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Prisoners of the past
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This book examines the impact that nostalgia has had on the Labour Party’s political development since 1951. In contrast to existing studies that have emphasised the role played by modernity, it argues that nostalgia has defined Labour’s identity and determined the party’s trajectory over time. It outlines how Labour, at both an elite and a grassroots level, has been and remains heavily influenced by a nostalgic commitment to an era of heroic male industrial working-class struggle. This commitment has hindered policy discussion, determined the form that the modernisation process has taken and shaped internal conflict and cohesion. More broadly, Labour’s emotional attachment to the past has made it difficult for the party to adjust to the socioeconomic changes that have taken place in Britain. In short, nostalgia has frequently left the party out of touch with the modern world. In this way, this book offers an assessment of Labour’s failures to adapt to the changing nature and demands of post-war Britain.

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Richard Jobson

After an initial discussion of recent developments in the Labour Party, this introduction examines New Labour’s critique of ‘Old Labour’. New Labour often declared that Old Labour had been a fundamentally nostalgic party. Although this idea was underdeveloped and lacked analytical depth, it provides a starting point for an examination of Labour’s relationship with nostalgia. Through an engagement with existing studies on memory (and, more specifically, nostalgia), identity and power, this chapter moves on to outline how the idea of the group ‘nostalgia-identity’ offers a useful conceptual lens through which to assess Labour’s post-war development. It provides an overview of the academic literature on Labour and highlights the ways in which a study that explores the impact of nostalgia on the party’s trajectory offers something innovative. This introduction ends with an assessment of the extent, contours and significance of Labour’s male traditional industrial working-class identity in 1951.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Richard Jobson

This chapter assesses the political significance of Labour’s nostalgia in the 1950s and early 1960s. During this period, leading revisionists within the party, including Hugh Gaitskell and Anthony Crosland, argued that Labour’s attachment to the past was negatively impacting on its electoral fortunes. They stated that Labour’s continued commitment to widespread public ownership (as envisaged in Clause IV of the party’s 1918 constitution) was the product of nostalgia for a bygone era and that it left the party out of touch with modern developments. This chapter shows that these claims contained a great deal of merit. More specifically, it demonstrates how the party’s resistance to Hugh Gaitskell’s attempt to revise Clause IV in 1959-60 was defined by its nostalgic impetus. Gaitskell’s failure in this area was indicative of the continued strength and resilience of the party’s nostalgia.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Richard Jobson

This chapter identifies and analyses the ways in which Harold Wilson’s New Britain programme, frequently identified as the apex of modernity, was held back by the nostalgic opposition marshalled against it within the party. It argues that existing historical interpretations of the Labour Party between 1963 and 1970 as ‘progressive’ and ‘modernising’ require reconsideration and revaluation. From the outset, Labour’s rank- and-file members were generally suspicious of the ‘new’ scientific and technological age that Wilson outlined in his ‘White heat’ speech at Labour’s 1963 annual conference. A nostalgic attachment to the traditional industries of the past informed the party’s hostility to notions of change and modernity. As the 1960s wore on, the party membership’s nostalgic backlash against the 1964-70 Labour Governments’ domestic policies intensified. Nostalgia dictated the parameters within which the Labour leadership could operate. It shaped the options that were available to Wilson and his allies and forced them to make both rhetorical and substantive nostalgic concessions.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Richard Jobson

The Labour Party’s Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) has typically been portrayed by both historians and political scientists as a modern and forward-looking strategy. In contrast, this article argues that there was a significant nostalgic dimension to the strategy. The AES, as advocated by important figures within Labour like Tony Benn, was understood by party members as a mechanism by which to preserve and restore the male-dominated traditional industries of the past. In turn, this historically orientated understanding shaped the programmatic commitments that were pursued by the party. Fighting the 1983 General Election on a political platform that was strongly influenced by nostalgia, Labour appeared out of touch with modern developments.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Richard Jobson

This chapter examines the ways in which nostalgia shaped the political development of Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party between 1983 and 1992. It scrutinises claims, often made retrospectively by members of the New Labour project, that the Kinnock era was a period of limited modernisation. Moreover, it argues that Kinnock and his allies successfully negotiated Labour’s nostalgia in a manner that enabled them to reorient the party’s programmatic commitments away from the past. In this regard, the key turning point was the 1985-6 Jobs and Industry Campaign. When viewed through the lens of party nostalgia, other events, including Kinnock’s famous attack on the Militant Tendency at Labour’s annual conference in 1985, do not represent the kind of pivotal moments that academics have previously indicated they were. Furthermore, in 1992, despite significant policy reorientations, the party’s nostalgically imbued identity remained intact and unreformed.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Richard Jobson

This chapter assesses the role played by nostalgia during the New Labour era. Building on the analysis presented in this book’s introduction, it outlines how Tony Blair and other leading New Labour figures were overtly hostile to nostalgia and attempted to overturn the party’s attachment to the past. Yet, whilst symbolic modernising changes were made (most notably to Clause IV of the party’s constitution in 1995), this chapter questions the totality of the anti-nostalgic reorientation that took place. It argues that, during this period, nostalgia was suppressed rather than eradicated. An underlying nostalgia continued to inform the party’s identity (particularly at a rank-and-file level where activists were unencumbered by the wider political and electoral considerations of the party’s leadership). Furthermore, when interacting with their party, New Labour élites were often forced to deploy nostalgia instrumentally in order both to increase their political capital and to secure their goals and objectives.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
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Labour’s return to opposition, 2010 to the present
Richard Jobson

This chapter examines Labour’s return to opposition after the 2010 General Election. It argues that, within the party, the period since 2010 has witnessed a nostalgic resurgence. When compared to the New Labour era, elite discourses have become less hostile to nostalgia. To varying degrees, all of the candidates in the 2010 leadership contest articulated memories associated with the party’s nostalgia-identity. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, intraparty groups and movements that exhibited a sentimental attachment to the past grew in strength. Following Labour’s 2015 election defeat, Jeremy Corbyn obtained and consolidated his status as party leader by making nostalgic appeals to the past that resonated with party members. Within Labour, Corbyn’s political opponents have largely been forced onto his nostalgic terrain. Therefore, this chapter concludes by suggesting that, far from representing a ‘new kind of politics’, Corbynism represents an acute political manifestation of Labour’s historically orientated identity.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party
Abstract only
Richard Jobson

This chapter argues that nostalgia has shaped Labour’s political development since 1951 in a number of fundamental ways. Labour’s nostalgia-identity has revolved around positively idealised memories of a late nineteenth and early twentieth century heroic male traditional industrial working class. This nostalgia has proven to be problematic in the face of the social and economic changes that have taken place in Britain. It has limited the extent to which modernising agendas could be pursued, defined the parameters within which senior Labour figures could operate and determined the options available to the party. At certain times, Labour has also actively sought to reinstate and restore nostalgic visions of the past in the present. This chapter explores the significance of this book’s findings for the contemporary Labour Party and it outlines and problematizes potential future developments.

in Nostalgia and the post-war Labour Party