Devon Radical History
Devon Radical History: Devon Labour Briefing

Devon Labour Briefing - A socialist project based in Exeter (1983-89)

Introduction by Devon Radical History. The article below was written by Peter Bowing who was one of the main people behind setting up Exeter Labour Briefing in 1983. It was modeled on London Labour Briefing which was founded in 1980 and based around the GLC Left including contributors such as Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn. After local controversies and an attempt to expel the editors from Exeter Labour Party, supposedly because it could be mistaken for an official Labour Party publication, there was a compromise deal in which the name of the publication was changed to Devon Labour Briefing (DLB) in 1984. The early editions of Devon Labour Briefing were done as a local publication that wrapped around a National Supplement. Some of the later editions were stand alone publications. In 1984-85 DLB was one of the main organisations involved in the Exeter Miners Support Group. It went on to be instrumental in the setting up Exeter Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) in 1987 and the Exeter Anti-Poll Tax Union in 1989. The anti-sectarian ethos of DLB resulted in these organisations being diverse and dynamic from the outset involving people from very different traditions and backgrounds. The resulting organisations took on a vibrant life of their own long outliving DLB. Exeter AFA continuing to around 2001. Former DLB activists also became the core of what might be described as the independent marxist Left in Exeter for decades to come.

This is a work in progress and the following 3 editions of DLB remain missing: 6, 20, 25.

Devon Labour Briefing

Devon Labour Briefing (until 1984 Exeter Labour Briefing) was a socialist project based in Exeter, Devon which ran from 1983 to 1989. It was organised around a magazine edited by left-wing Labour Party members and was modelled on London Labour Briefing.

The origins of the Labour Briefing movement in the South West

Exeter Labour Briefing, the forerunner of Devon Labour Briefing was founded in the summer of 1983. One source of support was the left-wing of the Exeter Pennsylvania/St. Davids branch of the Exeter Labour Party. Following the banning of articles critical of the Party in the branch newsletter, Branching Out, left-wingers decided to set up a publication independent of the Party. A key source of support was Exeter University Labour Group, several of whose members became active participants. Briefing supporters were also in a majority in the Exeter Labour Party Young Socialists, (one of the few branches not controlled by the Militant Tendency at that time.) A handful of supporters developed in other Exeter Labour Party branches Rougemont/St. Leonards branch (the City Centre) and Polsloe/Stoke Hill. Later small supporter groups also developed in the surrounding rural constituencies of the Labour Party, but particularly in Exmouth (East Devon) and in Tiverton (Mid-Devon)

The politics of Devon Labour Briefing

Though Devon Labour Briefing was associated with a London-based national organisation, the focus of its politics was very much the Exeter Labour Party. Briefing accused the city party of being authoritarian, non-socialist, racist and sexist. The local Labour leadership and councillors were deemed ‘municipal careerists’ who sought status and respectability rather than advancing socialist causes. These intra-Labour Party themes featured prominently in the magazine.

In 1984 Labour won control of Exeter City Council in coalition with the Liberal/SDP Alliance and later the Liberal Democrats. Devon Labour Briefing was critical of this coalition. When the Labour candidate in the St. Leonards by-election stood down in favour of the Liberal Democrats (contrary to national Labour Party policy), Devon Labour Briefing campaigned for the Green Party.

In the UK miners' strike (1984-1985), Devon Labour Briefing twinned itself with the Maerdy Colliery in South Wales, and collected money and food.

Supporters of Devon Labour Briefing were elected to leading positions in the Exeter Anti-Apartheid Movement after bitter disputes with some Labour Party and Communist Party members.

Devon Labour Briefing supporters participated in the Exeter Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which peaked at over 1000 members in the 1980s. Briefing had little influence but aligned its votes with those of members of the Green Party

In 1987 Devon Labour Briefing joined with the leadership of the East Devon Labour Party to set up the East Devon Socialist Campaign Group. The main focus of the group was to back the 1988 national leadership bid of Tony Benn MP and Eric Heffer MP. Though the group made limited headway across the region, the exclusive Labour Party orientation of East Devon Labour Party members was often at odds with the more open approach of Devon Labour Briefing.

Devon Labour Briefing supporters were in involved in the Exeter Marxist Reading Group, run by the Workers Revolutionary Party. The group sought to relate the texts of classical Marxism to contemporary politics. For several years in the autumn Devon Labour Briefing organised a socialist Day School in Exeter. Speakers and workshop moderators were invited from London Labour Briefing and elsewhere.

Legal action against the Labour Party

Exeter Labour Briefing, the forerunner of Devon Labour Briefing, began publication in the autumn of 1983. The leadership of Exeter Labour Party almost immediately took disciplinary against the publication on the grounds that the magazine might be confused with an Exeter Labour Party publication. The dispute was temporarily resolved with the magazine being renamed Devon Labour Briefing, following the intervention of Tony Benn MP, a member of the National Executive Committee.

In 1985 the leadership resumed disciplinary action against the editors of the magazine on the grounds that the magazine was ‘prejudicial to interests of the Party.’ The leadership interrogated five writers and three were recommended for expulsion from the Labour Party. Before the Management Committee of Exeter Labour Party could decide the issue, the three obtained a High Court injunction stopping the expulsion process on the grounds that the whole expulsion process seriously breached the rules of natural justice. After initially stating that they would contest the action, the Labour Party withdrew from the case making them liable for court costs.

In 1987 Exeter Labour Party again began disciplinary action against one person involved with the magazine through the newly formed Labour Party National Constitutional Committee. After a day-long hearing in Exeter the contributor concerned received a formal warning but was not expelled.

The William of Orange celebrations 1988

In 1988 the Labour controlled Exeter City Council in collaboration with the William and Mary Tercentenary Trust planned to celebrate the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 on the grounds that Exeter was the first English city in which William III of England set foot. The National Front, the Orange Order and other right wing groups announced that they too would participate in the celebrations. Devon Labour Briefing opposed the celebrations inside the Labour Party on the basis that William of Orange was a symbol of Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland, that the Glorious Revolution did not involve working people and that the celebrations were acting as a magnet for the extreme right. Although Devon Labour Briefing and other left-wingers won the vote in Exeter Labour Party, the Labour-led City Council persisted. Key invited figures such as the historian Christopher Hill, however, backed out of the celebrations. The events of 1988 saw the launching of Exeter Anti-Fascist Action, affiliated to Anti-Fascist Action nationally and included supporters of Devon Labour Briefing and the Workers Revolutionary Party, as well as other independent socialists and anarchists.

The demise of Devon Labour Briefing

After Labour’s defeat in the 1987 general election, Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party, initiated a policy review, which sought to change Labour Party policies (e.g., abandonment unilateral nuclear disarmament). Labour Briefing was facing defeat and marginalisation. In the summer of 1989, Devon Labour Briefing supporters ceased to play a role in Exeter Labour Party; either through defeat in internal party elections or through resignation. The majority abandoned active party politics; a minority joined the Workers Revolutionary Party and later the Socialist Alliance.

Exeter Labour Briefing

Exeter Labour Briefing No.1 Jul 1983
Exeter Labour Briefing No.2 Dec 1983
Exeter Labour Briefing No.3 Mar 1984
Exeter Labour Briefing No.4 May 1984
Exeter Labour Briefing No.5 Jun 1984
Exeter Labour Briefing No.6 Jul 1984

Devon Labour Briefing

Devon Labour Briefing No.1 Jul 1984
Devon Labour Briefing No.2 Oct 1984
Devon Labour Briefing No.3 Nov 1984
Devon Labour Briefing No.4 Dec 1984
Devon Labour Briefing No.5 Feb 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.6 Mar 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.7 Apr 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.8 May 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.9 Jun 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.10 Jul 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.11 Oct 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.12 Nov 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.13 Dec 1985
Devon Labour Briefing No.14 Feb 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.15 Mar 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.16 Apr 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.17 May 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.18 Jun 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.19 Jul 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.20 Sep 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.21 Nov 1986
Devon Labour Briefing No.22 Feb 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.23 Apr 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.24 Jun 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.25 Aug 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.26 Oct 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.27 Nov 1987
Devon Labour Briefing No.28 Jan 1988
Devon Labour Briefing No.29 Mar 1988
Devon Labour Briefing No.30 Jun 1988
Devon Labour Briefing No.31 Jul 1988
Devon Labour Briefing No.32 Sep 1988
Devon Labour Briefing No.33 Jan 1989
Devon Labour Briefing No.34 Mar 1989
Devon Labour Briefing No.35 Jul 1989

Additional Devon Labour Briefing Publications

Labour Take The Power

Page last updated 15/08/22