S the Labour party begins renewing itself in opposition,attention inevitably turns to Labour’s history – and,specically, previous episodes of Labour renewal. Of particularinterest is ‘revisionism’, associated with the Gaitskellites of thes and frequently cited by the New Labour modernisers of the s and s as an inspiration.Revisionism’s inuence lies less in any particular policy prescriptions (policies right for the society of the s or even thes are unlikely to be right for the society of the s) than inits method. Tony Crosland’s Future of Socialism is the classic text,from which two relevant lessons emerge. The rst is the dangerof conating ‘means and ends’ or, as we might put it, policies andprinciples. This trap is best avoided by beginning any period of renewal with a simple question: what is the ‘end’ – the fundamentalobjective – of the Labour party? Answering this question is notstraightforward: though Crosland and New Labour both saw theparty’s fundamental objective as ‘equality of opportunity’, whatthose original revisionists and New Labour understood by thisconcept was in reality very different. Yet only by dening the endsof Labour circa , can we begin to will the means.The second revisionist lesson is the importance of studyingthe society in which we live. Revisionists saw the world ascomplex and rapidly changing; as such, they understoodthat politicians were always running to stand still inidentifying social change. The revisionist answer to thisperennial problem was a deep and continuing engagementwith Britain’s leading economists, sociologists, and socialscientists. To absorb the latest social science, and reecton its implications for politics, was to equip Labour with ananalysis of social change – one against which to measure theinstincts and intuitions that politicians inevitably bring topolicy development.The policy review announced by Ed Miliband and headed by Liam Byrne is therefore welcome. It offers a vehicle for analysinghow Britain’s economy and society have changed since ; itoffers a chance to engage with the electorate and assess whatwe got right in government, what we got wrong, and how thetectonic plates of social change shifted under our feet duringLabour’s years in government.Support ebbed away after the superb election result.But it was the further erosion of support after which wasdecisive. Political scientists suggest that after the collapseof Labour’s vote was above all else a collapse in support amongthe skilled working class Cs and Cs. This collapse began in and was driven by rising unemployment and asqueeze in living standards.
The past can serve as a guide for our future, but Labour’s latestbout of revisionism must engage with society as it evolves, writes
What lessonscan we learn fromthe revisionism of Tony Crosland,Hugh Gaitskell andTony Blair?