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Unit information: The Fall of Old Labour in 2015/16

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Unit name The Fall of Old Labour
Unit code POLI31371
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Wickham-Jones
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will examine the nature and development of "Old Labour" in British politics between 1945 and 1983. The first part of the unit will involve an introduction to various theoretical debates about the potential and objectives of social democracy, its organisation and electoral strategy. The second part will look at the politics of the Labour party. It will analyse Labour's policy proposals, ideological commitments, internal currents, electoral strategy and performance in office. A particular focus will be on the "fall" of "Old" Labour, a decline culminating in electoral collapse at the 1983 general election. What kind of a party was "Old" Labour and why did it encounter such profound difficulties in electoral competition? The unit will include a role play session concerning the IMF crisis of 1976 and will spend time examining primary sources including recently released Cabinet papers from the 1974-1979 Labour government.


  • To outline the trajectory taken by the British Labour Party between 1964 and 1983 and to examine its potential, objectives, electoral strategy and organisation;
  • To examine the party’s decline and crisis in this period;
  • To assess theories about the nature of social democracy;
  • To gain a firm grasp of the character of ‘Old’ Labour

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. An understanding of debates about the nature of social democracy
  2. An awareness of developments in ‘Old’ Labour party politics and ability to assess those developments in a critical and evaluative fashion
  3. Ability to write clearly and analytically, making use of the relevant material under examination
  4. An awareness of the variety of source material available on ‘Old’ Labour party issues

Teaching Information

Ten 2 hour seminars and ten lectures.

The seminars will address significant topics for the most part via student presentation and discussion. The lecture will follow providing a summary of the material under consideration.

Assessment Information

Formatively, the unit will be assessed through an essay of no more than 3,000 words

Summatively, the unit will be assessed through an essay of no more than 3,500 words.

Each essay will directly assess learning outcomes 1, 2, 3, and 4 including students’ understanding of Old Labour in terms of some debates about the nature of social democracy, their critical awareness and appraisal of some developments in Old Labour, and their appraisal of relevant source material as well as the clarity of analysis that is offered.

Reading and References

  • Mark Wickham-Jones, Economic Strategy and the Labour Party Politics and Policy-Making, 1970-83 (Macmillan)
  • Raymond Plant, Matt Beech and Kevin Hickson, The Struggle for Labour’s Soul Understanding Labour’s political thought since 1945 (Routledge),
  • John Callaghan, Steven Fielding and Steve Ludlam, Interpreting the Labour Party Approaches to Labour politics and history (Manchester University Press)