Old Labour took pride in its history and the legends surrounding ‘This Great Movement of Ours’. In its heartlands, generations treasured what the French call lieux de mémoire, their sites of memory. It was an often sentimental tradition – heroes like Hardie, Lansbury or Bevan, crises like Taff Vale or Tonypandy, triumphs like 1945, occasional traitors, such as Frank Hodges on ‘Black Friday’ and Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. Even so, it provided a robust alternative chronicle. Nothing more signally diminished New Labour than its lack of interest in history, even the party’s own past. Tony Blair and his associates thereby emphasised their own rootlessness and detachment from a culture they sought to reinvent. It was a dangerous amnesia. The recent death of Michael Foot, that History Man supreme, underlines the point. As Nye Bevan declared, you can’t find the way ahead if you don’t know where you’ve come from.
Histories of the Labour Party, therefore, are always welcome, even necessary. Martin Pugh’s stimulating survey gets away from generalisations about social class to see Labour as a shifting coalition of fragmentary interests: local and regional, religious and secular. His research, therefore, focuses on the grass roots, drawing on