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The Labour Party, 1945-Present

4. The Rise and Fall of the Labour Left

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In this module, we think about the transformation of the Labour Party during the 1970s, focusing in particular on: (i) the rise to prominence of a new generation of Labour leftists such as Tony Benn; (ii) the conflict between Harold Wilson and the trade unions, and the role of the unions in undermining the Labour governments of 1974-79; (iii) the internal democratic reform of the Labour Party under the new left, including mass elections of party leaders and mandatory reselection of MPs; (iv) the election of Michael Foot as Labour leader in 1980 and the consequent split which saw moderate and centre-right politicians defect to form the Social Democratic Party.


In this course, Professor John Callaghan (University of Salford) explores the history of the Labour Party from 1945 to the present day. In the first module, we think about the Labour government under Clement Attlee between 1945-51. In the second, we consider the conflicts which emerged between Labour’s ‘left’ and ‘centre-right’ during its years in opposition between 1951 and 1964. In the third module, we think about Labour’s return to power under Harold Wilson in 1964, before turning in the fourth module to explore the growth of the leftist challenge in the 1970s and Labour’s changing relationship with the trade unions. In the final two modules, we consider the leadership of Tony Blair and New Labour, thinking firstly about the reasons for Blair’s electoral success and his domestic policies, before considering how New Labour’s complex legacy has shaped the Labour Party since 2007.


John Callaghan is Professor of Politics and Contemporary History and the University of Salford, specialising in the history of the British Labour Party, the history of socialism and political theory. His recent publications include Communism in Britain: A Documentary History (2011) and British Labour and Foreign Policy: A History (2007).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Callaghan, J. (2019, December 20). The Labour Party, 1945-Present - The Rise and Fall of the Labour Left [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Callaghan, J. "The Labour Party, 1945-Present – The Rise and Fall of the Labour Left." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Dec 2019,

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