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Communication Studies


The rise of Tony Blair and “New Labour” has generally been understood as the result of the 18-year-long hegemony of Conservative Party rule under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, from 1979 until 1997, wherein the Labour Party was forced to make fundamental changes to its program and values, ditching shibboleths and apparently “unpopular” policies, to make itself again electable. This process, however, involved deepening divisions within the party until the defeat of the Labour Left and the rise of “New Labour.” The latter’s takeover of the Labour Party could not have happened without the abandonment or modification of its traditional policies. It was the debate launched over the significance of Labour’s loss of the general election in June 1983, the second out of four successive electoral defeats between 1979 and 1992, which became the fulcrum of division across the Left, and not just within the Labour Party. It is from this particular historical conjuncture that we can see the opening up of what would become the path towards New Labour as the debate led to the “rethinking” and “realignment” of the Left and the abandonment of many of the traditional objectives of “Old Labour.” The debate brought out intense struggles within both the Labour and Communist parties, and their subsequent loss of thousands of members. It is the process, however, which has not been understood and the role of individuals who have contributed to that process: Eric Hobsbawm and the rhetoric of “realistic Marxism.”


This article was originally published in Labour/Le Travail, 56: 175-197