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The 1940s
Neville Kirk

Britain first 'total' war, between 1914 and 1918, had played an important part in the Labour Party's youthful 'rise'. Clement Attlee and his colleagues drew the public's attention to past Tory failures, especially their 'reactionary' and discredited socio-economic, defence and foreign policies of the 1930s. Labour won the 1945 election because Attlee's pragmatic socialist message was far more in touch with what the Manchester Guardian termed the 'silent revolution' in people's experiences. The Australian Labour Party's (ALP's) victories in 1943 and 1946 were built upon the successful realisation of its pledge to gain 'Victory in War and Victory for the Peace'. Labour's reforms and its articulation of the spirit of progressive nationalism continued to exert a powerful appeal in the country up to and including the next general election of 1950. Interwar Australian criticisms of the coercive aspects of British imperialism increasingly faded into the background.

in Labour and the politics of Empire
Abstract only
Neville Kirk

An essential part of the politics of the Cold War, the Right once again tarred the mainstream labour movement as subscribing to the 'alien', 'extreme' and 'totalitarian' doctrine of socialism. The post-war Australian economy was booming, largely on the back of rapidly expanding exports. The Australian Labour Party's (ALP's) proposals for bank nationalisation, petrol rationing and other forms of 'bureaucratic controls' were all portrayed as steps 'further towards the development of a totalitarian state'. The politics of Cold War loyalism were also an important part of Britain's post-war history. Britain Catholics were also prominent among labour-movement anti-communists; they were far less likely to attempt to smear Labour's mainstream leaders than were their counterparts in Australia. Ernes Bevin, Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison saw possession of an independent nuclear deterrent as 'commensurate with Britain's great power status and moral influence in the world'.

in Labour and the politics of Empire
Neville Kirk

Gough Whitlam's recast Australian Labour Party (ALP) was in many ways the product of the new radical mood of the 1960s in its national, international and transnational aspects. Attuned to international developments, he was confident of providing Australians with the 'progressive national reform'. He considered 'progressive national reform' to be necessary after such a long period of Conservative domination of federal politics. By early the 1960s Britain was experiencing growing economic problems. Like Whitlam, Harold Wilson sought to end Labour's many years 'out in the cold' by establishing a 'new' and 'modern' nation. The ending of the international 'golden age' in 1973-74 deepened the country's economic gloom. Britain, like Australia, experienced serious stagflation. Between the end of 1974 and the election of May 1979 Wilson and James Callaghan continued to tackle the country's political, economic and social problems.

in Labour and the politics of Empire
Neville Kirk

The Australian Labour Party (ALP) and the British Labour Party (BLP) experienced mixed, fluctuating and sharply contrasting fortunes, both domestically and comparatively, between 1980 and 2010. The 1980s were also extremely successful years for Labour at the state level. From the mid 1990s to the end of the decade Labour suffered defeats in most of the states, although it recaptured its former hegemony in New South Wales. The most recent British general election, of May 2010, however, has seen Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in 2007, defeated by the self-professed 'modern' and 'progressive' Conservative David Cameron. Cameron dismissed Brown's Labour Party as 'reactionary', as mired in 'the old ways of command and control'. In Australia the easy-going and popular Bob Hawke brought much needed healing powers and firm, but largely consensual, leadership to the ALP.

in Labour and the politics of Empire
Neville Kirk

In response to the economic crisis, right-wing neo-liberal and neo-conservative ideas took strong and increasingly hegemonic international root. Both the Australian Labour Party (ALP) under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and New Labour shared a dominant policy commitment to economic neo-liberalism, this was tempered far more in Australia by continuing state intervention and regulation. The Fraser government's inability to tackle the immediate problems of a 'wages explosion', 'double digit inflation and unemployment' was the major factor in determining the outcome of the 1983 federal election. The huge size of the public deficit inherited from the Fraser government meant that Keating had to tread cautiously in his attempt to balance fiscal expansion and cuts in spending and tax rises. New Labour's willingness and ability to 'learn lessons' from the successful ALP served it well at the 1997 general election.

in Labour and the politics of Empire
Neville Kirk

The Australian Labour Party's (ALP's) search for domestic success and for inspiration overseas from the triumphant Blairites proved, however, to be fruitless. Between his victory over Paul Keating in 1996 and his defeat by Rudd in 2007, it was the coalition's John Howard who continuously ruled the federal political roost. Howard continued to proclaim his attachments to Britain and the monarchy. The ALP's new leader, Kim Beazley, performed well during the election campaign and enhanced his reputation as a decent, engaging and tolerant man and politician, in contrast to the intolerance and mean-mindedness of Howard. After a 'troubled' long-term relationship with his 'boss', Gordon Brown finally achieved the leadership of New Labour in June 2007. Unlike Tony Blair, Brown was well versed in the regulatory and collective traditions of the labour movement. Brown lost the May 2010 election and subsequently resigned as leader of the British Labour Party (BLP).

in Labour and the politics of Empire
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Neville Kirk

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book provides the neglected forces of nation; empire and race exerted a far more profound influence upon Labour politics in Britain and Australia between 1900 and 2010 than is suggested in the relevant literature. It discusses the questions of nation; empire and race were at the heart of the New Commonwealth, formed in 1901. The Australian labour movement, especially the precocious Australian Labour Party (ALP), played a major role in shaping the characteristics and early development of the New Commonwealth. The book explains Labour's poor overall electoral performance in Australia and its more mixed record in Britain in terms of a combination of 'traditional', 'revisionist', neglected and new factors. Between 1996-97 and 2007 the fortunes of the ALP and British Labour Party (BLP) were reversed.

in Labour and the politics of Empire