When in 1983 I described Labour’s manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, I was drawing attention to the party’s apparently irreversible meltdown as an electoral force.
When in 1983 I described Labour’s manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, I was drawing attention to the party’s apparently irreversible meltdown as an electoral force. As leader, Michael Foot was wedded to policies such as unilateral nuclear disarmament and leaving the European Economic Community. The strategy, if there was one, seemed to be to lose as many votes as possible.
The remarkable revelations published in the Chernyaev diaries make this attempted political suicide easier to understand. It is clear that key elements in the Labour party structure were determined to ingratiate themselves with Moscow — regardless of any adverse electoral impact in Britain. They show, vividly, how Labour was being poisoned by key officials who were laying the groundwork, apparently deliberately, for the debacle of 1983.
Let us take Ron Hayward, who was Labour’s general secretary for most of the previous ten years. He was the worst, a vain and self-regarding saboteur who at the 1979 party conference publicly attacked the outgoing Labour government in virulent terms. As Chernyaev’s memoirs make clear, his aspiration was not a Labour government implementing beneficial policies for the electorate but a National Executive Committee, elected partly by trade union block votes and partly by hard-left constituency parties.
Hayward envisaged an annual Labour party conference controlled by trade union block votes, dominating the parliamentary leadership, whose electoral fate he regarded as irrelevant. That is why Hayward and his cadres imposed mandatory reselection on parliamentary candidates and attempted (only just failing) to remove from the parliamentary leadership any say in compiling the election manifesto.
I am particularly nauseated by the boot-licking relationship of these clowns with Viktor Kubeikin, who was the chief KGB spy in London. Poor, innocent Foot had dealings with Kubeikin in complete ignorance of his being a KGB high-up. I encountered Kubeikin when I was shadow foreign secretary and went to Moscow to represent our Labour party at the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Bolshevik revolution. He met me when I arrived at Vnukovo airport, and it was immediately obvious to me, from his superbly tailored suit, that he must be KGB.
Kubeikin called for me next morning at the British embassy, where I was staying, to show me around the city. He asked what I would like to do, and I replied that I would like to revisit some of the sights I had seen when I first visited Moscow when working at No. 10 for Harold Wilson. He suggested that first we go shopping. I agreed reluctantly, since I did not believe there was anything worth buying in the Moscow of that time.
We drove to the Gum store in Red Square and, as we went inside, Kubeikin handed me an envelope. I opened it, found a wad of roubles, and asked what this was for. He said it was for my shopping. I replied that I had currency of my own. He insisted that I hang on to it.
Back at the British embassy, I had a lunch-time drink with the ambassador. I had been warned that the embassy was bugged so, standing inches from the ambassador, I wrote him a note telling him what had happened and asking how I could return this Moscow gold without causing offence. He wrote back that I should hand the envelope back to Kubeikin saying that it was a donation to the Chernobyl disaster fund, and that I should do so in as public a place as possible.
That evening Kubeikin escorted me to a ballet performance at the Bolshoi theatre and in the foyer I followed, successfully, the advice of the ambassador. The ballet being performed that night was Shostakovich’s The Age of Gold.
Kinnock succeeded Foot as leader after the 1983 defeat. When Labour was slaughtered in the 1987 election on the same doomed policies of unilateral nuclear disarmament and leaving the European Union, Kinnock put me in charge of changing Labour’s foreign policy. I went to both Washington and Moscow; in Moscow the Soviet leadership told me that Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons was not a matter of the tiniest interest to them, one way or the other. My policy document junked the unilateralist policy, to achieve which I successfully persuaded both the NEC and the Labour conference.
This all became irrelevant after Tony Blair succeeded to the leadership, since he had no sentimental feelings whatever about the Labour party, losing as little time as possible in downgrading both the NEC and the conference to impotent onlookers and ending any subservience to Moscow in Britain’s foreign policy. He would probably, though, have admired Kubeikin’s natty tailoring.