This book is an attempt to take stock of how some of the British Labour Party's leading interpreters have analysed their subject, deriving as they do from contrasting political, theoretical, disciplinary and methodological backgrounds. It explores their often-hidden assumptions and subjects them to critical evaluation. The book outlines five strategies such as materialist; ideational; electoral; institutional; and synthetic strategies. Materialist, ideational and electoral explanatory strategies account for Labour's ideological trajectory in factors exogenous to the party. The 'new political history' is useful in understanding Labour within a less reductive framework than either the 'high' or 'from below' approaches and in more novel terms than the Left-Right positions adopted within Labour. The book assesses the contribution made to analysis of the Labour Party and labour history by thinkers of the British New Left. New Left critiques of labourism in fact represented and continued a strand of Marxist thinking on the party that can be traced back to its inception. If Ralph Miliband's role in relation to 'Bennism' is considered in comparison to his earlier attitudes, some striking points emerge about the interaction between the analytical and subjective aspects in his interpretive framework. Miliband tried to suggest that the downfall of communism was advantageous for the Left, given the extent to which the Soviet regimes had long embarrassed Western socialists such as himself. The Nairn-Anderson theses represented an ambitious attempt to pioneer a distinctive analysis of British capitalist development, its state, society and class structure.
Labour, the people and the ‘new political history’
‘What kind of people are you?’ Labour, the
people and the ‘newpoliticalhistory’
Like their subject, historians of Labour have tended to be attached to tradition and
sceptical of novelty – in short, rather conservative. Newer tendencies are nonetheless evident. These result, in part, from changes in Labour. New Labour’s constitutional reforms, its engagement with issues of national identity and communication
skills have been concurrent with recent work on the party’s past in such areas
. Malcolm Smuts explains how
the British aspect of the succession and ultimate accession of the Scottish
King intent on forging a closer union influenced the late Elizabethan and early
Jacobean writings of the civil lawyer and historian Sir John Hayward.
Thirdly, the NewPoliticalHistory has also been instrumental in resurrecting
the later Elizabethan succession question and facilitating a novel and more
wide-ranging assessment. For a time – in the mid- to late-twentieth century
Contexts and approaches
– the study of high politics became unfashionable, as historians
ideological change in the Labour Party and identifies five principal explanatory strategies: materialist; ideational; electoral; institutional; and those which synthesise some or all of these. Limitations in many widely
read texts are discussed and, echoing the final chapter, by Colin Hay, Randall concludes by calling for a multidimensional approach that would reject, among other
things, what he considers the artificial opposition of structure to agency.
Lawrence Black (chapter 2) considers the ‘newpoliticalhistory
political meanings so far as they are effectively articulated through specific forms of political discourse and practice.
Stedman Jones inspired a ‘newpoliticalhistory’ which, influenced by the linguistic and cultural turns, focused on language, rhetoric and the ‘constitution of identities and meanings’.
paradigm’, the two paradigms
discussed above do not straightforwardly translate across to the ‘rise of Labour’
debates.81 Inevitabilists like Pelling and Laybourn played down the importance
of syndicalism within the Great Labour Unrest as this detracted from arguments
about the comparative strength of Labour as a political, parliamentary force.82
Tanner’s work became a seminal text in the birth of the ‘newpoliticalhistory’
which sought to rethink ‘the political’.83 It was the result of the increasing influence
of postmodernism in British political history and
Victorian politics has been transformed
by a variety of studies of local politics, many of them influenced by the
‘NewPoliticalHistory’ (NPH). Scholars have analysed how individual
politicians developed support bases through appeals founded on gender,
class and imperial patriotism.24 In much of this literature the support base
of the Conservative Party in the localities appears to have owed little to
the rhetoric and policies of the national party leadership. During the
1870s and 1880s populist Tory politicians created a social culture which
united working- and middle
Political identities, meanings, and the responses to MPs’ dress, c. 1850–1914
This has given rise to and seen the ascendency of ‘newpoliticalhistories’, which have closely analysed the role of language and
rhetoric in forging political cultures and identities, relying on
text-based sources as a result. 1 Such studies have deepened our understanding
of political culture, increased sensitivity to the language of politics,
and helped to avoid deterministic explanations for political change.
Nevertheless, when the written and spoken word are privileged, other
important forms of political
King’s Fund, 1998), pp. 80–90, esp. 88.
Such work combines the NewPoliticalHistory’s emphasis on
language and culture in constituting subjects with the sociological and political
frameworks of social and policy history: D. Wahrman, ‘The NewPoliticalHistory: A
Review Essay’, Social History , vol. 21, no. 3 (1996), pp. 343–54. Cf.
Rudolf Klein, The New Politics of the NHS: From Creation to Reinvention (5th
edition, Oxford: Radcliffe, 2006). For similar considerations of emotions
unimpressive post-war electoral performances were not the
inevitable result of cultural change. In line with much of what has been
described as the ‘newpoliticalhistory’, the relationship between party
and society has been interpreted as being determined by a combination
of the peculiar circumstances in which Labour existed and the party’s
own understanding of and response to that context.60 It was, therefore,
at least possible that the party could have done better, had members
more accurately identified the nature and meaning of change and
responded in the appropriate