Interpreting the Labour Party: Approaches to Labour Politics and History

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

12

How to study the Labour Party:
contextual, analytical and theoretical issues
Colin HayThe political analysis and the political economy of the British Labour Party have tended to concern themselves principally with the concrete and the substantive. This is both unremarkable and entirely legitimate. Yet something is potentially lost. For while an aim of the present collection is to discuss the principal positions of some of the leading exponents in this literature, it cannot be doubted that the literature rests largely on rarely acknowledged and generally unstated assumptions about basic analytical questions. If we are to encourage dialogue between competing interpretations of Labour, we might benefit from rendering such assumptions explicit. Moreover, the present is a particularly opportune time for such reflections, as contemporary political analysis is perhaps more conscious than it has ever been of its most fundamental analytical assumptions (see Hay 2002a).In what follows four core themes are identified, each of which can be associated with what might tentatively be termed the 'new political science of British politics'. Each serves to highlight a distinctive aspect of the issue of causality; and each has a special relevance to labour studies in general and to the political science and the political economy of Labour in particular. They are:
the relationship between structure and agency, context and conduct;
the relationship between the discursive and the material, between the ideas held about the world and that world itself;
the relative significance of political, economic and cultural factors; and
the relative significance of domestic, international and transnational factors.

Before considering each of these themes in more detail, it is important to enter a few cautionary remarks. Arguments such as that presented here are unavoidably controversial and they need to be handled with care: after all, political scientists are, by convention, wary of analytical prescription. It is important, then, at the outset that to clarify the aims and intentions of what follows, while cautioning against certain potential misinterpretations.

First, although the argument presented here has important implications for the conduct of labour studies more generally, and although the chapter does make the general case for reinserting labour within the analysis of the Labour Party, the sub-

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