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History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politicsPast politics and present histories$
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Emily Robinson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780719086311

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719086311.001.0001

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Negotiations with Labour's Past: The SDP and New Labour

Negotiations with Labour's Past: The SDP and New Labour

(p.122) 4 Negotiations with Labour's Past: The SDP and New Labour
History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politics

Emily Robinson

Manchester University Press

Both the SDP and New Labour were defined by their novelty and the extent to which they broke with the past, However, this chapter shows that both also presented themselves as reclaiming ‘true’ history in opposition to politicized myth and nostalgia. During the debates about rewriting Clause IV, Blair used the traditional view of Labour as a party in thrall to its past in order to dismiss his opponents as nostalgic and sentimental. Yet he also invoked the narrative of an historic ‘progressive alliance’ between social democracy and new liberalism as a means of presenting himself as the guardian of an older and therefore seemingly more authentic tradition within Labour's history. This narrative of a ‘progressive alliance’ had already been used by the SDP, especially during its merger with the Liberal party. For the SDP's founders, this was a crucial way of maintaining a sense of personal and political continuity, of demonstrating that they remained loyal to the spirit and traditions of the party they had abandoned.

Keywords:   Labour Party, New Labour, Clause IV, SDP, Liberal Party, Tony Blair, Hugh Gaitskell, Progressive Alliance

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