Most of the reactions to the death of Tony Benn have focused on the man who turned left in the 1970s, embraced union militancy and became ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’. That was, however, Benn Mark II, arguably the less interesting version, and certainly the one less relevant to our own times, when the parties are desperately seeking to regain a connection with the people.
A while back I wrote a book about how Labour responded to the many cultural changes generated in the 1960s. In that decade Benn emerged as one of the party’s few leading figures who tried to seriously think though how the party might engage with at least some of them.
Benn Mark I was a fairly conventional politician. In the 1950s he was something of a revisionist and in the 1960s an enthusiastic if idiosyncratic member of Harold Wilson’s inner circle.
As part of the Picturing Politics series hosted by the University of Nottingham's School of Politics and IR I discussed the rise of the party leader and the influence party leaders now hold over their party’s fate.
I examined this phenomenon using the example of the 1997 Labour manifesto – which featured a close-up of Tony Blair’s face on its cover – and looked at the effect this focus on Blair had on the Labour Party. The podcast is available here.
During the 1980s Benn was not alone on the left and centre-left in looking at Labour’s first majority administration through rose-tinted glasses. The more Margaret Thatcher dismantled a post-war ‘consensus’ largely cast in the image of Clement Attlee’s government, the better 1945 looked. Benn’s
When Harold Wilson sat down after a speech opening the 1963 Labour conference debate on science, he probably didn't realise he had just delivered one of post-war British politics' most cited pieces of rhetoric. He just wanted to win a general election.
Contemporaries hailed Wilson's invocation of the promise of "the scientific and technological revolution" and of the need for government to plan Britain's response to "the white heat of technological change" as outlining a new vision of socialism. Many historians have also subsequently praised the Labour leader's evocation of a spirit of optimism in a Britain emerging from austerity into
The general election of 1945 is one of the key turning points of modern British history. Labour won a thumping Commons majority and used it to introduce the welfare state, nationalise key industries and guarantee full employment. You have to have a heart of stone – or be an implacable Thatcherite – not to feel that there was something wonderful, heroic even, about that moment.
According to Ken Loach's documentary The Spirit of '45, an election held nearly 70 years ago remains relevant to a world in which the free market is triumphant. As he says: "It's time to put back on the agenda the importance of public ownership and public good, the value of working together collaboratively, not in competition." A key part of his argument is that as the British people once
Labour MP Gloria de Piero has just concluded research into why so many people these days appear to hate MPs. Echoing the research of political scientists, she has discovered that most people feel MPs are a "them" operating in a world very different to the one inhabited by "us". To bridge this chasm she reportedly wants her party to reconnect with the people by, among other things, having beer and sandwich evenings and opening its doors to different kinds of candidates. I wish Gloria the best of luck, but I doubt she will do more than scratch the surface of the problem.
For while many of those she talked to cited recent events – like the 2009 expenses scandal – as
Journalist-turned-Labour MP Gloria de Piero has just concluded some research into why so many people these days appear to hate MPs. Having been elected in 2010 she was not yet used to the feelings of intense hostility to which many more established members of the Commons will have become immune. Her essential findings are that ordinary people feel that MPs are a 'Them' operating in a world very different to the one inhabited by 'Us'. On that basis she reportedly wants her party to reconnect with the people by, among other things, having beer and sandwich evenings and opening its doors to different kinds of candidates.
I wish Gloria the best of luck; but I wonder if she will succeed.
I was invited by the Policy Network to respond to one of their latest publications, A Centre-Left Project for New Times, which maps out how European social democrats might respond to the current political situation.
I decided to focus on 'equality' - an issue that is supposed to differentiate the left from the right but which New Labour was afraid of embracing too warmly for fear of putting off key voters.
As a result, as you can see from the above graph, not much was done to reverse the massive increase in inequality that occurred under Margaret Thatcher. Here are my thoughts.