Interpreting the Labour Party: Approaches to Labour Politics and History

By John Callaghan; Steven Fielding et al. | Go to book overview

those who retain some hope that socialism remains possible – in particular those dubbed 'Milibandian' – consider that Labour was never that type of party. In contrast, some observers have eschewed overt political involvement, although their work should not be considered inherently more reliable because of that. For it is impossible not be influenced by the political conjuncture in which one lives, just as it is difficult to see beyond the intellectual, cultural and academic verities of one's day. The appearance of objectivity can never be more than superficial: indeed, it might be suggested, there are none more ideological than those who claim to disavow ideology altogether.

This volume aims to provide insights about what have often been the hidden assumptions of some of Labour's leading interpreters and seeks to explain how they have coloured our picture of the party. The approaches considered here are invariably the result of complex aggregates of theories, methods and empirical evidence. There is often much overlap between different interpretations, for while its authors may make use of broadly the same component parts the novelty of their arguments often lies in their application or arrangement of those elements. Even the same combination of parts can contain important differences of emphasis and so produce contrasting conclusions. In such subtle ways do the motives, political affiliations and moods of the authors express themselves. Moreover, while such factors are sometimes made explicit, there are other influences at work in constructing a particular perspective which are frequently left covered over. The ruling beliefs of the day, the endemic assumptions and intellectual habits of an individual, a generation or a school of thought, may simply be taken for granted. Some, if not all, of these predelictions may not be referred to in the text, escaping the critical attention of both author and reader.

To reiterate, everything written about the Labour Party, whether by scholars, activists or journalists, has strong normative underpinnings. Any full appreciation of the party therefore requires some assessment of the intellectual means through which it has been perceived. When all is said and done, Labour's historic purpose has been to challenge or at least temper, in one way or another, the power of the most dynamic economic and social system in history – capitalism. If such a subject does not arouse partisanship, nothing will.


Rationale for the collection

The chapters gathered here were selected from papers presented to the second conference of the Political Studies Association's Labour Movements Group, held in Manchester in July 2001. This gathering grew out of the group's commitment to create arenas in which researchers, drawn from different academic disciplines and contrasting research agendas, can share their work. It already has a large and diverse membership, composed of adherents to a variety of political, disciplinary and methodological perspectives united in the desire to better understand the Labour Party and the wider labour movement, both in Britain and elsewhere in the world. The group is always keen to attract new members, and its website is an invaluable research resource (Labour Movements Group 2002).

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