Labour and cultural change

This book is the first in the new series The Labour Governments 1964–70 and concentrates on Britain's domestic policy during Harold Wilson's tenure as Prime Minister. It deals, in particular, with how the Labour government and Labour party as a whole tried to come to terms with the 1960's cultural revolution. The book is grounded in original research, takes account of responses from Labour's grass roots and from Wilson's ministerial colleagues, and constructs a total history of the party at this critical moment in history. It situates Labour in its wider cultural context and focuses on how the party approached issues such as the apparent transformation of the class structure, the changing place of women in society, rising immigration, the widening generation gap, and increasing calls for direct participation in politics. Together with the other volumes in the series, on international policy and economic policy, the book provides an insight into the development of Britain under Harold Wilson's government.

Open Access (free)
Cultural and political change in 1960s Britain

This chapter clarifies and contextualises issues that are investigated in greater depth later and outlines the author's approach to the subject. This book examines the nature of Labour's response during the 1964–70 governments led by Harold Wilson. Yet, while a work of history, it views its subject with one eye on the debate that began in the 1990s regarding how parties should react to what was believed to be another period of flux. By establishing how Labour thought and acted during the 1960s, it aims to put into perspective certain issues currently preoccupying those interested in the viability of representative politics. This chapter establishes that cultural change provoked contrasting, and often flawed, readings. Given that contemporaries necessarily lacked the benefit of hindsight, they sometimes questioned the existence of what would later be thought critical trends — and occasionally exaggerated the importance of what would subsequently prove to be fads.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1

This chapter sets the scene by outlining the nature of Labour Party culture at the start of the 1960s. It establishes the institutional context for Labour's response to cultural change. It surveys the character of the party's organisation and the nature of its membership on the verge of the 1960s, and in particular highlights the activities and assumptions of those most responsible for the party's well-being. It also examines Labour's organisational structure and identifies some of the issues to which it gave rise.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1
Open Access (free)

This chapter analyses the contrasting ways in which members understood post-war affluence, to establish the ideological and organisational state in which the party entered office in 1964. It examines the development of Labour strategy between 1959 and 1966 and highlights the debate it provoked, as this revealed how members thought their party should best respond to change. Hugh Gaitskell and his successor assumed — just like many other contemporaries — that rising incomes had restructured society and that popular political attitudes had changed in step. As a consequence, they believed Labour had to reform itself, in particular, how it communicated with key parts of the electorate: less stress was placed on the need to alter the party's organisation and policies. How far this approach contributed to Labour's 1964 and 1966 victories is moot.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1
Open Access (free)

This chapter looks at the key issue of class and how Labour attempted to reconcile those differences said to have survived into the ‘affluent society’. It highlights the underlying reasons why the party embraced the policies it did. At the time of leaving office, Wilson's governments had made only a negligible impression on secondary education and industrial democracy. The failure to reform private education largely followed from the Cabinet's reluctance to confront the numerous practical and political problems raised by the issue at a time when Labour was already deeply unpopular. No progress towards even the most modest forms of worker participation had been made as Labour ministers emptied their desks.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1
Open Access (free)

This chapter highlights Labour's attempts to draw younger women into the party and how it handled the issue of equal pay once in power. It first outlines the place of women in the party at the start of the 1960s, to locate subsequent events in their proper context. It focuses on Labour's response to women's changing place in society by looking at how officials promoted a variety of organisational reforms designed to increase the number of younger female members. The chapter then discusses Labour's efforts to come to terms with the perceived need to address gender inequality in the later part of the decade. Labour's women activists were in other respects broadly content with the party's emphases. Furthermore, Labour's women also blamed members of their own sex as much as or more than men for inequalities feminists would subsequently deem to be the result of ‘patriarchy’.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1

This chapter takes up the issue of black immigration and establishes the party's dilemma, given both its commitment to integration and its need to retain the support of prejudiced white voters. Many Labour members thought the growing presence of black immigrants in Britain's towns and cities was problematic. Moreover, the presumed dire electoral implications of rising numbers of black people encouraged party leaders to support controls to appease prejudice. However, consistent with Labour's commitment to equality, ministers also promoted measures that challenged white opinion, while some activists and officials enthusiastically advanced the policy of integration. Overall, however, black immigration was an issue Labour was ill prepared to address and one many wished would disappear as quickly as possible.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1

This chapter looks at the implications of the ‘generation gap’ for Labour and how members tried to bridge it. The party's various attempts to evoke a positive response among the young were usually based on a desire to engage with what was generally thought to be their interests. Before the 1959 general election, Labour established a Youth Commission, composed of progressive celebrities of the day like the footballer Jimmy Hill, which drafted proposals to meet the changing needs of the young. If this was principally meant to create favourable publicity, the creation of the Young Socialists in 1960 and the government's reduction of the voting age were more substantive initiatives.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1

This chapter assesses the Labour Party's response to calls for more direct political participation. First, it examines Labour's historical attitude to the subject. It then outlines how ministers responded to its emergence as a live issue during the late 1960s, and in particular highlights Judith Hart's thinking, as she was the minister briefly in charge of the matter. The chapter then looks at those areas where increasing participation was at least discussed, such as planning, devolution, and community development. The chapter finally turns to the matter of participation within the Labour Party itself.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1
Open Access (free)
The 1970 general election

This chapter establishes how the Labour Party approached the 1970 general election and why members responded in the way they did to Labour's decisive rejection by the electorate. The party's failure to secure re-election suggests that it had not adequately come to terms with at least some of the cultural changes fostered by the ‘Golden Age’. The picture was, however, not universally bleak. With that proposition in mind, this chapter reviews how the party approached the 1970 campaign, assesses the result and accounts for Labour's response, one that set it down a path that led to the wilderness years of the 1980s.

in The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1