Posts Tagged ‘Tony Crosland’

Labour’s new revisionists will lead the revival

31/05/2015, 12:15:20 PM

by Alex White

The Labour Party is ‘travelling in strange country, exposed to climatic rigours it had not anticipated and against which its traditional equipment gave little protection’.

It is a damning indictment of Labour’s comfort zone tendency that Richard Crossman’s contribution to the 1952 New Fabian Essays, which he edited, would make a good summary of the party’s current situation.

Crossman was not a revisionist, but the essays he edited are home to the first serious collection of modern revisionist thought; the tradition which would – by way of a titanic struggle between Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan – find its strongest voice in Anthony Crosland and its strongest actor in Tony Blair.

Labour Kremlinologists and historians with an eye on the symbolism of Gaitskell versus Bevan may attempt to see something similar in the battle between Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall. It is no coincidence that Kendall’s ‘what matters is what works’ line is the most articulate understanding of revisionism since Crosland’s writing on the distinction between ends and means.

A revisionist has one purpose: rethink the role of the state (the means) to build a more equal society (the ends).

To call this Tory-lite is a lazy attack with an even lazier understanding of Labour history, with the disastrous consequence of surrendering ground to the Conservatives. As Adrian McMenamin highlighted recently on Uncut, revisionism is a movement far wider and richer in history than those who use the Blairite label as an insult understand. It found its way to the 21st century from Eduard Bernstein’s repudiation of Karl Marx and R.H Tawney’s seminal text on equality, via the brave but unfulfilled leaderships of Gaitskell and Neil Kinnock.

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Back to the future with GDH Cole

07/02/2013, 04:44:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

How much left the room when GDH Cole stormed out of a Fabian executive meeting in 1915? More than you might imagine.

James M. Buchanan was born a few years prior to Cole’s exit and died last month. He tends to be celebrated by right-wingers, enamoured with a small-state, as his work on public choice theory supports scepticism in big government. Unlike Cole, such right-wingers have never been inspired to socialism by reading William Morris. Yet Cole’s doubts about the central state were as vehement as Buchanan’s.

Cole’s was a socialism with as small a central state as possible. Subsequent perceptions have tended to see socialism and the state as so synonymous as to make Cole’s minimal state socialism oxymoronic.

Those who remained in the Fabian executive meeting after Cole had left it would be relaxed about this association. Their aim was to capture the commanding heights of the state through democratic elections and have socialist politicians use the organs of the state to gradually transform society to socialism.

Tony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism (1956), the great revisionist text of post-war Britain, contained some caustic lines about Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the leading exponents of this dominant Fabian view. He mocked them for spending their honeymoon investigating Trade Societies in Dublin. It was their austere methods that he had in mind when he warned that: “Total abstinence and a good filing-system are not now the right signposts to the socialist Utopia: or at least, if they are, some of us will fall by the wayside.”

Crosland liked a drink and was right to put more emphasis on relaxation, fun and culture than the Webbs did: quality of life, in contemporary parlance. And right also to assert that in the blood of the socialist “there should always run a trace of the anarchist and the libertarian, and not too much of the prig and the prude”. This liberalism justified the reforms enacted by Roy Jenkins, another protégé of Hugh Gaitskell, as Home Secretary in the 1960s and distanced Crosland from the Webbs.

But the break made by Crosland with the Webbs was not as decisive as he thought. While being socially much more liberal than the Webbs, his dominant pre-occupation was equality and creating a more equal society through a comprehensive school system. The Bevanites with whom Gaitskellites, like Crosland, quarrelled in the 1950s put more emphasis on nationalisation, rather than equality, as the end of socialism. In so doing, the Bevanites were as attached to the central state and public ownership as the Webbs were.

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Labour needs to choose freedom

25/09/2012, 05:18:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The success of Thatcherism did not lie in the immediate popularity of its programme, but its ability to command the cultural landscape of Britain … The most enduring threat faced by the left is not only to be perceived as an incompetent manager of the economy, but to be out of touch with major cultural advances and the contemporary zeitgeist.”

Roy Hattersley was one leading Labour figure in the 1980s with some sense at the time of the Thatcherite threat identified by Patrick Diamond.

Freedom was coming to mean whatever Margaret Thatcher wanted it to mean: freedom from regulation; freedom from taxation; freedom from any “interference” by the “tentacles” of government.

It was all about freedom from the state and, in terms of Isaiah Berlin’s well-known dichotomy, a wholly negative concept. Taking no account of what individuals were free to do, it lacked any positive content.

The alcoholic may be capable only of begging, steeling and borrowing to their next drink. But, as long as they are unhindered by the “long arm” of government, they are free. And the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose yuppie owes them nothing. They, too, are free and the freedom of all is maximised when the role of government is minimised.

Obviously, a culture that comes to understand an idea as powerful and widely attractive as freedom in such terms is predisposed to policies that are contrary to Labour’s ends. Hattersley appreciated this. As distasteful as the yuppie and as troubling as the alcoholic are, they weren’t directly his target. This was the Thatcherite account of freedom that legitimised their conduct and circumstances. What was necessary was to reconceptualise freedom.

The freedom Hattersley articulated in Choose Freedom (1987) was a Croslandite freedom. This recast freedom in positive terms and aligned it, not with a minimalist state, but with equality: enough equality of opportunity for all to be free to achieve their potential; enough equality of outcome for all to be full social participants. There is such a thing as society and a redistributive, equalising state is needed for all to be free.

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Justice is a living thing: not something set out in a book

19/10/2011, 07:49:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor, recently called the Mormonism of Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, “a cult”. In contrast, Jeffress endorsed Rick Perry, one of Romney’s rivals, as a “real Christian”.

Similarly, fears about a Catholic president were traded upon during John F. Kennedy’s White House run. As religion is a private matter, he retaliated; his religion would have no bearing on his presidential conduct. The philosopher Michael Sandel argues that Kennedy’s response was more than tactical.

“It reflected a public philosophy that would come to full expression during the 1960s and 70s – a philosophy that held that government should be neutral on moral and religious questions, so that each individual could be free to choose his or her own conception of the good life”.

This neutrality was central to John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Forty years on from its publication this remains one of the dominant texts in Anglo-American liberal philosophy. Tony Crosland conceded, shortly before his death in 1977, that the notion of equality advocated by Rawls was the same as that advanced in The Future of Socialism.

The first series of The Hour (a BBC attempt to go HBO about a BBC news show) opened a window on an ancient world. This series was set in the same year, 1956, as The Future of Socialism was published. Yet this book remains an integral part of any Labour thinker’s bookshelf. Given this centrality and the claimed agreement between Crosland and Rawls, it is curious that the communitarian critique of Rawls, led by Sandel, has made minimal impact on Labour thinking. (more…)

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34 years today since his death: Tony Crosland’s challenge to Ed Miliband

19/02/2011, 04:00:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

FOR an intellectual he sure had a potty mouth. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland”.

So said Anthony Crosland, Labour’s greatest education secretary, who was very nearly as good as his word. He lit the touchpaper for the comprehensive revolution in the 1960s, consigning the vile eleven-plus exam to the scrapheap, opening the way for bright kids from ordinary backgrounds to get a rounded schooling.

Until then, three quarters of children who “failed” the eleven-plus were shuffled off to a secondary modern, on the basis of a single examination, so they could spend the next fifty years “working with their hands” like the epsilons in Brave New World.

Today marks the 34th anniversary of Crosland’s untimely death at the age of 59, depriving James Callaghan of a foreign secretary, but robbing Labour of a sane and principled voice who may just have helped the party avoid the intellectual atrophy of the late 1970s and the descent into lunacy of the early 1980s. (more…)

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