The rightward shift in left parties since the 1960s

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

All the Western nations have been shifting to the right since the mid 1960s. I plan to write more about this later. I’ll post this as an example, in this case, the rightward shift among the Labour party in Britain.

The former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell failed in his attempt to implement Crosland’s message by abolishing Clause IV of the Labour Party’s constitution, which pledged it to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. But Gaitskell’s successor, Harold Wilson, brilliantly repositioned Labour as the party of economic growth, of science and of the upwardly-mobile professionals, as against the Conservatives who had produced “13 wasted years”.

“Economic growth,” Wilson said in 1963, “sets the pace at which Labour can build the fair and just society which we want to see.” Economic growth would be achieved by Keynesian demand management in the context of a medium-term plan for growth.

However, Labour desire to make itself seem more orthodox than the Conservatives led to the biggest mistake of Wilson’s premiership, the failure to devalue the pound in 1964. In a remarkable pre-run of George Osborne’s austerity, it caused three years of stagnation and a lower growth rate over the six years of Labour government, from 1964 to 1970, than that achieved by the Conservatives. Labour was then left to pick up the pieces of the Conservatives’ mismanagement of the economy between 1970 and 1974, before being swept away by Margaret Thatcher and her revolution. James Callaghan sounded the funeral note of the social democratic era when he declared in 1976: “We used to think that you can spend your way out of recession… I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that insofar as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment.”

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