Purge of the Blairites takes Labour back to the 1970s

The GMB union's campaign to ban think tank Progress has a period ring to it

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:55 ON Wed 20 Jun 2012

DAVID MILIBAND is the latest politician to invoke the memory of the Bay City Rollers in comparing Britain's current political and economic state with the far-off 1970s.

The nostalgia began in April when it was confirmed that Britain had entered the first double-dip recession since the boy band with the Scots plaid trousers were in the charts with such memorable hits as Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye).

In a speech at Speaker's House hosted by Speaker John Bercow, David Miliband said: "I was brought up in Leeds in the 1970s and remember Bruce Forsyth dominating the Saturday night schedules. There was even a drought. All we need is a comeback tour by the Bay City Rollers and the circle will be complete."

The purpose of this trip down memory lane was to reassure Labour that his brother, Ed Miliband, could still win the general election in 2015 because politics is entering a more volatile phase, as it did in the 1970s which saw rapid turnovers, with four prime ministers and five governments in nine years.

"For me and my party, this is great news," he said. "In 2015 Labour can win the general election and Ed can be in Downing Street."

Brother Dave failed to mention that in the 1970s their dad Ralph Miliband, the socialist intellectual, was pushing Bennite Marxism when the Labour modernisers were pushing for change. For there are other unfortunate parallels between the Labour Party of the 1970s and today that Brother Ed may not wish to have stirred up.

Labour was riven with divisions in its ranks in the 1970s between the hard left and the soft left who wanted to modernise the party. Militant unions dominated Labour thinking and Edward Heath, the Tory Prime Minister, was replaced by Labour's Harold Wilson after strikes by miners led to electricity rationing, and the ‘three-day week' to save power.

Barbara Castle attempted to force through change with her white paper, In Place of Strife, requiring ballots before strikes, but it was ditched after opposition led by James Callaghan, who later replaced Wilson.

It led to the infiltration of Labour by Militant Tendency, a Trotskyite organisation, that was eventually banned as a 'party within a party', but not before the rifts led to the formation of the splinter-group, the SDP.

The unions are once more a dominant force in Labour. They put Ed - not David - into the leadership of the Labour Party. Now they are threatening a purge of the Blairites, of which David is the shining light. The GMB is seeking to ban Progress, the Blairite think tank funded by Lord Sainsbury.

The Blairites such as Jamie Reed, the Labour MP for Copeland and a member of the GMB, are fighting back, but they believe the GMB move is designed to force shadow Cabinet members to show their hands, at which point they will be attacked.

Tony Blair had many faults, but he made Labour re-electable again and won three successive terms. Now it is the unions who are wanting to return to the heyday of the Bay City Rollers, and as for power, Ed Miliband could be left singing Bye Bye Baby.

Brother Ed is due to speak at a Which? event today. Maybe he'd like to tell us Which? side he's on. ·