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Crossing the floorReg Prentice and the crisis of British social democracy$
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Geoff Horn

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780719088698

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719088698.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Crossing the floor

Geoff Horn

Manchester University Press

This chapter considers Prentice‘s political reputation and the wider significance of his career. His battles with the Left over party policy and internal party democracy foreshadowed the internal battles that afflicted the Labour Party after 1979. He became the most outspoken and uncompromising figure on the Right during the mid-1970s, using his position on Labour‘s frontbench to highlight the increasingly incompatible and dysfunctional nature of the Party‘s Left-Right coalition. Through his political experiences and support for the idea of a breakaway social democratic party, he pre-empted the SDP split of 1981. By taking the controversial decision to defect to the Conservatives, he can also be regarded as a highly instructive political ‘weathervane’, indicative of a rightward shift taking place in British politics by the end of the 1970s. The events surrounding his political transition were symptomatic of the breakdown of the post-war consensus, the weakness of Labour‘s moderate social democratic tradition, and the opportunity that the crisis of social democracy provided for the triumph of Thatcherism.

Keywords:   Labour Party, SDP, post-war consensus, social democracy

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