The Labour Party and the idea of citizenship, c.1931-1951
This thesis examines the development and articulation of ideas of citizenship by the Labour Party and its sympathizers in academia and the professions. Setting this analysis within the context of key policy debates the study explores how ideas of citizenship shaped critiques of the relationships between central government and local government, voluntary groups and the individual. Present historiographical orthodoxy has skewed our understanding of Labour's attitude to society and the state, overemphasising the collectivist nature and centralising intentions of the Labour party, while underplaying other important ideological trends within the party. In particular, historical analyses which stress the party's commitment from the 1930s to achieving the transition to socialism through a strategy of planning, (of industrial development, production, investment, and so on), have generally concluded that the party based its programme on a centralised, expert-driven state, with control removed from the grasp of the ordinary people. The re-evaluation developed here questions this analysis and, fundamentally, seeks to loosen the almost overwhelming concentration on the mechanisms chosen by the Labour for the implementation of policy. It focuses instead on the discussion of ideas that lay behind these policies and points to the variety of opinions on the meaning and implications of social and economic planning that surfaced in the mid-twentieth century Labour party. In particular, it reveals considerable interest in the development of an active and participatory citizenship among socialist thinkers and politicians, themes which have hitherto largely been seen as missing elements in the ideas of the interwar and immediate postwar Labour party. The chief problem for the interwar and postwar Labour party, the thesis argues, was not blindness to the issue of participation in an age characterised by increasingly complex and large-scale social organisation: on the contrary, this feature of modern living was recognised and policies were framed to address its consequences. The difficulty in achieving the participatory ideal lay more in the complicated interplay of interests in society, in the established structures of government, and in the fact that citizens showed themselves to be more interested in affluence and consumption than in active participation in the civic process, than in a straightforward ideological indifference or antipathy towards wide and decentralised social participation.