The hustings have started, mad hysteria’s set-in, battle mode’s engaged. It is now election year.
On May 6 the general election will take place in the United Kingdom against an extraordinary political background. Britain’s two-party system is dying: the Conservative and Labour vote is declining, while the Liberal Democrats look set to collapse, with UKIP, the SNP, and the Greens all looking to gain.
Below is a selection of new and recently published books exploring some of the key issues surrounding the election – from the NHS and immigration, to the EU and social mobility – and political biographies bringing to life some of the more remarkable episodes of Britain’s political past.
Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics, edited by Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst
The dominant political and capitalistic system has come under close scrutiny; and the 2008 financial crash has cast serious doubt on the economic and social liberalism of both Thatcherism and Blairism. The Blue Labour movement addresses the fact that neither nationalisation nor privatisation has delivered lasting prosperity or stability. Critiquing the dominance in Britain of a social-cultural liberalism associated with the left and a free-market liberalism linked to the right, Blue Labour blends a ‘progressive’ commitment to greater economic equality with a more ‘conservative’ disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality
Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe by Denis MacShane
Will Britain leave the EU? In recent months, commentators have begun to talk seriously about the possibility of ‘Brexit’ – British Exit from the EU. In this book, former Europe minister Denis MacShane looks at the history of Britain’s fraught relationship with Europe and shows how the possibility of Brexit has become increasingly more likely. McShane looks at the key personalities who shaped our European policy – from Churchill to Heath and Wilson to Thatcher, Blair and Cameron – and the key issues of immigration, the economy and media influence which have heightened Eurosceptic feeling in the UK.
Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds
Aneurin – Nye – Bevan was one of the pivotal Labour figures of the post-war era. As Minister for Health in Attlee’s government, his role in the foundation of the NHS, the world’s largest publically-funded health service and the centre-piece of the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, changed the face of British society forever. Drawing on first-hand interviews as well as recently released sources, Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds provides the first full-life biography of Bevan in over two decades, from his birth in Tredegar in the South Wales Valleys in 1897 to his death from stomach cancer at the age of 62 in 1960.
‘offers a genuine understanding of Bevan’s political philosophy, of how his democratic socialism differed from the state-imposed model of the communists who were his sparring partners in his home town of Tredegar…[Bevan] is well served by this closely argued political biography.’
Jad Adams, Independent
Left Without a Future?: Social Justice in Anxious Times by Anthony Painter
The roots of the recent financial crisis can be found in the substantial changes which have affected British economy and society over the last three decades. In economic terms, the UK has transformed from a predominantly industrial nation to one led by services and creative industries, while society has also become less industrial with new class ‘networks’ emerging. The centre-left has always been at its strongest when building new long-term institutions such as the NHS, expanding higher education and establishing the national minimum wage. Anthony Painter here argues that this institution-building tradition is the one to which the left should return.
‘…a very readable and broad political manifesto…[Painter’s] suggestions are both shrewd and intriguing.’
The European Union: An Introduction by Mark Corner
The European Union, what kind of beast is it? The EU is one of the most notoriously complex international organisations. At the heart of the EU debate across Europe are two opposing groups: one aims to devolve more sovereignty to the EU, with the aim of creating a European ‘super-state’ and the other wishes to devolve less, effectively relegating the EU to a mere discussion forum. Focusing on key themes in the union’s development and the debates surrounding future enlargement, this book answers the key questions related to the EU and provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for anyone curious about future of Europe.
The Unknown Lloyd George by Travis L. Crosby
David Lloyd George is widely regarded as one of the most effective British prime ministers of the twentieth century. A dynamic speaker and committed social reformer, he led Britain successfully through the devastation of World War I and had a powerful impact on international politics. Based on extensive research, Travis L. Crosby provides a fresh appraisal of the life of one of Britain’s most conflicted politicians. In the post-war peace treaties, he sought a just, rather than a vengeful, settlement for the defeated powers in an attempt to preserve a peaceful international order.
The Europe Dilemma: Britain and the Drama of EU Integration by Roger Liddle
What is Britain’s future in Europe? This book revisits an old argument but for dramatically new times. The old argument is about Britain’s ‘semi-detachedness’ from Europe and whether that posture could ever change. The new times are the crisis in the Eurozone and its wider impact on the European Union’s future. While logic may point to deeper integration, the politics associated with the EU’s problems make this a significant and possibly insurmountable challenge. Where should Britain stand? What future should Britain want for the EU? And how important is continued membership of the EU for Britain’s future?
‘Liddle provides easily the best explanation in print as to why Blair never joined the euro’
‘Roger Liddle’s excellent account of Britain’s long wrestling match with Brussels… required reading for anyone who wants to look beyond the sloganising in which the debate is most often framed.’
Governing Britain: Power, Politics and the Prime Minister by Patrick Diamond
Number Ten Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are at the apex of power in British government, but relatively little is known about the day to day functioning of these great institutions of state. With an unprecedented level of access, and wide-ranging interviews from former ministers, senior civil servants and political advisers, Patrick Diamond examines the administrative and political machinery serving the Prime Minister, and considers how it evolved from the early years of New Labour to the election of the Coalition Government in 2010.
The Socialist Way: Social Democracy in Contemporary Britain, edited by Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson
In 2010, the Labour Party of Great Britain suffered its worst General Election defeat since the 1930s (with one exception), bringing to an end thirteen years of New Labour government. Since then, the debate over both the legacy of New Labour and the future direction of the party has been widespread, yet so far there has been little consideration from a social democratic perspective. Containing high-profile contributions from journalists, academics, policy-makers and think tanks, The Socialist Way provides new directions for electoral success and argues that there is not a trade-off between power and principle.
‘The Socialist Way is the most intellectually compelling attempt yet to define Ed Milliband’s “one nation” Labour project.’
Patrick Diamond, The New Statesman
‘Free market capitalism is in crisis, but the left remains in an even bigger mess. There’s a desperate need to renew the left, and this book is a crucial contribution to doing just that.’
Europe’s Immigration Challenge: Reconciling Work, Welfare and Mobility, edited by Grete Brochmann and Elena Jurado
As the financial crisis continues to cast its long shadow over Europe, the view that immigrants compete unfairly for jobs and present an unsustainable burden on the European Social Model appears to be gathering support. But at the same time, the ‘right’ type of immigrant has often been perceived as a potential cure for Europe’s sluggish labour markets and ailing welfare systems – especially immigrants who are young, easily employable and who arrive without family. So far, efforts to solve this conundrum have focused on increasing the selectivity of the admissions process. In this book, leading immigration experts question the effectiveness of this approach.
Progressive Politics After the Crash: Governing from the Left, edited by Olaf Cramme, Patrick Diamond and Michael McTernan
Those who hoped the collapse of financial markets would usher in the end of neoliberalism and rehabilitate support for traditional social democratic policies programmes have been disappointed. It is not only the irrationality of markets which is the focus of public discontent, but the inefficiency of states and the inability of elected governments to humanise and control global market capitalism. If it is to win this battle, the centre-left urgently needs a new reform agenda. The essays in this book, drawing on the twin traditions of social liberalism and social democracy, begin to show the way forward.
Attlee: A Life in Politics by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds
Clement Attlee – the man who created the welfare state and decolonised vast swathes of the British Empire, including India – has been acclaimed by many as Britains’ greatest twentieth-century Prime Minister. Yet somehow Attlee the man remains elusive and little known. How did such a moderate, modest man bring about so many enduring changes? What are the secrets of his leadership style? And how do his personal attributes account for both his spectacular successes and his apparent failures? This biography, based on extensive research into Attlee’s papers and first-hand interviews, examines the myths that have arisen around this key figure of British political life.
‘brisk, well-written and admirably clear-sighted biography.’
Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
‘This new biography… goes a long way to explaining the Attlee enigma… the most thoughtful of the various biographies of the Labour leader.’
Ages of Reform: Dawns and Downfalls of the British Left by Kenneth O. Morgan
The British Left has developed a long way since the early days of electoral reform signalled by the Great Reform Act of 1832. In Ages of Reform, Kenneth O. Morgan, one of the foremost historians of left-wing politics, provides a detailed history of the British Left from the Great Reform Act to the rise (and decline) of New Labour. Along the way, he highlights the characters and events that have been pivotal in shaping the development of the Left – from Gladstone and the New Radicalism, to Lloyd George and the Boer War, to Tony Blair and the War in Iraq.
After the Third Way: The Future of Social Democracy in Europe, edited by Olaf Cramme and Patrick Diamond
The social democratic parties were once the strongest political forces in Europe. Today, however, they appear disorientated and rudderless, crucially lacking the ideological, intellectual and organisational vitality which underpinned their strength in the post-war political landscape. Electorally marginalised, seemingly ideologically exhausted and often out-of-step with the contemporary zeitgeist, European social democracy is currently in profound need of revision and renewal After the Third Way marks a serious attempt to forge the intellectual backbone of a renewed social democracy fit for the twenty-first century.
‘…a stimulating book that contains many perceptive observations.’
Tony Barber, Financial Times