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New Left Review I/158, July-August 1986

Michael Rustin

Restructuring the State

This article contrasts two strategic options for the Labour Party and the Left in the approach to the next election in Britain. One, the option chosen by the Labour leadership, is to seek to recapture the votes lost to the Alliance parties since 1981 by occupying their political ground. Aggressive moderation in policy, ostentatious repudiation of the hard left, and out-Saatchiing the Tories in the media are the key elements of a strategy which does offer some hope to Labour supporters of a relief from Thatcherism. Many feel that after the failure of the Left’s attempt to transform the party after 1979, even a quarter of a loaf would be better than total defeat. I shall put forward a different perspective, with a longer time-horizon than the run-up to the next election. For, in my view, the attempt simply to reconstitute the Labourism of the sixties and seventies is misguided and probably doomed. It disregards the depth and extent of the British economic crisis, which defeated the Labour governments of the last two decades, and which needs to be addressed with more than bravado and a package of mild Keynesian reforms. It is also important not to neglect, as Labour’s national leadership tends to do, the fragmentation of British political life that has taken place since the heyday of Wilson. The Labour Party now seeks to deal with the decline of its old constituencies as Wilson did, by constructing blander and less class-specific projections of its potential support, yet refuses the radical democratization and pluralism which might alone build a lasting left hegemony in Britain.

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