Social democrats must revisit their past if they are to be part of Labour's future

08 Jun 2018 12:45:15.503

PA 120/18

Social democrats must rediscover their principled purpose if they are ever to recover their position in the Labour party according to a University of Nottingham Professor.

Professor Steve Fielding, an expert in Political History, made the claims in a paper published in Policy Network.

The paper outlines the history and ideology of social democrats and advises they must embrace the more robust vision of social democracy outlined by Anthony Crosland more than 40-years-ago.

Click here for full story

It explains that the main purpose of post-war social democrats was to create a more equal society within capitalism. But as capitalism changed in the 1970s many retreated from prioritizing equality.

From being critical friends of capitalism many became its advocates and a watered-down version of social democracy helped shape the New Labour government.

It explains that the achievements of the Blair-Brown years have been washed away amid the banking crisis and the austerity that followed, with many social democrats having a fear of being seen as anti-business.

Professor Fielding said that since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader in 2015, Labour’s social democrats have worked through all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and now acceptance.

He said: “Assailed across Twitter and Facebook by a high-profile boy band of bragging Corbynistas, no wonder Labour’s parliamentary social democrats are punch drunk. If they are to have any hope of clambering back into the ring they need to reflect on why so many think they are out for the count. They also require an argument to win back Labour members who currently see the semi-mythical figure many simply call ‘Jeremy’ as a saviour.”

Professor Fielding said that social democrats can claim credit for most of Labour’s achievements in office but also need to accept that the party’s failures in power are also theirs. He said that history contributed to the creation of Corbynism as a reaction to social democrats’ reluctance to live up to their own defining principles.

The paper advises social democrats to; “lift their sights to the horizon” and prepare for the outcome of the next general election which, according to Professor Fielding, could be after Brexit in the spring of 2019.

He said: “To advance into the future they need to rediscover and publically assert the unique value of the Labour tradition of which they are part. They should angrily reject the terms ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ when applied to them and stop referring to themselves as progressives.”

He advises revisiting the ambitions of Anthony Crosland and adapting them for today’s world, asking the party to renew the focus on equality and reframe the party’s ideological framework.

“Until they regain their voice Labour will likely remain a vehicle for the expression its members’ legitimate concerns, but one if unable to form a government with the power to address them”, said Professor Fielding.

“Corbyn’s leadership is a product of social democrats’ failure to live up to their own principles. It is now time they recovered their lost selves and proclaim their continued and revitilised commitment to advancing he interests of the many not the few – not only in principle, but in practice.”

A full copy of the paper can be found here.

— Ends —

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Professor Steven Fielding
in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham at

Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

Email:  Phone:+44 (0)115 74 84 417 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798