Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Memoriam: Peter Shore

Today would have been the 85th birthday of one of my British political heroes: the late Labour MP Peter Shore.

I corresponded with Shore when I was working abroad, teaching Economics in the early-mid 1990s. He sent me copies of the debates on the Maastricht Treaty from Hansard and then, most kindly, a copy of his book 'Leading the Left'. I was not a constituent of Shore's- yet still he replied to my requests- and could not have been more helpful.

I don’t agree with all the policy stances he took later on his life, but certainly agreed with his line on the EEC/EU and on economic policy- and in particular his views on the importance of public ownership. Shore always maintained that it was dishonest to talk about achieving greater equality without also extending public ownership. I used to be a member of the Labour Party, but left when Blair ditched Clause Four. For me, Clause Four is the very definition of socialism.
Once Labour ditched it, it could no longer have any claims to be a socialist party.

Peter Shore could have become Labour leader had he not been such a man of principle. In 1980, he seemed a strong candidate to take over from Jim Callaghan, but
his opposition to unilateral nuclear disarmament meant that many on the left preferred to support Michael Foot in the contest with Denis Healey. Had Foot not been persuaded to stand, Shore would very likely have won, but it was not to be.

Shore was simply too left-wing for the right-wing of the party (on the economy, nationalisation and the EEC/EU) and too right-wing (on issues such as defence, Northern Ireland) for the left. It's a great pity that Shore never became Labour leader as I'm sure he would have proved a formidable adversary for Margaret Thatcher. He was a great public speaker and a man of great personal charm.

Perhaps if he had become leader we would never have had to endure New Labour.

Peter Shore: an Old Labour great. May he rest in peace


Robin Carmody said...

It is true that the great tragedy of the 1980s is that the left and right wings of the Labour Party (as they were then defined) simply could not get on with each other. As you say, had the left and right of the parties been able to agree on a strong leader and unite under such a leader, the Thatcher revolution might never have gone anywhere near as far as it did, so there wouldn't have been the pressure to become New Labour in the 1990s. Under PR, two competing parties of different flavours of the left could have worked, as they widely do on the continent, but not under our system alas.

The conspiracy theory that gets around is that some on the right of the party who wanted a convenient excuse to form the SDP *deliberately* voted for Foot so as to give them a justification, despite his views being very different from theirs. Ditto that it was in fact those right-wingers who'd stayed in Labour who voted for many of the policies in the 1983 referendum because, post-Falklands, they knew they'd lost and wanted to pin the blame on the left. So much pathetic infighting as the *real* enemy went unchallenged.

David Lindsay said...

Shore's old agent, John Rowe, is on the London list of No2EU, which is still being ignored even despite the brief re-emergence of the oil refiney protests, whereas attention is being lavished on the BNP, and increasingly also on the policy-free amateurs of Jury Time or whatever gameshow name it is called.

matt severn said...

Shore did not have the large personal votes that Foot had, so it is not concievable that he could have won. At any rate, had he become leader his personal authority would been deatrroyed by the Bennites just as Michael Foot's was. It is true though that he was a proper Labour man.

DBC Reed said...

Shore was a Cambridge Apostle.Anybody know who his fellow members were at the time?

Anonymous said...

RIP Peter. I have read his book "Leading the Left", a superb book. I always admired his oratory skills, and his respect for Parliament. A great loss to the Labour party and the UK.

Did Peter campaign against dropping clause 4?