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Britain’s Decade of Crisis
Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ victory set in the context of the multiple crises that have roiled the UK since its financial bubble burst in 2008—economic, social, regional, national, European—to which the new Tory ascendancy poses as solution.
After decades of hawkish neoliberalism, the British Labour Party has become the stage for an unprecedented experiment. To what extent has Corbyn’s leadership been able to transform Blair’s party into a vehicle for egalitarian renewal? Can his project survive the maelstrom of the UK’s Brexit crisis?
A Tory Tribune?
Francis Mulhern on Ferdinand Mount, English Voices: Lives, Landscapes, Laments. The literary and political sensibility of Britain’s most independent-minded Conservative thinker, aide to Margaret Thatcher, admirer of Virginia Woolf, and devotee of William Gladstone.
Revolt of the Rustbelt
The historical geography of Ukania’s referendum on the EU, pitting London and Scotland, along with Northern Ireland, against every region of England outside its pampered capital. The North as fulcrum of the victory for Leave, the accumulating reasons for its disaffection with the Westminster establishment, and the carry-through of its rebellion into the electoral upset of 2017.
The New Neoliberalism
If the ruling economic paradigm remains traceable to Mont Pèlerin, how to distinguish the present from the moment that brought Thatcher and Reagan to power? A periodization of neoliberalism, from anti-socialist insurgency, through centre-left stewardship, to the inchoate ideologies of the post-crash era.
How to assess the latest set-back for the European Union: the vote to leave by its second-largest state? Complex determinants of the Brexit protest—party-political contingencies played out against topographies of class and sub-national disaffection—met by single-minded condemnation of it by the global elite.
A Scottish Watershed
Analysis of Scotland’s independence referendum and the hollowing of Labour’s electoral hegemony north of the border, after its lead role in the Unionist establishment’s Project Fear. What tectonic shifts have brought the UK’s archaic, multinational-monarchical state to the fore, as focus for an unprecedented mass politicization?
Culture and Society, Then and Now
The idea of culture in Raymond Williams’s classic work, and discrepant readings of it, fifty years on. Gestation amid CP debates on the English tradition, hidden affinities with the Frankfurt School, and counterposition to the verities of today’s liberal multiculturalism.
The Myth of Anglophone Succession
How far are the systems of British and American international power historically comparable? Can the imperium presided over by Clinton and Blair be regarded as essentially a sequel to the Victorian order guided by Palmerston or Salisbury, or does it represent something quite new—the first true hegemony in history?
Farewell Britannia: Break-Up or New Union?
Has the Northern Ireland Agreement injected a fatal shot of constitutionalism into the archaic Ukanian state? Responding to Pocock and Mulhern, Tom Nairn looks forward to a rearrangement of islander relations, but warns that without its own reconstitution England could become a fatally regressive anomaly in the archipelago.
Britain After Nairn
How far can the path from Thatcher to Blair be written as a dynamic of Ukanian constitutional involution, or devolution? Francis Mulhern questions whether classes can be so quickly bundled off-stage. Is it possible to speak of nations—English, Scottish, Irish or any other—as political communities, without social or ideological dispositions?
McKibbin argues that New Labour's constitutional tensions are inherited from the Thatcherite project of centralizing power in order to promote a neoliberal political economy; and Labour's previous commitments to devolution. Tocqueville's view of constitutional inheritance and evolution is cited in opposition to Mair's model of a coherent Blairite strategy.
Corporate Populism and Partyless Democracy
Are there more tensions in New Labour’s constitutional reforms than Peter Mair’s model of a ‘partyless democracy’ allows? Anthony Barnett argues that the style of Blair’s government is actually closer to that of a large media corporation—bound to come to grief on the variegated realities of modern Ukania.
New Labour’s rule in the UK is often held to offer a paradox: devolution of power to regions and cities, concentration of power in the central executive and support structures. Peter Mair suggests there is no contradiction—Blair’s project is a ‘consensual’ system above politics, gutted of traditional parties.
Ukania Under Blair
Great Britain has finally yielded a parliament to Scotland. But the Labour regime in London still clings convulsively to the totems of Ukania, in Tom Nairn’s savage updating of Robert Musil. New Labour’s eupeptic rhetoric of youth as a sure sign of a system being wheeled into the terminal ward.
Imperialism and the Rise and Decline of the British Economy, 1688-1989
Historians seldom consider the metanarratives within which academic articles, monographs, models and analyses must eventually become embedded, if they are to inform public debate in modern societies. Yet, however micro the problems they tackle, their findings can always be situated within some ‘greater story’. Since the Second World . . . read more
Medieval England: To Have and Have Not
Given the generosity of ‘Closure Theory and Medieval England’, Scott Waugh’s review of my English Society in the Later Middle Ages, it may seem churlish to quarrel with some of his specific comments. Many of the criticisms which he makes of my work are extremely valid but I . . . read more
Competition and Containment in Health Care
The health care systems of the capitalist democracies have been subjected to radical transformation during the 1990s. This transformation has been rooted in the perceived need to control the cost of health care to the state and business, given factors such as the increasing range of effective services, . . . read more
Europa and Utopia: How Cultural History Deals with the Paradox of Modernity
In the light of Luisa Passerini’s new book on the cultural and political discourse on Europe in Britain in the 1930s, it is tempting to draw a number of parallels between that decade and our own. The inter-war years, Passerini shows, were a period of much speculation and . . . read more
The Nature of the British-Irish Agreement
It is an academic, personal and political honour to give the ninth John Whyte memorial lecture. It is an academic honour because John Whyte was the most dispassionate analyst of our conflict—and so is a hard act to follow. Interpreting Northern Ireland still conveys his marvellous gifts of . . . read more
Tony Blair’s Warfare State
Armaments have made a re-appearance in British politics. Under-the-counter sales to Sierra Leone have been revealed. The Saudis, major customers for British arms, have released two nurses held for murder. Jonathan Aitken, a former defence procurement minister, has been charged with perjury and other offences, following a libel . . . read more
The Thatcher Government’s Attack on Higher Education in Historical Perspective
Some ten millennia separated the agricultural revolution from the emergence of Britain as the First Industrial Nation. A mere two centuries has seen the supersession of the first industrial revolution by the second. This has not yet acquired a definitive title. However, if we may denominate an era . . . read more
Dismantling Apathy: The Students' Occupation at SOAS
On 2 December the students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (soas) ended a twelve-day-long occupation of their library, when the School management accepted their demand for full and free access to the Senate House Library, the central library of the University of London. The . . . read more
The Unbearable Lightness of Diana
In the week after Princess Diana’s death I was baffled and deeply alienated by the public response to the horrifying accident, and its amplification by the mass media. I could neither understand nor share the apparent outpouring of grief, nor the explanations thought up by media commentators for . . . read more
Closure Theory and Medieval England
In the last fifty years, the basic features of the economy and society of medieval England have become more and more distinct as historians, excavating a mass of sources have steadily reconstructed social institutions and charted the changes they underwent in the five centuries after the Norman Conquest. . . . read more
Sovereignty After the Election
I desire a perfect Union of Lawes and persons, and such a Naturalizing as may make one body of both Kingdomes under mee your King. That I and my posteritie (if it so please God) may rule over you to the world’s ende; Such an Union as was . . . read more
New Labour and its Discontents
The week before the European Union summit in Amsterdam, Tony Blair delivered a Thatcher-style lecture at the Malmö gathering of European socialist parties. ‘As I said to the Labour Party a few years ago, we must modernize or die,’ he declared; there was no choice for the European . . . read more
Reflections on Blair’s Velvet Revolution
The comprehensive defeat of the Conservatives in the General Election must be a source of satisfaction, indeed jubilation, to the Left everywhere since the administrations of Thatcher and Major were global pioneers of the free market blight and particular foes of social progress in Europe. In the politics . . . read more
Tribalism in British Education
R.H. Tawney called it ‘the hereditary curse upon English education’, Anthony Crosland ‘the strongest remaining bastion of class privilege’, Neil Kinnock ‘the very cement in the wall that divides British society’. No other country has anything quite like the British public school system, just as no other country . . . read more
New Labour and Northern Ireland
Whatever else a Labour government under Tony Blair may or may not do, it already seems determined to repeat the mistakes every administration, Labour and Conservative, has made in Ireland since the 1960s. As with much of the rest of New Labour policy, few of the specifics are . . . read more
Interpreting the New Left: Pitfalls and Opportunities
Interpretation of the New Left raises a number of tricky historical and hermeneutical issues for the contemporary commentator. This current has always challenged conventional demarcations between intellectual matters and political life, and has experimented with different kinds of theoretical argument and political project. Accordingly, the New Left does . . . read more
New Labour: Old Tory Writ Large?
In the reign of Charles I, the new religious group of the Arminians, enjoying royal favour, appeared to be carrying all before them while people did not yet know what they believed. An aspiring politician asked a clerical friend what the Arminians held, and got the reply: ‘all . . . read more
Labour Governments: Old Constraints and New Parameters
It is good to be able to explore again the pattern of constraints likely to beset a Labour Government. For a long time now, such concerns have been definitely off our collective agendas because of the string of heavy electoral defeats for Labour. The bulk of the read more
Reply to Dorothy Thompson and Fred Inglis
What initially inspired me to study the British New Left was not just an awareness of the intellectual importance and political urgency of its legacy, but a curious attraction to its charismatic personalities. As a matter of fact, and understandably since he was personally involved, Gareth Stedman Jones . . . read more
Building Societies: Stakeholding in Practice and Under Threat
In the beginning, building societies were invented by ordinary workers as democratic self-help organizations. The industrial revolution of the late eighteenth century brought a flood of workers into the cities—most of these to live in appalling conditions and at the mercy of their landlord and employer. The idea . . . read more
Supply Side Socialism: The Political Economy of New Labour
Over-arching concepts, like the stakeholder economy, have their value both in determining the ground upon which political debate takes place and broadening the basis of support for the party which successfully employs them. There is considerable electoral virtue in a concept open to disparate interpretations and satisfying a . . . read more
The Politics of Animal Rights - Where is the Left?
At the beginning of 1995, in the midst of a generalized governmental crisis, with accusations of ‘sleaze’ and corruption in high places, historically high levels of unemployment, fears about the commercialization of the health service and unprecedented government unpopularity, the political system was suddenly rocked by an explosion . . . read more
On the Trail of the New Left
The politics of the non-aligned Left of the years 1956–1962 have become fashionable of late. Two at least of the writers who were prominent in the journals of the time have published memoirs, and at least two more are in the pipeline. Clancy Segal has published two romans . . . read more
Introduction: Revisiting the New Left
The publication of several books about the New Left has triggered a querulous chorus from the broadsheet press. Despite the contemporary resonance of the watchwords of the New Left—culture and community, participatory democracy, mobile privatization—it is felt to be part of the old world. read more
Reviewing a Life. Fred Inglis’s Biography of Raymond Williams
The publication of a first biography of Raymond Williams was bound to be a significant event for anyone touched by his work and yet now, in a period of immense uncertainty, doubtful of its enduring value and political resonance. Michel Foucault died of aids in 1984 and . . . read more
The Figures of Dissent
Like many of the subscribers to this journal, I have bought it since it first came out. For many years, of course, the latest number has arrived in its tidy polythene wrapper through the post but, in 1960, just having left Cambridge and fired by David Holbrook and . . . read more
The Crisis of Conservatism
The Conservative Party has always been one of the great certainties of British politics. It has been so dominant throughout the twentieth century that some observers have begun to speak of this period as the ‘Conservative Century’. Between 1945 and 1995, the Conservatives formed majority governments for thirty-two . . . read more
Persuasion and Conformity: An Assessment of the Borrie Report on Social Justice
The Labour Party is recasting its policies on the welfare state and one substantial contribution to its thinking is the Report of its Commission on Social Justice. What informed the Commission’s approach? Without saying as much, they appear to have been governed by the belief that to win . . . read more
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 . . . read more
Ireland and the NLR
The nlr’s record of publication on Ireland is indeed a patchy one, though not as lacking in substance as is claimed by Sam Porter and Denis O’Hearn. We should certainly have published much more than we did over the last twenty-five years, but what we did publish . . . read more
The Suffrage Campaign
Catherine Hall’s article on the circumstances surrounding the 1867 Reform Act (nlr 208) could not, as your editorial notes, be more relevant to political debate today. It is truly a history of the present day. As Hall suggests, the issues of race, class and gender which are . . . read more
Reply to Porter and O'Hearn
Sam Porter and Denis O’Hearn (hereafter poh) accuse us of radically misrepresenting the current situation in Ireland in the interests of sectarian Ulster unionism and British imperialism. They claim that our explicit and implicit agenda is the maintenance of the union of Northern Ireland with Britain, and . . . read more
Rethinking Imperial Histories: The Reform Act of 1867
In Birmingham, Britain’s second city, the Art Gallery celebrates the civic heritage of a place which became rich in the nineteenth century. The gallery itself is a beautiful Victorian building. It was a part of the new town centre designed by Joseph Chamberlain, at that time the Liberal . . . read more
The Fall of the House of Windsor
When Charter 88 was founded, six years ago, the issue of the monarchy was conspicuously absent from the programme of political and constitutional reform which it put forward. The omission was deliberate and could hardly have been otherwise. To embark on a campaign to modernize the archaic but . . . read more
Conflict Probable or Inevitable?
Tudor and Stuart historians have got back into the habit of writing very big books. Thus in the past two years, Kevin Sharpe’s The Personal Rule of Charles I took a thousand pages to present an apologia for Charles I’s Personal Rule, Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the . . . read more
Back to Socialist Basics
On 24 November 1993, a meeting of Left intellectuals occurred in London, under the auspices of the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr), which is a Labour-leaning think-tank. A short document was circulated in advance of the said meeting, to clarify its purpose. Among other things, the . . . read more
A New Social Interpretation
In this coherent, sophisticated and intellectually compelling book, Robert Brenner provides an important reformulation of the Marxist interpretation of the English Revolution of the mid seventeenth century. Few scholars will fail to be impressed by his mastery of the vast secondary literature on this subject, as well as . . . read more
England’s Transition to Capitalism
Robert Brenner’s formidable reputation as one of the leading Marxist historians of his generation has rested till now on a series of bold interpretive essays in which he has sought to develop a distinct account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Chief among these are two articles, . . . read more
Second-Hand Dealers in Ideas: Think-Tanks and Thatcherite Hegemony
[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the . . . read more
Folk Devils Fight Back
The current set of moral panics being orchestrated by the Conservative government surfaced early in February 1993 with the death of two-year-old James Bulger. The flurry of debate which followed revolved around the breakdown of the family, the growth of crimes committed by children, and the powerlessness of . . . read more
Anti-Hegemony: The Legacy of William Blake
This has been a long, and perhaps strange, way into William Blake. On one matter I am impenitent. Blake can’t have dreamed up a whole vocabulary of symbolism, which touches at so many points the traditions which I have discussed, for himself ab novo. Nor can he have . . . read more
Edward Thompson and the New Left
The death of Edward Thompson on 28 August takes from us the most eloquent voice on the British Left, a historian who transformed his craft, a writer of some of the best English prose of the twentieth century, a thinker who knew that ideas were not a world . . . read more
Harold Laski: An Exemplary Public Intellectual
Before proceeding with this review, I should, as they say, declare an interest. I came to know Harold Laski as a student at the London School of Economics (then evacuated in Cambridge) between 1941 and 1943; and I was fairly close to him after I came back to . . . read more
The Sole Survivor
This Review is two hundred issues old. All sorts of things can be hung on commemorative hooks, and one of them is rueful retrospect. About five crises ago I found myself before an audience of us academics, trying to persuade them that a National Government would be . . . read more
The Personal and the Political
Sheila Rowbotham: Your new book, Outsiders, suggests to me a general feature of your work—an awareness of class as a general feature of society but also of the cultural nuances which bind or separate people into or between classes. Was there something in your family background which . . . read more
The Entrails of Thatcherism
Margaret Thatcher was leader of the Conservative party for almost sixteen years and Prime Minister for eleven years. Under her leadership the Conservatives won three general elections and re-established themselves as the dominant party in the British state, while Labour declined to its interwar level of support. It . . . read more
The Question of Electoral Reform
Representative government in the United Kingdom has a very special character with respect to that elsewhere in Western Europe. In the first place, the British House of Commons at Westminster is the only parliament in Western Europe which neither now nor in the recent past has been elected . . . read more
Toward a More Representative Voting System: The Plant Report
Reform of the British electoral system has been much discussed in recent years. It is advocated by all centre parties—by the present Liberal Democrat Party, by its predecessors the Liberal and the Social Democrat Parties, and by the Green Party as well. The Labour Party, as a body, . . . read more
Citizenship and Charter 88
The great written constitutions, from which the idea of constitutional reform unavoidably borrows some of its aura, have set out to redefine the fundamental relationships of citizens, society and government as these were perceived at the time of their writing. The American Declaration of Independence asserted the rights . . . read more
The Autonomy of Scottish Politics
The Scottish Assembly referendum in 1979 took place in the context of intense political divisions. All sections of the labour movement were divided on the issue, and particularly in local government where many local councillors supported the ‘No’ campaign. The Scottish National Party was divided: although official policy . . . read more
The Ruins of Westminster
Britain, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as it is still officially known, resembles an ungainly, dilapidated, half-refurbished Victorian pile threatened by the simultaneous onslaught of subsidence, storm damage, woodworm and dry rot. This year brings an election that could be dangerously inconclusive and . . . read more
What Did I Do During Thatcherism?
For all the moral claptrap, Thatcherism entered my personal life by way of a temptation or bribe. In 1982 I was grinding away at an academic career. I had been at it since the early sixties and, like most of my colleagues, was gasping for early retirement. To . . . read more
The Case for Dismantling the Secret State
smear, which describes in meticulous detail the activities of the security services, over many years, in seeking to discredit and destroy the Left in British politics, and Harold Wilson in particular, is by far the most important book that has been published on this subject. It . . . read more
A Reply to David Edgerton
In his article ‘Liberal Militarism and the British State’ (nlr 185, January–February 1991), David Edgerton questions certain facts, calculations or interpretations of mine in my book The Audit of War about the British aircraft industry between the wars and during the Second World War. Let me take . . . read more
Liberal Militarism and the British State
The British contribution to the Gulf war, the Cold War rhetoric of Margaret Thatcher, and the fresh memory of the Falklands war remind us of the military propensities of the British state. Yet Britain has not had conscription since the fifties, its generals keep out of political life, . . . read more