Lessons on pluralism?

Published by Polity

Duncan Bowie on a political retrospective

A Century of Labour – Jon Cruddas

Cruddas has been MP for Dagenham and Rainham since 2001, having previously worked for the Labour Party and subsequently for Blair at 10 Downing Street. He has announced that he is standing down at the next election. This book is being published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the formation of the first Labour government in January 1924. It is Cruddas’ reflection on the past and future of Labour government.

Seeing himself as more of a political thinker than a historian, Cruddas focuses on the role of Labour governments in relation to ‘justice’, seen as three  facets – welfare (from the utilitarian perspective adopted by the Fabian society); the notion of  “freedom” (as promoted by Magna Carta, the Levellers,  Chartists, John Rawls, Roy Jenkins and Charter 88 – a rather odd selection); Thirdly,  “virtue” as advocated by ethical socialists and the early Independent Labour Party. William Morris and John Ruskin are also referenced, together with the Labour church, R H Tawney, John Smith, theorists such as Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, Alasdair Macintyre, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and ‘Blue Labour’ (again a rather diverse collection with which Cruddas identifies).

Cruddas then discusses the approaches of successive Labour leaders from Keir Hardie to Keir Starmer, concluding that the current Keir appears to lack any perspective on ’justice’ or the Labour tradition, in its various varieties. This is a rather sad and depressing book. Cruddas is not very hopeful that Starmer will seek to recognise, never mind reclaim, Labour’s radical tradition.  Otherwise in Cruddas’ view, any Labour victory at a forthcoming general election, will be wasted. Cruddas however by focusing on leadership rather discounts the role of the Labour Party membership and the wider labour movement including trade unions. The images in the book are the fifteen parliamentary leaders since Hardie. This is a very top-down approach to Labour’s history, and certainly contrasts with his previous book on the Dignity of Labour, which led to a constructive debate within the columns of Chartist.


  1. A useful review and perhaps a warning of the dangers of “old man misery” in Labour politics.

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