A LABOUR leader under fire. Angry disputes between party factions – and threats to de-select members of Parliament.

Some of the disputes going on in Labour now are reminiscent of the dramas in the party when it came to Bournemouth for its conference in September, 1985.

That dramatic week saw opposition leader Neil Kinnock face down left-wing opponents in what would become his most memorable speech.

Labour had been in opposition for six years when it came to the recently-opened BIC that September. In that time, it had seen the “gang of four” senior figures break away to form the Social Democratic Party, and had badly lost the 1983 general election to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in the wake of the Falklands War.

Mr Kinnock, the 42-year-old MP for Islywn, had come from the left of the party but was seeking to steer it towards the centre.

Although it was the party’s first conference at the BIC, Mr Kinnock had been there before, addressing the 60th Conference of Labour Women and the Transport and General Workers Union conference, both in June 1985.

An Echo report on September 23 was headlined “Hot days ahead for Neil Kinnock”, outlining the challenges to his authority from the left. “The conference represents the biggest test yet for Mr Kinnock’s authority as Labour leader since his election two years ago,” the report said.

The miners’ strike, called by the National Union of Mineworkers under Arthur Scargill, had ended in defeat earlier that year. Meanwhile, the hard-left faction Militant had taken control of Liverpool City Council and had set a “deficit” budget, warning council workers they would not be paid unless the government found more money.

Events around the conference that week started with a service at Punshon Memorial Methodist Church, with Neil Kinnock and the left-wing Liverpool Walton MP Eric Heffer both taking part.

The party was officially welcomed to the town by the mayor, Cllr Rob Wotton, while Ted Stevens of the local Labour party offered a fraternal greeting.

Large-scale events included a CND rally at Meyrick Park, while Melvyn Bragg hosted a Fabian Society fringe meeting called A Socialist Approach to the Arts, at the Wessex Hotel. Jill Gascoigne, star of ITV detective drama The Gentle Touch, led a session on how the arts could help win “ideological ground” for Labour.

From the left of the party, Lambeth council leader Ted Knight spoke at the Wessex Hotel on his authority’s fight against rate-capping, while Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and Ted Knight spoke at a rally at the Pavilion.

Ken Livingstone, leader of the Greater London Council, which was set for abolition, spoke on the future of local government.

The party leader was seen in the community, meeting supporters, posing for photos in the creche at the BIC, and playing snooker with the convalescent miners at the NUM’s Court Royal home near the BIC. The leader also met the Bournemouth Community for Soviet Jewry at the Palace Court Hotel.

The big drama came on Tuesday, October 1, when Mr Kinnock delivered the leader’s speech – or, as the party traditionally called it, the Parliamentary Report.

He began by denouncing Mrs Thatcher’s government. “In this average week in Tory Britain 6,000 people will lose their jobs, 225 businesses will go bankrupt, £400million will be spent on paying the bills of unemployment, 6,000 more people will be driven by poverty into supplementary benefit,” he said.

But then came the challenge to Militant, with a warning that “impossible promises don’t win victories”.

Addressing the Liverpool issue directly, he said: “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, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.”

Derek Hatton, the Militant deputy leader of Liverpool council, was on his feet shouting “Liar!”. Other delegates were standing up to applaud.

Eric Heffer stormed out, and found himself on a balcony gazing over Bournemouth Pier, pursued by the press.

The speech – especially the part about taxis and redundancy notices – would be replayed many times, and feature in Labour’s own party election broadcasts in 1987.

Neil Kinnock would lose that election to Mrs Thatcher, and another general election to John Major in 1992.

He would never be prime minister, but that moment in Bournemouth was credited with setting the party on the road to re-election 12 years later.