“I can be remembered for worse things”: Gerald Kaufman on his “longest suicide note in history” remark

This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by Lizzy Dobres by Gerald Kaufman on 12 January 2016 for the purposes of her undergraduate dissertation on the 1983 election manifesto.

Gerald Kaufman

 

LD: So what do you mainly remember from 1983, the campaign,

GC: 83, what I remember about it was the utter and total confusion. I remember one day Michael foot as leader of the party, Denis Healey as Deputy Leader, and as Shadow Foreign Secretary and John Silkin as Shadow Defence Secretary, all made official statements on defence and everyone one of them clashes with the other two. There was no coordination of any kind what so ever during the campaign, I suppose we were still in the era where mass demonstrations took place.

LD: Could you elaborate?

GC: Mass demonstrations although they can be impressive, they are not representative, you get say 10,000 people who take part in a parade or demonstration there’s still 40 million who are not participating. And that’s been the same ever since. It’s not a novelty then but they didn’t understand it. I was excluded for most for the campaign.

LD: Really? So you didn’t play much part in the actual campaign?

GC: There were press conferences and I was a senior member of the shadow cabinet. But I was completely excluded from the whole national campaign, which I have to say suited me fine because it was clearly a disaster.

LD: So, did you make your opinions known from the outset?

GC: Well I suppose I shall, if I am remembered for anything I shall be known for my opinions. That whole thing took place at the launching of the election; I remember very well the launching of the, the day of the lunch because I was taking part in a television discussion and before we could really get going, on the television discussion which was in a studio outside of Westminster

LD: Yes, could you elaborate?

GC: I, we got a message that parliament was being dissolved so the television interview was cancelled, and I went back to the houses of parliament for a meeting of the shadow cabinet, and I said, are we going to consider the manifesto, and Michael Toot said, the manifesto would be the Labour Programme 1982 document, which would be turned into the manifesto and I said to Foot, you promised me categorically that would not happen, but they did it anyway. He was so incompetent that he had not done what other leaders of the Labour Party had done in opposition or no doubt what Conservatives had done in opposition, he had not drafted a proper manifesto. So, the only compiled document was that long suicide note.

LD: I found from the Labour Party archives that there was a plan to shorten the manifesto, to a 9 or 8 page pamphlet but it never happened.

GC: Yes, there was almost absolutely everything in there.

GC: What happened was, that we had this meeting of the shadow cabinet, at which, I asked where the manifesto was and Foot said we only have the labour programme document and that would be the manifesto, so we have confrontation about that and then in the afternoon there was the joint meeting of the manifesto, sorry of the shadow cabinet and the national executive, which at that time was the official bod for endorsing the manifesto, which was in some committee room on the first floor of this building. I remember speaking to John Golding, who was a very, very astute member of the national executive, John Golding has previously managed through stupidity of the majority of the national executive which was a hard left majority but boundary changes were taking place therefore that election, and John Golding exploited the stupidly of the hard left national executive by, he was there as a trade union member.

LD: Can I briefly ask about your comment that the manifesto was the ‘longest suicide note in history’?

GC: yes

LD: It was a strong phrase, was it planned?
GC: No

LD: Could you elaborate on the circumstances in which you said it?

GC: We sat at 10 o’clock every night in those days and because I lived on his way home, Greville Janner used to offer me lifts home and he’d very understandably ask me what’s been happening today, what’s been going on and so on. And I said to him we’ve been discussing the longest suicide note in history. And I never said it on the record; the only reason it got on the record is that Denis Healey referred to it in a book he wrote. It’s very strange indeed that, if I’m remembered for anything it will be for those few words, which were stolen by an American presidential candidate as well.

LD: Do you stand by your remark?

GC: as I said, I’m stuck with it. I have no doubt that all the newspapers draft obituary of me have got that in the obituary, still I can be remembered for worse things.

********

LD: Do you see any similarities between 1983 and what’s going on now?

GC: No

LD: A lot of people are comparing the Labour Party now to the party in the 1980s.

GC: In 1983 the leader wasn’t elected by anyone that paid £3, the leader was elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party and Foot was elected with a majority of 10 votes, over Denis Healey and there were two reasons for that, Denis Healey couldn’t be bothered, when I said Denis, your taking into account that It was the MP’s who elected the leader well I said to Denis you ought to have meeting with groups of MP’s because there are some of them that are undecided and meeting with you might help them decide to vote for you. No he couldn’t be bothered with anything like that. He deserved to lose.

GC: Michael Foot, whatever you thought of him, at least had some House of Commons experience. He been a cabinet minister, he was an extremely adept orator In the House of Commons. Whereas, with Jeremy Corbyn, until he became leader of the Labour party he had never sat on the front bench in the House of Commons. It’s a very different situation.

LD: Where do you think the party can go from here?

GC: Nobody can be sure of what is going to happen, let’s face it after Neil Kinnock left, John Smith became leader of the Labour Party, I thought that under John Smith, who I knew very well Labour might win. But the moment Tony Blair became leader I knew Labour would win.

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