Harold Wilson

‘Never more relevant’

Rachel Reeves tells Richard Angell and Conor Pope the subject of her book, Alice Bacon, would have a clear message for today’s moderates

First publish in Progress magazine

The Labour party is full of people whose stories never get heard. Who put in the hours, sit in the rooms where decisions are made and make sure that change happens. They make the history, but are often not recorded in it.

Alice Bacon is one of those people. She was a Labour parliamentarian for almost 50 years, 25 of them as a member of parliament, was a minister in the Harold Wilson government of the 1960s and sat on the National Executive Committee for almost three decades. Having grown up in a working-class community in Yorkshire and working as a teacher before her election, she was an early and tireless champion of comprehensive education, as well as a feared operator – earning the nickname ‘terror of the Trotskyites’ from Denis Healey. She was firmly against attempts to liberalise drug laws but key – alongside her boss at the Home Office Roy Jenkins – to the big liberalising battles of the 1960s, especially on abortion. (more…)

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This House: The honour in political machinery

First published on ProgressOnline

James Graham’s play, This House, exploring the working-class heroes in the whips’ office –  who fought the Tories and hard left to keep a Labour government in office – feels more poignant now than when it first opened in 2012. Reopening at the Garrick Theatre, Graham’s masterpiece shows the use of tactics, corralling the ‘odds and sods’ in smaller parties and the sheer determination to not give up that characterised the Labour members of parliament who went above and beyond for our party. More importantly, to try and give the voters what they had voted for. They were driven by one main insight: the worst day of a Labour government is better than a Tory government on its best day. When the Tory chief whip goads his opposite with ‘you are not getting anything done’, the retort, from Michael Cocks (played by Downton Abbey’s Kevin Doyle) is simple: ‘We’re keeping you out of power’.

Sadly this spirit was not shared among all comrades. The play retells how Audrey Wise [Sarah Woodward] and Jeff Rooker [Matthew Pidgeon] tabled a backbench amendment – for the first time ever by MPs on the government benches – to the budget. This allowed the Tories to rally round and deliver a body blow to the government. Arguably, it never recovered, and nor did Labour’s credibility on the economy for nearly two decades. (more…)