Narratives of organisational reform in the British Labour Party, 1979-2014

Watts, Jake (2018) Narratives of organisational reform in the British Labour Party, 1979-2014. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

Party organisation is about more than structure and power: it is an important means through which political elites define a party and its political identity. This thesis examines narratives of organisational reform in the British Labour Party between 1979 and 2014, at times of significant debate about methods of leadership election, party governance, processes of policy-making and the union link. When arguing for particular kinds of organisational reform, elites within the Party have constructed different stories in order to contest proposals and present their visions for structural change. In doing so, they have tied together interpretations of Labour’s past, present and future with particular notions of what makes for ‘democratic’ and ‘legitimate’ politics. This temporal and cultural politics lies at the heart of the transformation the Party underwent in this period and underpins the challenges posed to its identity in recent years.

In the course of this thesis, three related arguments are made. First, it is argued that the organisational debates that took place between 1979 and 2014 offer a unique perspective on the complicated and fractious identity politics of the Party as being historically rooted in collectivism or individualism, movement politics or parliamentarism. Second, it is argued that Labour’s elites have increasingly sought to individualise party structures since the decline of the left in the ‘80s. In contrast to other accounts of Labour’s organisation that focus on its structures, this thesis argues that this individualisation was as much about party identity as it was process. Third, this thesis argues that the prolonged debates about Labour’s organisational identity demonstrate how unsettled and divided the Party has been throughout its recent history. The lack of a common sense understanding of the Party's organisational character can help to explain its fractured internal dynamics since its loss in the General Election of 2015.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
Subjects: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN0101 Great Britain
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2018 09:45
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2019 10:04
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/73552

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