1. Back from the brink?


Labour’s 1983 election manifesto was described as the ‘longest suicide note in history’ because the party committed itself to policies popular with members, but which most voters did not like. Support for the Labour Party collapsed at the 1983 election. After the defeat Neil Kinnock was elected leader. He decided party policy had to be ‘modernised’ if Labour was to recover. The Labour leftwing believed the result was due to the 1982 Falklands War mobilising support for the Conservative government, not Labour’s radical programme. This remains the view of some.

Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair were both elected as MPs for the first time in 1983. Corbyn recently called the 1983 manifesto, ‘a very interesting electoral platform’. Kinnock’s ‘modernisation’ of policy had limited results. When Labour lost the 1992 election – the fourth in a row – some believed Labour would never win power again.

Collection Items

Even before the 1983 election Labour looked like it didn’t have the solutions to Britain’s biggest problems. This 1979 Conservative Party poster credited with helping Margaret Thatcher win the election held that year, made this point most forcefully.

2 The New Hope for Britain
The Labour Party’s 1983 manifesto was heavily influenced by the party’s leftwing. It called for unilateral nuclear disarmament, higher taxes, withdrawal from the European Economic Community and greater state control of the economy. The leftwing…

3 Tony Benn
Tony Benn was the figurehead of the Labour Party’s left. He had a strong influence on the party during the 1970s and 1980s. Benn believed the party should stick with the policies of 1983. But such was the scale of the defeat this looked unrealistic…

5 Organise the Resistance
The election of Neil Kinnock as leader marked a change of direction for the Labour Party. Not everybody agreed. Jeremy Corbyn remained loyal to Tony Benn and called for Labour to confront the Conservative government rather than incorporate some of…

6 Various Labour policy documents and manifesto
After losing again in 1987, support grew for further moderating – or ‘modernising’ - party policy. Much of this period was devoted to changing how the public viewed Labour, to move on from the party of class conflict.

7 We’ll win with Labour
In 1992 Kinnock faced a divided Conservative government in the midst of a recession. Many believed this was Labour’s best chance since 1974 to win office. Despite a slick and confident campaign, Kinnock failed once again.

8 Southern Discomfort
Labour’s defeat provoked many inquests. This Fabian Society report asked working class voters in Essex why they remained loyal to the Conservatives. It found they did not trust Labour to manage the economy and believed the party would misspend their…
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