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New Left Review I/212, July-August 1995

Colin Leys

A Radical Agenda for Britain

As the Conservative Party threatens to break up on the contradiction between market dogma and traditional Conservative values and institutions, it is sobering to reflect that neither the Labour Party nor the academic Left has produced a hegemonic interpretation of this event, or a persuasive alternative vision of the future. [*] Will Hutton, The State We’re In, Jonathan Cape, London 1995, £16.99. The Labour leadership, traumatized by four electoral defeats, has imposed a tight control over policy debate and proposes only respectful and cautious modifications to the Thatcher legacy on monetary policy, taxation, the health service, education, even Europe. Tony Blair represents Major’s leadership travails as those of a man prevented by his rabid right-wing from drawing back modestly from the excesses of Thatcherism, not as symptoms of a profound national crisis which Labour has a vocation to resolve. Academics, for their part, have produced excellent retrospective studies of numerous aspects of Britain’s decline, but not, in recent years at any rate, any systematic, general analysis, let alone a persuasive set of policy proposals. A severely wounded labour movement; a somewhat disoriented Left intelligentsia (producing symptomatic titles like Beyond Left and Right, Politics in an Antipolitical Age, Reinventing The Left); [1] Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics, London 1994; Geoff Mulgan, Politics in an Antipolitical Age, London 1994; David Miliband, ed., Reinventing the Left, London 1994. no fusion of popular energy with powerful analytic and programmatic initiatives, like Labour’s embrace of Keynes and Beveridge in the 1940s. [2] No sooner was this written than Tony Blair explicitly appealed to the example of Labour’s adoption of Keynes and Beveridge in his speech to the Fabian Society (Guardian, 6 July 1995). But the moral, for him, was that the party should in a general way be open to ‘the radical left-of-centre tradition outside our own’; not that there was an analysis and reform programme on offer today from that tradition, which Labour needed and should be willing to adopt.

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Colin Leys, ‘A Radical Agenda for Britain’, NLR I/212: £3

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