October 2008 Archives

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I Warn You

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Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour Party through the years of the Thatcher government, was an extremely good orator, even if history has rather forgotten that in favour of remembering him as the Labour leader who managed to lose the 1992 election. This is rather unfair on him. The current buildup to the US elections has reminded me of a speech he made on the eve of the 1983 general election, which Margaret Thatcher won due to the country surfing on a wave of patriotic fervour after Britain's victory in the Falklands war.

In this speech Kinnock laid down his vision of what a second term for the Thatcher government would mean for Britain (and, as it turns out, pretty much did mean), in stark yet eloquent terms. I think it's one of the finest pieces of political oratory of the 20th century, but for some reason I could never find the full text on the web. So I dug it out of a book and retyped it, and here it is. It rings equally true today, even if some of the references (to, for instance, Norman Tebbit) are a little out of date. Change a few words and it could describe the dangers of electing any authoritarian right-wing government.

If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as Prime Minister, I warn you.

  • I warn you that you will have pain -
    When healing and relief depend on payment.

  • I warn you that you will have ignorance -
    When talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

  • I warn you that you will have poverty -
    When pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a Government that won't pay in an economy that can't pay.

  • I warn you that you will be cold -
    When fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don't notice and the poor can't afford.

  • I warn you that you must not expect work -
    When many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don't earn, they don't spend. When they don't spend, work dies.

  • I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

  • I warn you that you will be quiet -
    When the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

  • I warn you that you will have defence of a sort -
    With a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

  • I warn you that you will be home-bound -
    When fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

  • I warn you that you will borrow less -
    When credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins, she will be more a Leader than a Prime Minister. That power produces arrogance and when it is toughened by Tebbitry and flattered and fawned upon by spineless sycophants, the boot-licking tabloid Knights of Fleet Street and placement in the Quangos, the arrogance corrupts absolutely.

If Margaret Thatcher wins -

  • I warn you not to be ordinary.
  • I warn you not to be young.
  • I warn you not to fall ill.
  • I warn you not to get old.

Neil Kinnock, Bridgend, 7 June 1983


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