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The British Constitution and the Structure of the Labour Party

  • Gerhard Loewenberg (a1)

Extract

The British Labour Party defies the classifications which students of the structure of political parties have developed. By its historical origin and its formal organization it would seem to be a mass party in the sense that Duverger and others have used that term. But it has also exhibited, notably since 1945, the characteristics of a traditional parliamentary party, denying its mass membership power and influence and allowing its parliamentary leaders the exercise of full authority. Yet in the nineteen-thirties there was evidence that the Labour Party was developing all the characteristics of a mass party, doctrinaire in its program, unreconciled to parliamentary institutions, and anxious to subordinate its parliamentary leadership to the extra-parliamentary organization. It is the defeat of this tendency and the assertion of parliamentarism in the period since World War II which makes this a decisive epoch in the development of the Labour Party, the study of which offers an explanation of the paradox of the party's structure.

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1 See for example, Bassett, R., The Essentials of Parliamentary Democracy (London, 1937), pp. 163166; Barker, Ernest, Reflections on Government (Oxford, 1942), p. 83.

2 The event is recounted in McCallum, R. B. and Readman, Alison, The British General Election of 1945 (London, 1947), pp. 144–150, 173175. Laski's role is sympathetically described in Martin, Kingsley, Harold Laski (New York, 1953), pp. 160163.

3 McKenzie, R. T., British Political Parties (London, 1955), p. 317.

4 Report of the Annual Conference of the Labour Party, 1933, pp. 810; ibid., 1932, pp. 208–209. Hereafter referred to in the footnotes as Report.

5 Attlee, C. R., The Labour Party in Perspective—And Twelve Years Later (London, 1949), p. 78. This is a re-issue, with a new introduction, of a book first published in 1937.

6 Attlee, C. R., As It Happened (London, 1954), p. 156.

7 SirJennings, W. Ivor, Cabinet Government (Cambridge, 1951), p. 50.

8 Tribune (London), March 24, 1950, p. 3.

9 As It Happened, p. 196.

10 Quoted in Jennings, op. cit., p. 456.

11 Churchill, W. S., The Second World War, Vol. VI (New York, 1954), p. 675.

12 Jennings, op. cit., p. 37.

13 R. T. McKenzie, op. cit., pp. 331–332. According to the biographer of Ernest Bevin, Laski suggested to Attlee “that if he were sent for by the King he ought to state that he was not in a position to do anything until the new Parliamentary Party had had a meeting to decide whom it wanted for its leader. To this remarkable suggestion Attlee, I am told, replied briefly and characteristically: ‘Dear Laski, Thank you for your letter, contents of which have been noted’.” Williams, Francis, Ernest Bevin, Portrait of a Great Englishman, (London, 1952), p. 239.

14 The Times (London), January 22, 1957, p. 8.

15 As It Happened, p. 153.

16 Williams, op. cit., p. 237.

17 New Statesman and Nation, Vol. 43 (February 16, 1952), p. 173; New York Herald Tribune, February 9, 1952, p. 2.

18 Greenwood, Stokes and Summerskill were the only members of the Parliamentary Committee originally constituted in 1951, when the party first went into Opposition, to be subsequently defeated in bids for re-election to it—Greenwood and Stokes the following year, Stokes again in 1956 after returning to the Committee in 1955, and Summerskill in 1957. Bevan resigned from the Committee in 1954 but returned the following year. In 1955 occurred the collective departure from the Committee of Attlee, Morrison, Dalton, Shinwell, Ede, Hall and Whiteley, who were replaced by Greenwood and Stokes and five newcomers. Of the latter, one, Younger, was defeated in his bid for reelection in 1957, and one, Mitchison, was the only man serving on the Committee during this time who had not held a position in the Labour Government.

19 The list of appointments is given in The Times (London), July 15, 1955, p. 8; Cf. Jennings, , Parliament, 2d ed., (Cambridge, 1957), p. 538.

20 McKenzie, op. cit., p. 323.

21 The Economist, Vol. 183 (June 22, 1957), p. 1050; The Times (London), June 15, 1957, p. 4.

22 Morrison, Herbert, Government and Parliament (London, 1954), pp. 5, 36, 38.

23 Gordon-Walker, Patrick, “On Being a Cabinet Minister,” Encounter, Vol. 6 (April, 1956), pp. 1724.

24 Cabinet Government, pp. 187 and 183 respectively. See also Carter, B. E., The Office of Prime Minister (London, 1956), Ch. 6.

25 Op. cit., p. 595.

26 Cabinet Government, p. 389.

As It Happened, pp. 193, 207. See also Nicholas, H. G., The British General Election of 1950 (London, 1951), pp. 7577;

27 Butler, D. E., The British General Election of 1951 (London, 1952), p. 84; McKenzie, op. cit., p. 323.

28 As It Happened, p. 156.

29 The Labour Party in Perspective, p. 87.

30 Report, 1946, p. 56.

31 Op. cit., p. 126.

32 Ibid., pp. 136, 123 respectively.

33 Cocks, Seymour, Tribune (London), June 13, 1947, p. 12, quoted by Burns, James MacGregor, “The Parliamentary Labour Party in Great Britain,” this Review, Vol. 44 (December, 1950), p. 866.

34 Ibid., pp. 863–866.

35 Report, 1951, p. 5.

36 The Times (London), March 12, 1952, p. 6.

37 The Economist, Vol. 170 (February 27, 1954), p. 595; The Times (London), February 24, 1954, p. 8.

38 Report, 1954, pp. 921081.

39 See Epstein, L. P., “Cohesion of British Parliamentary Parties,” this Review, Vol. 50 (June, 1956), pp. 369375. No attempt was made to expel the dissidents from the party. Withdrawal of the Whip, while it lasted, only meant that they were excluded from the meetings of the Parliamentary Party, and as a symbol of their ostracism, that they were denied “The Whip,” the weekly document informing party members of the business to come before the House and indicating the times when the party requires their presence.

40 Report, 1907, p. 48, quoted in McKenzie, op. cit., p. 393.

41 The Labour Party in Perspective, p. 78.

42 Handbook: Facts and Figures for Socialists (London, 1951), pp. 301302.

43 Kingsley Martin, op. cit., pp. 180, 203.

44 Report, 1951, p. 5.

45 Report, 1954, p. 5.

46 The Economist, Vol. 172 (September 4, 1954), pp. 713714. Goldstein, Joseph, The Government of British Trade Unions (London, 1952), Ch. 9.

47 See McKelvey, J. T., “Trade Union Wage Policy in Postwar Britain,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 6 (October, 1952), pp. 319.

48 Roberts, B. C., “Trade Unions and Party Politics,” Cambridge Journal, Vol. 6 (April, 1953), p. 395.

49 Report, 1953, pp. 165166; 194–195.

50 The Constitution and Standing Orders of the Labour Party, Clause V, Section 2; for the composition of these committees, see Reports: 1949, p. 27; 1950, p. 29; 1951, p. 28; 1955, p. 29.

51 The Times (London), February 28, 1949, p. 4.

52 European Unity, a Statement by the National Executive Committee of the British Labour Party (May, 1950). For Attlee's statement, see 476 H.C. Deb. 38 (June 13, 1950); cf. The Times (London), June 14, 1950, p. 6, and June 22, 1950, p. 6.

53 Quoted in Kingsley Martin, op. cit., pp. 172–173.

54 Rose, Saul, “Policy Decision in Opposition,” Political Studies, Vol. 4 (June, 1956), pp. 128138; and the “Rejoinder” by R. T. McKenzie, ibid., Vol. 5 (June, 1957), pp. 176–182.

55 Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor, The Party System in Great Britain (London, 1953), p. 194; Laski, Harold, Reflections on the Constitution (Manchester, 1951), p. 78.

56 Morrison, Herbert, The Peaceful Revolution (London, 1949), p. 60.

57 July 2, 1945, p. 5.

58 Report, 1952, p. 91.

59 Report, 1948, pp. 111112.

60 Report, 1953, p. 85; ibid., Standing Order 2, para. 3 and 4, p. 221.

61 The Economist, Vol. 174 (March 12, 1955), p. 883; Hennessy, Bernard, “Trade Unions and the British Labour Party,” this Review, Vol. 49 (December, 1955), pp. 10551056. Cf. Reports: 1954, p. 234 ff. and 1955, p. 277 ff.

62 Report, 1947, p. 198.

63 Ibid., 1946, pp. 128–30, 182–84, 191–95; 1947, pp. 125–27, 157–59; 1948, pp. 150–52, 212–214; 1950, pp. 154–57; 1952, pp. 154–58, 178–79.

64 Op. cit., p. 484.

65 Interim Report of the Sub-Committee on Party Organisation, in Report, 1955, pp. 6392, at p. 64. For commentary on the Interim Report, see Hanham, H. J., “The Local Organization of the British Labour Party,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 9, (June, 1956), pp. 376388; McKenzie, R. T., “The Wilson Report and the Future of the Labour Party Organisation,” Political Studies, Vol. 4 (February, 1956), pp. 9397. For an interesting case study of the problems of a local organization, see Blondel, Jean, “The Conservative Association and the Labour Party in Reading,” Political Studies, Vol. VI (June, 1958), pp. 110118.

66 Report, 1956, pp. 9–10, 171.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
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