The Struggle for Labour's Soul: Understanding Labour's Political Thought since 1945

The Struggle for Labour's Soul: Understanding Labour's Political Thought since 1945

The Struggle for Labour's Soul: Understanding Labour's Political Thought since 1945

The Struggle for Labour's Soul: Understanding Labour's Political Thought since 1945

Synopsis

'New Labour' is often accused of being obsessed with style rather than substance, and with image rather ideology. The Struggle for Labour's Soul examines how the party's political thought has developed from 1945 to the present day. It explores the divisions in the Labour Party between the old left, the new left, centrists, the old right and 'New Labour'. These ideological positions are examined in the context of the key political issues of the twenty-first century including constitutional reform, markets, equality, internationalism and globalization. The book concludes with commentaries by renowned experts on the various competing traditions within the party. Featuring contributions by leading academics, journalists and politicians, this is the first major analysis of Labour's political thought for a generation.

Excerpt

Kevin Hickson, Matt Beech and Raymond Plant

The Labour Party is a party of values, but often not of ideas. That is to say that those in the Labour Party have a set of unarticulated values which shape their approach to politics. But these values often remain little more than intuitive. They have, to borrow our terminology from Henry Drucker, an ethos but not a doctrine. Often these values shape not only the approach of individuals within the Labour Party, but also the Party as a whole. At crucial times in the history of the Party, this ethos, defined by Lesjek Kolakowski as 'an obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering', combined with a desire to achieve power, has been enough to see the Party through.

Any book on the political thought of the Labour Party must recognise the relevance of the less doctrinaire aspects of social democratic (or democratic socialist) ideology. Yet this book is also about the Party's doctrines. Although serious debate and reflection on democratic socialist ideology are often limited to a narrow band of the Party's intellectuals, their thinking has reached a wider audience. It is from these reflections and debates that the Party and the various groups within it have variously defined their purpose and their policies. Prior to 1945 the strands of opinion in the Labour Party were much more fluid and imprecise than post-1945. The turning point was partly the War, but mainly the 1945-51 Government. Whatever the achievements and failures of that government were, it has continued to hold pride of place in the folklore of the Party. Debate after 1951 has often been a struggle between left and right of the Party, with one eye to the future, defining a credible way forward in the face of new problems, new issues, and the other eye looking backwards to that government. This was certainly true of the debates between the Revisionists and the Bevanites in the 1950s, but it is also true of the New Left in the 1970s and early 1980s. Even New Labour, which has often sought to distance itself from Labour's past, has cited the achievements of 1945-51 and talked of the failure of Labour in the 1960s and 1970s to live up to those achievements.

Ideas are therefore important to the Labour Party. This is not surprising. Social democracy rests on values. These values are subject to articulation and defence through the democratic process. In this respect, social democracy is similar to the Hayekian New Right, which was also at root a set of values to be articulated and defended, the great ideological rival of British social democracy

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