But that was in 1963, sixty years ago. Due to some personal reappraisals of my politics, I have been looking at the writing of Ralph Miliband and was pointed at an article he wrote in the run up to the 1964 election, called “If Labour wins”, republished in the New Left Review. I found it worth reading to observe the parallels between then and now. Wilson’s Labour were leading in the polls, the Tories had suffered the setbacks of Suez, and the Profumo affair and replaced a popular and powerful leader with a patrician land owner who was not even an MP arguable a stalemate choice between the then two leading Tory candidates.

This article contains a number of quotes from the article, as they speak for themselves, although of course I can’t help but comment. I have collected the quotes and comments into pieces on culture and comedy, economics, foreign affairs, corruption, campaigning and hope and the Labour left. …

On culture & comedy

Miliband says,

Culturally, perhaps above all, nothing comparable to the iconoclastic vitality and mordancy of the arts and satires of the early sixties has been visible since

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

He was presumably talking of the satire boom of the early sixties and for those of us looking back from the 2020s, we can now see that Blair’s New Labour was also preceded by its own comedy revolution, an evolution of the Alternative Comedy movement, which was arguably spawned by Thatcherism; the Wikipedia article however doesn’t mention Bremner, Bird and Fortune, nor Ben Elton, the Young Ones and Spitting Images, all of them providing an undercurrent of opposition to the Tories. Humour is in many ways the deadliest weapon, and it is notably not present today. I looked at seventies comedy in an article, called “You gotta laugh (or not!)“, [or on Medium], written just prior to the 2019 election in which I quote some quite serious sources to back up my argument that,

There was also a series of shows which had the effect of patronising, demonising and bowlderising the working class and its politics, such as The Likely  Lads & Liver Girls where we are meant to identify with aspiration and laugh at the hold-outs. There were another series of shows including “Till death us do part” & “Citizen Smith” which infantilised working class organisation, culture and politics and the possible instruments of change. Some of it is unwatchable today because of the racism.

It was mostly shit, and tool of the ruling class aimed at weakening the principles of solidarity amongst the working class, let’s remember it was a decade that ended with the winter of discontent and Thatcher”s 1979 victory

What’s worrying today is that in the run up to 1997, all comedy was anti-tory, with shows such as Spitting Images, Bremner, Bird and Fortune. It’s not so true today.

Dave Levy on his blog, You gotta laugh ( or not!)


On economics, for those expecting more nationalisations and a Soviet style command economy, Miliband writes,

Labour’s ideal [economic/industrial policy] would appear to be a British version of the French économie concertée, in which private industry, labour and the state are each to play their part within a general framework of ‘indicative’ planning.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

The history he predicted came to pass but if you look hard enough in today’s Labour front bench’s speeches, they plan to resurrect the NEDC and the little neddies. Also,

The Labour leadership is quite naturally perturbed at Britain’s comparatively sluggish economic performance over the past decade, at its falling share of world trade, the inadequacy and misdirection of investment, and the waste of material and human skills and resources.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

Today, we can add the decades long balance of trade deficit. It would seem but one of the results of Thatcherism is the deprecation of a holistic economics strategy. I would argue that fiscal and monetary policy are considered in isolation from trade, industrial restructuring, innovation and even a regional policy, which at the moment holds the appalling name of “levelling up” and is now, under the Tories, still fixated on the “supply side”, being driven by the establishment of freeports. The various attempted friendly names for the governments management of local government, usually by the use of the name communities do not disguise the fact that for decades this government function has been about a bullying governance with little or zero effort in dealing with inequality or service delivery. Wilson was proposing resurrecting the department of economic affairs, which one assumes would have dealt with macro fiscal policy, but probably not monetary policy but it would have included industrial regional and probably trade policy, which takes us to Europe. Miliband says,

… a new problem had taken centre stage, that of Britain’s proposed entry into the European Economic Community. The Party divided on this question, and was abandoned by its leader when Gaitskell, after a lengthy delay, came out against the Common Market.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

This is a split that still haunts the Labour Party; today Britain’s fall as a world power, brutally illustrated by the Suez crisis and even more obvious today, means that today’s Party is doomed to fail to answer questions of growth, trade and defence unless they address rejoining the single market at least, although a comprehensive defence/security solution will require rejoining the EU and accepting the governance[1] of the CJEU and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Foreign Affairs

Miliband makes some predictions on the coming Labour Government’s foreign policy. Possibly this section of the paper is exposed to the biggest historical changes, Miliband writes,

  • In the endemic conflict between the capitalist and Communist spheres, Wilson and his colleagues will remain firmly aligned with the United States.
Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

This is at the end of a longish section on foreign policy, where Miliband argues that the UK is now exclusively subservient to the USA. Frankly, it was the lesson of Suez which should have ended the UK’s ambitions as a global military power. He also suggests that non-alignment was an option as the nations of the global south tried to articulate an independence from the US/Soviet cold war. In fact Wilson withdrew Britain’s forces from East of Suez and, of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists although its successor suggests that at various stages the Communist dream became something else, something that the gangster successors are quite happy to pursue.


On the accountability of the Tory Party to its class interests, Miliband says,

… there accretes around the Tory Party a multitude of vested interests, many of a wholly parasitical kind, of which a Conservative government must take careful account, but towards which Labour might prove less tender. Thus land speculators, large landlords, get-rich-quick financiers may have a thinner time under a Labour government than during the recent golden years, which should still, however, leave them with plenty of fat. Labour would be especially concerned to help and encourage those parts of capitalist industry which showed enterprise and dynamism; and it is in this sense that Labour may justly claim to be the solicitous friend of ‘neo-capitalism’.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

Today we have the rampant corruption in the Tory Party, its corruption of the planning processes and public procurement chain, all in the interests of the primacy of dilletante/vulture capitalism.

Enterprises that make and invent things are no longer considered when designing policy; this is strange given Sunak’s fandom of Paul Romer and their prioritisation of the development of ideas as the basis of the next technological revolution. Brexit and the Tory Party is the result of the political needs of finance capital over business; summed up by Boris Johnson’s epithet, “Fuck Business”. Today, we have to ask if Miliband’s comments that Labour will be the solicitous friend of ‘neo-capitalism’ remains true because once it might have been the result of a social democratic analysis; today this is no longer true. Austerity kills domestic demand, and Brexit is killing exports; British industry has no-one to sell to.

On Campaigning and Hope

Even in 1964, Labour was pinning its hope on campaigning expertise,

… the Labour Party has entrusted its pre-electoral campaign to experts in public relations. The least that can be said about their efforts to date is that the propagation of socialist ideals does not seem terribly important to these phrase merchants and their prefabricated effects. Nor, to be fair, does it seem to be the main preoccupation of their clients. …

The ambiguity that now, as in the past, stamps Labour’s message is no match for the degree of discontent and desire for renewal in Britain today … The disgust provoked by the Tories is not accompanied by any feelings of enthusiasm or relief aroused by Labour

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

The last sentence proved to be prophetic, despite the poll leads, Wilson only won with a four seat majority when the election came, the Liberals held nine seats and there were no other parties represented in Parliament.

Labour’s Left

On the strength of the Labour Left, Miliband observes, that like today,

The left of the party—in the unions, constituencies and House of Commons—from which this kind of pressure ought to come, has rarely been so acquiescent as it is now.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

And while predicting a Labour win, possibly a bigger one than actually occurred, again he observes,

the Labour left is historically prone to illusions in this matter—it is clear that the only guarantee of being listened to is the force that the left is capable of mustering to make itself heard.

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

While Starmer says he has, within the country and the party, to play the role of Kinnock, Smith & Blair, there is much fear that actually Kinnock’s record will prevail and the lessons of Wilson’s 1st administration will also come to pass. At least Wilson, in both his administrations, did things that his electorate wanted before asking for a decent mandate, Blair started with the bad medicine and Starmer promises the same. We should note that the next Parliament, will consist of many more parties than three; the parliamentary arithmetic may become as interesting as it was in 2010. Labour’s problems are more than complacency.  Miliband again,

The disgust provoked by the Tories is not accompanied by any feelings of enthusiasm or relief aroused by Labour

Ralph Miliband – If Labour Wins 1963

Simon Hannah, in his book, “A Party with socialists in it” says about the first Wilson administration,

The flagging end of the first Wilson government revealed a revisionist party, wholly reliant on Keynesian demand management, trapped in an economic straitjacket that provoked working class resistance while undermining its own ability to implement more progressive social-economic policies. Around 200,000 members left the party during this period. Ken Livingstone described the experience of joining in 1968 as being like ‘a rat who was boarding a sinking ship’. Wilson still hoped to win in 1970 – in some polls he was even 7 points ahead on the eve of the election – but he was defeated by Ted Heath … As Crossman commented in his diary about the collapse in support from the Labour electorate, “We have given them three years of hell and high taxes. They have seen the failure of devaluation and felt the soaring cost of living’. Labour had alienated its own voting base.

Hannah, Simon. A Party with Socialists in It: A History of the Labour Left.

I am more interested in Crossman’s observation on losing the support of its natural supporters, than the arithmetic symmetry on Party membership. The “false hope being worse than no hope” quote, seems to be about getting their excuses in first, a dangerous tactic.


Hannah, Simon. A Party with Socialists in It: A History of the Labour Left. Pluto Press, 2018. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt21215hf. Accessed 6 Aug. 2023.


[1] The European Arrest Warrant and Europol co-operation depend on these laws and agreements.

Ralph Miliband on Labour’s last year in opposition
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