the spur for us to dedicate, with a new urgency, our every ounce of energy and moral strength to rebuild the fortunes of this free nation.

I've been unable to find any more detail on this, and the Wikipedia page doesn't note anything of interest. What exactly was this terrible spectre that Thatcher was referring to?

Hashim Aziz

Posted 2021-02-01T20:16:29.237

Reputation: 236

I'd have to presume it was something to do with Michael Foot running for Leadership of the Labour party, but I can't make the dates add up. – Jontia – 2021-02-01T20:37:41.263

This is discussed in Jones (1987) - section "The Gang of Four breaks away". Unfortunately it may not be viewable to all as it is behind a paywall.

– TheSimpliFire – 2021-02-01T21:14:53.807

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@Jontia: Indeed, the election of Foot came about a month later than Thacher's speech (Nov vs. Oct) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_Labour_Party_leadership_election_(UK)

– Fizz – 2021-02-01T23:35:28.317

Answers

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This was the Labour Party conference where a number of policies that were previously seen as extreme were either passed as policy or were at least heavily supported. These included:-

  1. Removing the choice of party leader from MPs and moving to an Electoral College.
  2. Unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom
  3. Withdrawal from the EEC
  4. Abolition of the House of Lords
  5. Re-nationalisation of many industries

(nb: After all this time finding exact sources is difficult!)

All of the above, with much besides, led to the 1983 Labour Party manifesto dubbed The longest suicide note in history which led to a castrophic defeat for Labour in the 1983 General Election.

Alan Dev

Posted 2021-02-01T20:16:29.237

Reputation: 813

1The introduction of the electoral college did not affect the Nov 1980 election of Foot those as leader of Labour--that leadership election was the last one conducted among Labour MPs only. The 1980 Labour leadership election also happened in the month after Thacher's speech. – Fizz – 2021-02-01T23:39:52.077

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The electoral college decision/change was made at the Feb 1981 special conference in Wembley https://tidesofhistory.com/2020/02/04/labour-left-takes-control-tony-benn-and-the-1981-wembley-conference/ Ironically perhaps, this greater intra-party democracy decision was called "Suicide Saturday" by the press...

– Fizz – 2021-02-01T23:48:40.187

1That 1981 change did give trade unions and the more leftist wing of the party greater influence over party agenda though, leading to the 1983 manifesto and landslide defeat. – Fizz – 2021-02-01T23:59:10.103

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Furthermore, Labour actually did well at the 1981 local elections held in May https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_United_Kingdom_local_elections (after that special conference). The road to 1983 was actually a bit longer and more complicated and it involved much of Labour's opposition to Falklands War (1982).

– Fizz – 2021-02-02T00:19:21.210

I would agree that I simplified things a bit, but the mentality that saw Foot elected and the policies referenced above agreed or widely supported were also part of the reason Labour reacted the way it did to the Falklands. They were all part of a trend well away from the centre of UK politics. – Alan Dev – 2021-02-03T19:34:31.123