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Neither Benn nor Skinner: Prescott blames Polly Toynbee for Labour wilderness years

cover_Good_Working_Class_StockI missed a letter in the Guardian last week from the redoubtable John Prescott, setting the record straight on two important slights on the working class hero status of Comrade Skinner. Polly Toynbee, now regarded by some as a radical, had been horribly off-message in her reluctance to regret the ejection by Labour MPs of Dennis Skinner from its national executive:

Age bestows benevolence, but some with 1980s memories don’t forgive him, Tony Benn and others for rendering Labour unelectable in the “no enemies on the left” days, blocking attempts to stop Militant’s invasion. Roy Hattersley calls him “an entirely destructive force“. But others say a mellowed Skinner often helped Blair and Brown out of difficulties. That is ancient history. Now, for those without rancorous memories, the man is a totem remnant of imaginary days when politics were better, MPs more authentic.

What’s more she implied that neither Skinner nor Prescott had been to university. Not one to see one of the few remaining working class MPs in parliament dissed and unfairly blamed, Comrade Prescott leapt to Skinner’s (and his own) defence:

Polly Toynbee (Skinner is no model, yet he has a lesson for Labour, 4 July) claims that “Skinner, John Prescott and Alan Johnson – workers who came up through the unions, all clever men – would certainly go to university these days“. Dennis Skinner and I went to the Labour trade union’s Ruskin College in Oxford, where the entry qualifications were not O or A-levels but your involvement in strikes. Thanks to Ruskin, I then went on to get a degree in economics at the excellent Hull University. However, for Polly to blame Skinner and Tony Benn for “rendering Labour unelectable” in the 1980s is a bit much. The greater damage was the split to the Labour party caused by the SDP, of which Polly was a founding member and a parliamentary candidate in 1983.

It’s fair to say Polly and her fellow “social democrats” made a much larger contribution to keeping Labour in the wilderness for 18 years than Skinner and Benn ever did.

John Prescott
Hull, East Yorkshire

Nice one. Time for Comrade Toynbee to eat humble pie.

Image Credit: cover design for a book of Reminiscences by Dennis Skinner, to be published by Quercus books on 3 September 2014


  1. Chris says:

    Ha ha, brilliant!

    Toynbee’s no comrade and we shouldn’t forget that.

  2. Bernie Evans says:

    Another letter you may have missed!
    Lord Heseltine might, for some weird reason, think that £5bn of government investment across England is “a giant step in the rebalancing of our economy”, but evidence suggests otherwise. (Ministers announce £5bn for local projects,07/07/14) . Desperate for votes, both Labour and Tory parties conveniently, as your paper reported last week, “see rebooting regional growth as a core objective”, just months away from a general election, and are suddenly keen to display generosity, with Adonis`s scheme pledging “£30bn over a parliament”. (Battle of the bulge, 02/07/14) Are we expected to believe that these politicians are serious when they say they want to create “regional economic powerhouses” to spread the wealth away from the capital? It seems that the only thing not to be encouraged in or near London is fracking!
    Why do both main parties insist that the priority with HS2 is to link London with Birmingham first, something that will only enhance the importance of London as the economic and business centre of the country, especially as taxpayers are forking out billions already for the largest construction project in Europe, Crossrail? Shouldn`t they be putting their money where their mouths are and be stressing the advantages high-speed railways would bring to areas which are not yet “productivity hotspots”, and insisting HS2 starts with the northern section?
    Why doesn`t one of the parties, at least, suggest spending money on expanding a major airport in the north, rather than arguing over which London airport should get a third runway? What incentives are there for businesses to move out of London when the largest proportion of government investment is clearly destined for the south-east? Rather than having lorries clogging up the north-south motorways, a high-speed freight line to Folkestone might be a better bet!
    Attempts to buy the votes of non-Londoners, when it is quite obvious where the serious money is being spent, are, quite simply, insulting!

  3. John says:

    The Idea the SDP split the anti Tory vote is wrong,it assumes that Had the SDP not existed that those who voted SDP would have voted Labour, but opinion poll after opinion poll showed that three quarters of those who voted for them second choice was Tory,

    Look at those who voted Tory in 92 after the SDP had split up

    Andrew Lansley, Andrew Mitchell, Mark cooper, Andy cooper Chris Grayling Danny Finklestien, John Goren ,Lord Attlee Jnr, Chris Brocklebank, Anna Soudbury, David Owen, Eric Brown(George’s Brother, he who resigned from Labour in 1977′ a voted Tory in 79′ joined the SDP, up to his death in 1986

    This also excludes various Liberals who’s second choice would have been Tory, Cryil Smith, David Alton and John Thurso, thats 22 off the Top of my head

    Had Labour not had such ridiculous policies, then those who left labour like Owen and voted Tory in 92 wouldn’t have done so, If the SDP hadn’t existed all those people would have voted Tory, and Thatcher would have won with a bigger majority.

    1. Robert says:

      All those people would have voted Tory, did you ask them what a loud of old cobblers.

      1. John says:

        Opinion poll after opinion poll taken at that time, after the SDP collapsed the Tory vote in 92 went up from 13m to 14.1m ‘ and that was after labour had accepted all the Tory policies on privatisation, and unions, those few sDP People who went from them too labour, like Roger Liddle and Lord Adonis, were more close to the Toeies in the 80’s

  4. swatantra says:

    Polly is no friend of ours; she’s a liberal.

  5. ray davison says:

    Will no one rid us of this turbulent Toynbee trash? Pull the chain on this tedious tadpole of political dumbness and open the Guardian garbage bin of inanity for another large decomposed deposit. One for the dunghill of history.

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