Anglia Ruskin Research Online (ARRO)
Bloomfield_2017.pdf (1.73 MB)

Reaction and renewal - Labour's 'Broad Church' in the context of the breakaway of the Social Democratic Party 1979-1988

Download (1.73 MB)
posted on 2023-08-30, 16:00 authored by Paul Bloomfield
This thesis examines how a moment in the Labour Party’s history was to lead to a protracted, yet inevitable, political transformation. It is a history of the events which led to up to the eventual breakaway of moderate members to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981, the reaction to its formation within Labour and its context in the party’s post-war Labour History. The aim is to demonstrate that the formation of the SDP was to influence the development of the Labour Party’s political thought in the 1980s and how consequently this shaped its development up until the present day. The thesis also argues that Labour’s transformation in the 1980s was undertaken despite, not because of, the founding of the SDP and that the continued electoral success of the Conservatives and the implementation of Thatcherism was to ensure Labour had to reassess what its purpose was. The culmination of the breakaway of the SDP and the aftermath of a third consecutive general election defeat was to eventually lead to the Labour Party’s Policy Review that commenced in 1987. Labour was to go from an existential crisis at the beginning of the 1980s and finish it with a restated confirmation of its purpose that was essentially an assertion of a modified revisionism. Repeated and humiliating defeat was to accelerate Labour’s gravitation to the political centre and an affirmation of a commitment to an economic model less wedded to the philosophy of nationalisation, acceptance of membership of the European Economic Community after years of hostility and the decision to adopt a defence policy that encompassed multilateralism. Labour was to survive the defections of the SDP and to evolve into a party that was to encompass the ideals of an updated revisionism. The defections may have sparked the catalyst for change within Labour but the transformation was undertaken despite of not because of the SDP’S creation. Repeated defeat to an increasingly strident and dominant Conservative Party was to ensure Labour assessed what its purpose was. It also examines the social liberalism of the Labour Party during this period, provides an examination of the background of the Labour’s social democrats, their ideals and what differences there were between them and the so-called traditional right. It also provides analysis of the reactions to the defeat in 1979 and reaction of the remaining members of the Labour right and similarly those on the left and the impact the formation of this new political entity influenced its political ideas and practices in the early 1980s and throughout the decade and beyond. This thesis examines how Labour undertook the forward march from crisis in 1981 to renewal in 1988 and how the broad church of those social democrats who remained, soft leftists and eventually disillusioned far leftists coalesced and guided the party to a reformist, revisionist path. This thesis is relevant to Labour today as it again attempts to provide a sense of its aims and values in a time of political flux and a Labour Party that has a left-wing leader, buttressed by a growing and energised membership but faced with a centrist parliamentary party. What lessons could the travails of the 1980s offer to the current Labour Party in the age of populism and Brexit?



Anglia Ruskin University

File version

  • Accepted version


  • eng

Thesis name

  • PhD

Thesis type

  • Doctoral

Thesis submission date


Legacy posted date


Legacy creation date


Legacy Faculty/School/Department

Theses from Anglia Ruskin University/Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences

Usage metrics

    ARU Theses


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager