Davis recounts how 1917 served as a formative moment in the development of two influential left-leaning voices, and by extension, the Labour Party itself. Through analysing the then liberal journalist Morgan Phillips Price – later to join Labour and, from 1929, serve as an MP – and Arthur Henderson, then Labour leader and a member of the Lloyd George Cabinet, we gain a new perspective on Labour’s shifting sands. Charting the shift such men made from being uncomfortable opposing the Liberals to, by 1918, being willing to back Clause IV and all the nationalising elements there within, Davis reconfigures the Russian Revolution as a significant influence in the development of the British Labour Party.
This chapter considers the Neil Kinnock era and the changes made to Labour's ideology by placing them within the wider context of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. Kinnock, who replaced Michael Foot as leader in 1983 after Labour's defeat in that year's general election, and his changes coincided with those made by Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's reforms initially changed the structure of the Soviet economy, but ultimately altered the very basis of Soviet socialism. The consolidation and growth of New Right politics laid the foundations of globalisation and encouraged both Labour and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), to rethink their economic and ideological understanding of the world. Perestroika in the USSR reinforced the ideological perestroika in the Labour Party and helped to smooth the way for Kinnock's reforms as he challenged the well-worn and comfortable ideological shibboleths.
The 1980s were the heyday of the Thatcher counter-revolution, with mass deindustrialisation destroying Britain's manufacturing base. It was a period of significant setbacks for left politics, most notably the crushing of the miners' strike, Tony Benn's defeat in the Labour deputy leadership contest, and the abolition of the left-controlled Greater London Council. The surcharging and disqualification of councillors who resisted central government rate-capping, Labour's loss of the 1983 and 1987 general elections and the notorious 1983 Bermondsey by-election were also a part of the events during this period. This book resists the view that Labour's political and economic thought was moribund during the 1980s. It shows that Labour embraced new views on the role of the state and state intervention in the economy. The idea of a national investment bank, continental social democracy, and the 'Brexit' referendum of 2016 are discussed. Nostalgia was built into the New Labour's psyche, making it seem adrift from a changing society. Neil Kinnock replaced Michael Foot as leader in 1983 after Labour's defeat in that year's general election, and formed a party that brought changes that coincided with those made by Mikhail Gorbachev. Two major struggles between the Militant-led, Labour-run Liverpool City Council and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government damaged the reputation of the Labour Party, harmed its fortunes in the 1987 general election. The Race Today Collective was the most influential group of black radicals in the UK, 'the centre, in England, of black liberation'.
Neil Kinnock's Labour Party and intellectuals around the periodical Marxism Today offered a fundamental revision of the standard left-wing project. Labour sought to develop dynamic responses to secure growth in an age of increasing globalisation. Local government, the media, trade unions, pressure groups, the arts and academia: all were often dominated by left-of-centre voices that created networks of opposition to the recently elected Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. In the 1975 referendum on the Common Market, Michael Foot and much of the left opposed Britain's continuing membership, while many on the right of the party supported the remaining in Europe. Any evaluation of Labour politics needs to consider the question of class and organised labour. The radicals of the 1980s generation were heirs to a strand of internationalism that had been a feature of left-wing politics since the Chartists and which had shaped the Labour Party throughout its history.