Political pragmatism

2 minute read

Presented here, without comment, extracts from Neil Kinnock’s 1985 Labour Party Conference speech.

Because you are from the people, because you are of the people, because you live with the same realities as everybody else lives with, implausible promises don’t win victories. I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. (Applause) I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos – (Continuing applause) – you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes. (Applause and some boos) Comrades, the voice of the people – not the people here; the voice of the real people with real needs – is louder than all the boos that can be assembled. Understand that, please, comrades. In your socialism, in your commitment to those people, understand it. The people will not, cannot, abide posturing. They cannot respect the gesture-generals or the tendency-tacticians.

Comrades, it seems to me lately that some of our number become like latter-day public school-boys. It seems it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game. (Applause) We cannot take that inspiration from Rudyard Kipling. (Continuing applause) Those game players get isolated, hammered, blocked off. They might try to blame others – workers, trade unions, some other leadership, the people of the city – for not showing sufficient revolutionary consciousness, always somebody else, and then they claim a rampant victory. Whose victory? Not victory for the people, not victory for them. I see the casualties; we all see the casualties. They are not to be found amongst the leaders and some of the enthusiasts; they are to be found amongst the people whose jobs are destroyed, whose services are crushed, whose living standards are pushed down to deeper depths of insecurity and misery.


There is no collision between principle and power. For us as democratic socialists the two must go together, like a rich vein that passes through everything that we believe in, everything that we try to do, everything that we will implement. Principle and power, conviction and accomplishment, going together. We know that power without principle is ruthless and vicious, and hollow and sour. We know that principle without power is naïve, idle sterility. That is useless – useless to us, useless to the British people to overcome their travails, useless for our purpose of changing society as democratic socialists. I tell you that now. It is what I have always said, it is what I shall go on saying, because it is what I said to you at the very moment that I was elected leader.