Yesterday, it was the Labour Party's 112th birthday. On 26 and 27 February 1900, a gathering of working-class and left-wing organisations met and passed Keir Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." The Labour Representation Committee, today known as the Labour Party, was born.
The rest, as they say, is history except that would be to vastly over simplify a story of epic proportions which, no matter what your view of the difference made, has transformed British politics and the lives of countless millions of people across Britain. Of course, there have been the low-times, the '80s, the splits, the divisions, the electoral hammerings, the losing of our way, but we are still standing and that is something that is a huge achievement from our humble beginnings.
Birthdays are a day for celebration and sometimes self-reflection and as Labour members celebrate there is alot to be proud of. You would be hard-pressed to meet a Labour member who is not proud of the post-war Attlee government and its creation of the National Health Service and the welfare state. Yes, it built on work the Liberal Party had previously done but it took Labour's radical socialist drive and vision to make the dream a reality.
It is churlish for liberals to claim credit for these massive changes themselves, especially now their antecedents are part of this government befouling that golden legacy. One of the key lessons of Attlee's government is that it is our spirit, our socialist animus which makes Labour the distinctive force in British politics it was born to be. It is also this which gives uniquely Labour the drive to remake our country and our world in a way which drives it forward. After the war and the massive drain of our economic resources nobody would have believed the construction of the NHS possible but it was and we made it possible.
On its 112th Birthday, it is this spirit, Labour's founding spirit that we need to summon up once again in these austere times. We are told not just by our opponents but sometimes by our own leaders that we must be 'realistic' and accept constraints, fiscal austerity etc. This is wrong-headed. Labour is at its best when it doesnt cede to reality but shapes it and uses it to transform our society for the better. What better response could there possibly be to the financial crash than this? A bold, inspiring drive to reshape our society from top-to-toe, to make it more equal, to make our economy one that supports sustainable growth and is characterised by economic democracy and the drive to social equality. This is the Labour Party that has stood tall and proud for 112 years and still does so now, the party of the fighters and the believers and it is the Labour Party that will, once again, find itself in the hearts and confidence of the British people. Happy Birthday Labour. Here is to another 112 years of standing strong.
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