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Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party [Paperback]

Martin Pugh
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 April 2011

Written at a critical juncture in the history of the Labour Party, Speak for Britain! is a thought-provoking and highly original interpretation of the party's evolution, from its trade union origins to its status as a national governing party. It charts Labour's rise to power by re-examining the impact of the First World War, the general strike of 1926, Labour's breakthrough at the 1945 general election, the influence of post-war affluence and consumerism on the fortunes and character of the party, and its revival after the defeats of the Thatcher era.

Controversially, Pugh argues that Labour never entirely succeeded in becoming 'the party of the working class'; many of its influential recruits - from Oswald Mosley to Hugh Gaitskell to Tony Blair - were from middle and upper-class Conservative backgrounds and rather than converting the working class to socialism, Labour adapted itself to local and regional political cultures.

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Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party + The Unfinished Revolution: How New Labour Changed British Politics Forever + Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour
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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099520788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099520788
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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"Excellent and provocative new history" (John Campbell Mail on Sunday)

"An admirable model of how political history should be written" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Overall the book is... spliced with incisive arguments and interspersed with challenging verdicts on Labour's evolution... This ambitious Labour history could well become compulsory reading for future party leaders" (John Shepherd History Today)

"A startlingly revisionist book... The most provocative and clear-eyed history of the party yet... It is a tribute to Pugh's scholarship that almost everybody will learn something new from this thoughtful book" (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

"A stimulating survey" (Kenneth O'Morgan Literary Review)

Book Description

An original and challenging interpretation of the Labour Party's evolution.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of Labour history 5 Jun 2011
By Ross
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Previously possessing only a rough knowledge of Labour Party history, I found Pugh's book an excellent one which explored the development of the movement from its inception from the late Victorian period through to just before Brown's 2010 defeat. Word for word, the book tends to afford greater coverage to the first half of Labour history: this suited me as I am (probably like most people) stronger on post-WWII Labour Party history.

An enduring theme throughout the book is the tension between Labour's patriotic, semi-capitalist conservatism and more radical socialistic impulses. What is striking is how throughout Labour's history it has effectively embraced the former. The party of the last decade or so chimes with this historical trend in its embrace of the capitalist model.

One of the noticeable features of the book for me is Pugh's relatively cursory treatment of the party in the past decade or two. Does this simple fact simply reflect how little there really is to say about the modern Labour Party in terms of distinctive policies and ideas? As for Blair, Pugh cleverly attempts to understand him through a brief examination of his father Leo. What emerges is a slighly muddled, very conservative polictial opportunist. Fascinating.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Labour revealed. 26 April 2011
By Dalgety
At a time when the long term future of the Labour Party is in some doubt- this is a timely , well- written book- scholarly yet accesible to the general reader.I particularly liked the research the author had done on local Labour parties. He shows clearly that during the fevered Bevanite split of the 1950s- much of this took place in the hot-house atmosphere of Westminster and the media and that on the ground the Labour Party remained much more united and stronger than it was given credit for.
Pugh also turns the conventional wisdom about previous Labour figures on its head.He argues (correctly ,I think, in each case)-that
-Attlee was overrated as a leader- a good administrator in government but a poor politician.He badly bungled the dates for the 1950 and 1951 elections and condemned Labour to 13 years in opposition.
that Herbert Morrison is an under-rated figure- who built Labours local base in London in the 1930s and if he had been PM would have timed the 1950 election correctly.
- Harold Wilson was a far better leader than Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell was politically inept and would have lost the 1964 election ,which Wilson narrowly won.
-Jim Callaghan was a dud from the start and his government would have ended badly whatever happened.
Pughs verdict on Blair and Brown is scathing and richly deserved
An up-date on the 2010 election analyses the result and asseses the chance of a Labour recovery- lets hope we can have a new edition where Pugh looks at Ed Millibands election and his leadership!
This book is highly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good history, with a poor ending 3 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed the first 13 chapters of this book, particularly as it offers a new perspective of the Labour Party as not only the heirs of the Liberal Party, but also of the Conservative Party. Pugh spends most of this book pointing out that Labour have been electorally successful only when combining socialism with Tory patriotism. This was reinforced by many Labourites being conservative, but also former Conservatives.

Yet, when he gets to his final chapter on New Labour and Tony Blair, Pugh does not follow this through. Rather, he criticises Blair for his conservatism. He treats Blair as an aberration rather than, as his own analysis should suggest, a major continuity with Labour's past. It is extraordinary that he criticises David Blunket's time as home secretary, when the latter'svconcern for crime, which majorly affects working class communities, is consistent with an authoritarian streak running throughout Labour history. Furthermore, Pugh bemoans Blair's Victorian moralism, whilst simultaneously claiming that Roy Jenkin's liberalism was a rarity for the party! Whilst Pugh is right to criticise the severity of New Labour's anti-crime agenda, it fits perfectly with this notion that the working classes are themselves quite authoritarian, patriotic and anti-immigration. A point which Pugh hammers home in the early chapters of his history. This was exactly the agenda New Labour pursued when in power, and the kind of Toryism which Pugh identifies with Labour from its inception. Pugh fails to apply this analysis to New Labour.

So what of the socialist part of Tory Socialism? Pugh largely ignores this too. He is right to bemoan New Labour's economic policy as one which aped Thatcherism, and that its own intellectual coffers were empty by the time it gained power.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise, pithy, and insightful 30 Mar 2013
By Guy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Pugh is pretty clear in his Preface that many Labour Party insiders were never going to like his account, but having read it, I suspect that's because the truth hurts. He's a smart commentator who dutifully covers the whole history of the party, and is willing to do the number crunching of election results and membership numbers necessary to give a balanced account, but also really tries to pull out some continuities and surprising characteristics of the organisation.

In particular, he shows how there has always been a tension between socialist and conservative (with a small 'c') elements in the party, and how this tension has effected issues like foreign policy, equal opportunities, and economic policy. Pugh skewers the party for being unwilling or intellectually unable to offer any alternative to Thatcherite economics from the late-'80s onwards. He also demonstrates a tendency for the Party to pick the wrong leaders at the wrong times, and illustrates repeatedly how the Parliamentary Party has always been a very different beast to the grass roots membership.

As well as this ability to pull out broad themes, Pugh's attention to the personal characteristics of various Labour figures is where the book really excels. He's great on the origins of the organisation in the Edwardian era and the sometimes quite unconventional attitudes of Hardie and MacDonald, and very good at untangling the disputes and infighting of the '70s and '80s, giving sharp pen portraits of politicians like Harold Wilson, Michael Foot, and Tony Benn along the way. This is brought to life by fantastically chosen quotes. My copy ended up full of pencil underlinings.

Much of the criticism of the book has focussed on his account of more recent times.
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