The Brink: “I’ll tell you and you’ll listen” The Neil Kinnock speech that lives on

The moment of pure political theatre that endures its legacy thirty-five years on 

It was at Preston railway station, in September 1985, as he made his way back to London from the TUC Conference that Neil Kinnock realised his time had come.

Picking up the Lancashire Evening Post, the Labour leader read of the latest saga in the long-running battle between the Thatcher Government and the Militant-controlled Liverpool City Council over proposed cuts to the budget.

In a last-ditch effort to bounce the government into a U-turn, 31,000 redundancy notices were ready to be sent out to each of the council’s employees. It was, Kinnock told his advisor Charles Clarke, the moment they’d been “praying for”.

A few days later, Kinnock took to the sofas of TVam to warn of the “crisis of anxiety” hanging over the public sector workers in Liverpool, the very people the Labour Party was elected to represent. In response, the Militant newspaper called on the Labour movement to support them to the bitter end: “Surrender is not an option”, an editorial argued. It set the scene for the showdown of the decade.

Neil Kinnock later claimed to have had the words for his Bournemouth speech in his head for several years before he took to the stage on 1 October 1985. Twelve months earlier he had summoned his resolve not to intervene against Militant for fear that the timing was wrong and that a speech would have just “skidded off the surface”. This time the conditions were perfect, but so too the setting: the hothouse of the Labour Party Conference.

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