by Lenon Campos Maschette
Over the past few centuries, the concept of civil society has shifted a few times to the centre of political debate. The end of the 20th century witnessed one of these moments. From the 1980s, civil society resurfaced as a central political idea, an important conceptual tool to address all types of social and political problems as well as describe social formations. At the end of the last century, a general criticism of the state and its inability to solve key social problems and the search for a ‘post-statist’ politics were problems shared by several countries that allowed the civil society debate to spread globally.
In Britain, ideologies of the right had an important role in this movement. From the 1980s, all the discussions around community and citizen participation have to be analysed, at least in part, within the context of how the nature and function of the state were being reshaped, especially through the changes proposed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians. This tendency is even more noticeable within the British Conservative Party. In one of the most important works on the British Conservative Party and civil society, E. H. H. Green argues that the Conservative Party’s state theory throughout the 20th century was more concerned with the effectiveness of civil society bodies than with the role of the state. Therefore, it is a long tradition that was continued and reinforced by Thatcher’s leadership.
As I argued in another work, the Thatcher government redefined the concept of citizenship and placed civil society at the centre of its model of citizenship. In this new article, I want to compliment that and argue that civil society had vital importance in Thatcher’s project. From this perspective, the Thatcher government redefined the idea of civil society, regarded as the space par excellence for citizenship—at least in the way Thatcherism understood it. Thatcherism attributed to civil society and its institutions a central role in the socialisation of individuals and the transmission of traditional values. It was the place par excellence of individual moral development and, consequently, citizenship.
Thatcherism and civil society
The Conservative Party never abandoned the defence of civil associations as both important institutions to deliver public services and essential spaces for maintaining and transmitting shared values. Throughout the post-WW2 period, the Party continuously emphasised the importance of the diversity of voluntary associations, and as a response to the growing dissatisfaction with statutory welfare, support for more flexible, dynamic, and local voluntary provision became part of its 1979 manifesto.
As already mentioned, civil society had virtually disappeared from the public debate and Thatcher herself rarely used the term ‘civil society’. However, the idea had a central role within Thatcherism. As the article will show, the Conservatives were constantly thinking about the intermediary structures between individuals and the state, and from these reflections we can try to comprehend how they saw these institutions, their roles, and their relationships. According to the Conservatives, civil society was being threatened by a social philosophy that had placed the state at the centre of social life to the detriment of communities. In fact, civil society had not disappeared, but was experiencing profound changes. In a more affluent and ‘post-materialistic’ society, individuals had turned their attention from first material needs to identities, fulfilment, and greater quality of life. Charities and religious associations had also changed their strategies and came close to the approach and methods of secular and modern voluntary associations, loosening their moralistic and evangelical language and adopting a more political and socially concerned discourse. These are important transformations that are the basis of how the Thatcher government linked the politicisation of these institutions with the demise of civil society.
Thatcher always made clear that voluntary associations and civil institutions were central to her ‘revolutionary’ project. The Conservatives under Thatcher regarded the civil institutions as the best means to reach more vulnerable people and the perfect space for participation and self-expression. The neighbourhood, this smallest social ‘unit,’ was more personal and effective than larger and more bureaucratic bodies. Furthermore, civil society empowered individuals by giving them the opportunity to participate in local communities and make a difference. It is noteworthy that Thatcher’s individualism was not synonymous with an atomised and isolated individual. Thatcher did not have a libertarian view about the individuals. As she argued to the Greater Young Conservatives group, ‘there is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature … brought up in mutual dependence.’ According to her, there was no conflict between her ‘individualism and social responsibility,’ as individuals and community were connected and ‘personal efforts’ would ‘enhance the community’, not ‘undermine’ it. She believed in a community of free and responsible individuals, ‘held together by mutual dependence … [and] common customs.’ Working in the local and familiar, within civil associations and voluntary bodies, individuals, in seeking their own purposes and goals, would also achieve common objectives, discharge their obligations to the community and serve their fellows and God. And here is the key role of civil and voluntary bodies. They were responsible for guaranteeing traditional standards and transmitting common customs. By participating in these associations, individuals would achieve their own interests but also feel important, share values, strengthen social ties, and create a distinctive identity. Thatcherites believed that voluntary associations, charities, and civil institutions had a central position in the rebirth of civic society. These conceptions partly resonated with a conservative tradition that recognised the intermediated structures as institutions responsible for balancing freedom and order. For conservatives, civil institutions and associations have always played a central role within civil society as institutions responsible for socialising and moralising individuals.
From the Thatcherite perspective, these ‘little platoons’—a term formulated by Edmund Burke, and used by conservatives such as Douglas Hurd, Brian Griffiths, and Thatcher herself to qualify local associations and institutions—provided people a space to develop a sense of community, civic responsibility, and identity. Therefore, Thatcher and her entourage believed that civil society had many fundamental and intertwined roles: it empowered individuals through participation; it developed citizenship; it was a repository of traditions; it transmitted values and principles; it created an identity and social ties; and it was a place to discharge individuals’ obligations to their community and God.
The state—not Thatcherism, nor indeed the market—isolated individuals by stepping into civil society spaces and breaking apart the intermediary institutions. In expanding beyond its original attributions, the state had eclipsed civil associations and institutions. Centralisation and politicisation were weakening ‘mediating structures,’ making people feel ‘powerless’ and depriving individuals of relieving themselves from ‘their isolation.’ It was also opening a space for a totalitarian state enterprise. While the state was creating an isolated, dependent, and passive citizenry, the new social movements were politicising every single civil society space, fostering divisiveness and resentment.
The great issue here was politicisation. Civil and local spaces had been politicised. The local councils were promoting anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic agendas, local government and trade unions were encouraging riots and operating ‘to break, defy, and subvert the law’ and the Church was ‘failing the people of England.’ Neoconservatives drew attention to both the intervention and politicisation from the state but also from social movements such as feminism. As shown earlier, civil society dynamics had changed and new and more politicised movements emerged. John Moore, a minister and another long-term member of Thatcher’s cabinet, complained that modern voluntary organisations changed their emphases from service groups to pressure groups. That is the reason why Thatcher, in spite of increasing grants to the voluntary sector, carefully selected those associations with principles related to ‘self-help and enterprise,’ that encouraged ‘civic pride’ while also discouraging grants to institutions previously funded by left-wing councils.
The state and the new social movements had politicised and dismantled civil society spaces, especially the conservatives' two most important civil institutions: the family and the Church. Thatcherism placed the family at the centre of civil society. Along with the ‘surrounding community of friends and neighbours,’ the family was a key institution to ‘individual development.’ This perspective dialogued with a conservative idea that came directly from Burke and placed the family at the core of civil society. From a Burkean perspective, the family was an essential institution for civilisation as it had two fundamental roles: acting as the ‘bulwarks against tyranny’ and against the ‘perils of individualism.’ The family was important as the first space of socialisation and affection and, consequently, the first individual responsibility. Within the family, moral values were kept and transmitted through generations, preventing degeneration and dependence. Thatcher’s government identified the family as the ‘very nursery of civil virtue’ and created the Family Policy Group to rebuild family life and responsibility. The family also had a decisive role in checking the state authority. Along with neoconservatives, Thatcherites believed that the welfare state and ‘permissiveness’ had broken down the family and its core functions. From this perspective, the most important civil institution had been corrupted by the state and the new social movements. If Thatcherism dialogued with neoliberalism and its criticism of the state, it was also influenced by conservative ideas of civil society and neoconservative arguments against the new social movements and the welfare state. Despite some tensions, Thatcherism was successful in combining neoliberal and neoconservative ideas.
The other main civil institution was the Church. Many of Thatcher’s political convictions were moral, rooted in puritan Christian values nurtured during her upbringing. Thatcher and many of her allies believed that Christianity was the foundation of British society and its values had to be widely shared. The churches were responsible for exercising ‘over [the] manners and morality of the people’ and were the most important social tool to moralise individuals. Only their leaders had the moral authority ‘to strengthen individual moral standards’ and the ‘shared beliefs’ that provide people with a moral framework to prevent freedom to became something destructive and negative.
Thus, the conservatives had the goal of depoliticising civil society. It should be a state- and political-free space. Thatcher’s active citizen was an apolitical one. The irony is that the Thatcher administration made these institutions even more dependent on state funding. Thatcherism was incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of civil institutions. The diverse small institutions, mainly composed of volunteer workers, had been replaced by larger, more bureaucratic and professionalised ones closely related to the state.
If the state and, consequently, politicians could not moralise individuals—which, in part, explains the lack of a moral agenda in the period of Thatcher’s government, a fact so criticised by the more traditional right, since ‘values cannot be given by the state or politician,’ as she proclaimed in 1978—other civil society institutions not only could, but had a duty to promote certain values.
The Thatcher government and communities
From the mid-1980s, the Conservative Strategy Group advised the party to emphasise the idea of a ‘good neighbour’ as a very distinct conservative concept. The Conservative Party turned its eyes to the issue of communities and several ministers started to work on policies related to neighbourliness. At the same time, Thatcher’s Policy Unit also started thinking of ways to rebuild ‘community infrastructure’ and its voluntary and non-profit organisations. The civil associations more and more were being seen by the government as an essential instrument in changing people’s views and beliefs.
As we have seen, it was compatible with the Thatcherite project. However, it was also a practical answer to rising social problems and an increasingly conservative perception, towards the end of the 1980s, that Thatcher’s administration failed to change individual beliefs and civil society actors, groups, and institutions. And then, we begin to note the tensions between Thatcherite ideas and their implications for the community.
Thatcherites believed in a community that was first and foremost moral. The community was made up of many individuals brought up by mutual dependence and shared values and, as such, carrying duties prior to rights. That is why all these civic institutions were so important. They should restrain individual anti-social behaviour through the wisdom of shared ‘traditional social norms that went with them.’ The community should set standards and penalise irresponsible behaviour. A solid religious base was therefore so important to the moral civil society framework. And here Thatcher was always very straightforward that this religious basis was a Christian one. Despite preaching against state intervention, Thatcher was clear about the central role of compulsory religious education to teach children ‘the difference between right and wrong.’ In order to properly work, these communities and its civil institutions should have their authority and autonomy restored to maintain and promote their basic principles and moral framework. And that is the point here. The conservative ‘free’ communities only could be free if they followed a specific set of values and principles.
During an interview in May 2001—among rising racial tensions that lead to serious racial disturbances over that year’s spring and summer—Thatcher argued that despite supporting a society comprised of different races and colours, she would never approve of a ‘multicultural society,’ as it could not observe ‘all the best principles and best values’ and would never ‘be united.’ Thatcher was preoccupied with immigration precisely because she believed that cultural issues could have negative long-term effects. As she said on another occasion, ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Different individuals would work together and keep themselves together only if they shared some basic principles and beliefs. Thatcher’s community was based on common tradition, not consent or contract. Conservatives believed that shared values were essential for social cohesion. That is why a multicultural society was so dangerous from her perspective. Moreover, there is also another implication here. Multiculturalism not only needed to be repulsed because it was regarded as divisive, but also because it presupposes that all cultures have equal value. It was not only about sharing the same values and principles, but also about sharing the right values and principles. And for the conservatives, the British and Christian traditions were the right ones. That is why Christian religious education should be compulsory for everybody, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.
In part, it explains the Thatcher administration’s long fight against local councils and authorities that supported multiculturalism and anti-racist movements. They were seen as a threat to cultural and traditional values as well as national sovereignty. In addition to responding many times with brutal police repression to the 1981 riots—which is in itself a strong state intervention—the government also released resources for urban regeneration and increased the budget of ‘ethnic projects’ in order to control these initiatives. The idea was to shape communities in a given way and direction and create tools for the community to police themselves. The government was seeking ways to change individual attitudes that, according to the Conservatives, were at the root of social problems in the inner cities. Rather than being the consequence of social problems, these attitudes, they argued, were caused by cultural and moral issues, especially in predominantly black communities. In encouraging moderate black leaders, the government was trying to foster black communities that would behave as British middle-class neighbourhoods. Thatcher’s government also tried to shape communities through business enterprises and market mechanisms. In the late 1980s, her government started a bold process of community refurbishment that aimed to revitalise what were regarded as deprived areas. The market was also seen as a part of civil society and a moralising space that encouraged good behaviour.
Thatcher’s relationship with the family, the basis of civil society, was also problematic. The Conservatives had a very traditional conception of family. The family was constituted by a heterosexual married couple. If Thatcherites accused new social movements of imposing their worldview on the majority, Thatcher’s government tried to prescribe a ‘natural’ view of family that excluded any type of distinct formation. Furthermore, despite presiding over a decade that saw a rising expansion of women's participation in the workplace and education, Thatcher advanced an idea of community that was based on women's caring role within the family and the neighbourhood.
Finally, the Church, regarded as the most important source of morality, was, at first, viewed as a natural ally, but soon would become a huge problem for her government. As with many established British institutions, according to the Conservatives, the Church had been captured by a progressive mood that had politicised many of its leaders and diverted the Church's role on morality. The Church was failing Britain since it had abdicated its primary role as a moral leader. It was also part of a broader attack on the British establishment. Thatcher would prefer to align her government with religious groups that performed a much more ‘valuable role’ than the established Church.
The tensions between the Thatcher government's ideas and policies—which blended neoliberal and neoconservative approaches—and its results in practice would lead to reactions on both left and right-wing sides. If Thatcher herself realised that her years in office had not encouraged communities’ growth, the New Labour and the post-Thatcher Conservative Party would invest in a robust communitarian discourse. Tony Blair's Party would use community rhetoric to emphasise differences from Thatcherism, whereas the rise of ideas that focused on civil society, such as Compassionate Conservatism, Civic Conservatism, and Big Society, would be a Conservative response to the Thatcher's 1980s.
Conventionally, conservatives have treated civil society as a vehicle to rebuild traditional values, a fortress against state power and homogenisation that involved the past, the present and the future generations.
Thatcher believed that a true community would be close to the one where she spent her childhood. A small community, composed by a vibrant network of voluntary bodies free from state intervention, in which apolitical and responsible citizens would be able to discharge their religious and civic obligations through voluntary work. These obligations resulted from religious values and individuals' mutual physical and emotional dependence, which imposed responsibilities prior to their rights, derived from these duties rather than from an abstract natural contract. Therefore, the Thatcherite community was, above all, a moral community. Accordingly, it was based on a narrow set of values and principles that was based on conservative British and Christian traditions. In a complex contemporary world of multicultural societies, it is difficult not to see Thatcher's community model as exclusionary and authoritarian.
Despite her conservative ideas about neighbourhoods, her government seems to have encouraged even more irresponsible behaviour and community fragmentation. Thatcher seems not to have been able to identify the problems that economic liberalisation policies and strong individualistic rhetoric could cause to the community. Here, the tensions between her neoliberal and neoconservative positions became clearer. As she recognised during an interview, ‘I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.’
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the civil society debate emerged in the UK with and against Thatcherism. The argument based on the revitalisation of civil society was used by both left and right-wingers to criticise the Thatcher years. New Labour’s emphasis on communities, post-Thatcher conservatism’s focus on civil society, the emergence of communitarianism and other strands of thought that placed civil society at the centre of their theories; despite their differences, all of them looked to the community as an answer for the 1980s and, at least in part, its emphasis on the free market and individualism. On the other hand, as I have tried to show, Thatcherism was already working on the theme of community and raised many of these issues during the years following her fall. The idea of civil society as the space par excellence of citizenship and collective activities, as the place to discharge individual obligations and as a site of a strong defence against arbitrary state power, were all themes advanced by Thatcherism that occupied a lasting space within the civil society debate. Thatcherism thus also influenced the debate from within, not only through the reaction against its results, but also directly promoting ideas and policies about civil society.
 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 71-72.
 E.H.H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism. Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 278.
 Lenon Campos Maschette, 'Revisiting the concept of citizenship in Margaret Thatcher’s government: the individual, the state, and civil society', Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021).
 Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (‘Liberty and Limited Government 11 January 1996). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108353.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Greater London Young Conservatives (Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, ‘Dimensions of Conservatism’ 4 July 1977). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103411.
 Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 627.
 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation document 107352: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107352.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (‘I BELIEVE – a speech on Christianity and politics’ 30 March 1978). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103522.
 Thatcher, The Moral Basis of a Free Society. Op. Cit.
 Douglas Hurd had several important roles during Thatcher’s administration, including Home Office. Brian Griffiths was the chief of her Policy Unit from the middle 1980s and one of her principal advisors.
 Michael Alison, ‘The Feeding of the Billions’, in Michael Alison and David Edward (eds) Christianity & Conservatism. Are Christianity and conservatism compatible? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 206-207; Brian Griffiths, ‘The Conservative Quadrilateral’, Alison and Edward, Christianity & Conservatism, 218; Robin Harris, Not for Turning (London: Corgi Books. 2013), 40.
 Griffiths, Christianity & Conservatism, 224-234.
 Margaret Thatcher. Speech to Conservative Party Conference 1985. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106145.
 John Gummer, apud Martin Durham, ‘The Thatcher Government and “The Moral Right”’, Parliamentary Affair, 42 (1989), 64.
 American neoconservatives such as Charles Murray, George Gilder, Lawrence Mead, Michael Novak, etc., worked on the social, cultural, and moral consequences of the welfare state and the ‘long’ 1960s. They were also much more active in writing on citizenship issues. These authors had a profound influence on Thatcher’s Conservative Party through the think tanks networks. Murray and Novak, for instance, even attended Annual Conservative Party conferences and visited Thatcher and other Conservative members’ Party.
 Timothy Raison, Tories and the Welfare State. A history of Conservative Social Policy since the Second World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990), 163.
 Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830 – 1990 (Oxford, 1994), 376.
 Douglas Hurd, Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), 388.
 Richard Boyd, ‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke's Defence of Civil Society’. The Review of Politics, 61 (1999), 485.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to General Assembly to the Church of Scotland, 21 May 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246.
 Douglas Hurd, Tamworth Manifesto, 17 March 1988, London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n06/douglas-hurd/douglas-hurds-tamworth-manifesto.
 Douglas Hurd, article for Church Times, 8 September 1988. THCR /1/17/111B. Churchill Archives, Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (1978), Op. Cit.
 Margaret Thatcher, apud Matthew Grimley. Thatcherism, Morality and Religion. In: Ben Jackson; Robert Saunders (Ed.). Making Thatcher’s Britain. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012), 90.
 Many meetings emphasised this issue throughout 1986. CRD 4/307/4-7. Conservative Party Archives, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
 ‘Papers to end of July’, 18 June 1987. PREM 19/3494. National Archives, London.
 Edmund Neill, ‘British Political Thought in the 1990s: Thatcherism, Citizenship, and Social Democracy’, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fur soziale Bewegungen, 28 (2002), 171.
 Margaret Thatcher, ‘Speech to Finchley Inter-church luncheon club’, 17 November 1969. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/101704.
 Margaret Thatcher, interview to the Daily Mail, 22 May 2001, apud Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, Vol. III Herself Alone (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 825.
 Margaret Thatcher, TV Interview for Granada World in Action ("rather swamped"), 27 January 1978. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485.
 Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/oliver-letwin-blocked-help-for-black-youth-after-1985-riots.
 Paul Gilroy apud Simon Peplow. Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 213.
 Grimley, Op. Cit., 92.
 Thatcher’s interview to Frank Field, apud Eliza Filby. God & Mrs Thatcher. The battle for Britain’s soul (London: Biteback, 2015), 348.
 Neill, Op. Cit., 181.
by Katy Brown, Aurelien Mondon, and Aaron Winter
Discussion and debate about the far right, its rise, origins and impact have become ubiquitous in academic research, political strategy, and media coverage in recent years. One of the issues increasingly underpinning such discussion is the relationship between the far right and the mainstream, and more specifically, the mainstreaming of the far right. This is particularly clear around elections when attention turns to the electoral performance of these parties. When they fare as well as predicted, catastrophic headlines simplify and hype what is usually a complex situation, ignoring key factors which shape electoral outcomes and inflate far-right results, such as trends in abstention and distrust towards mainstream politics. When these parties do not perform as well as predicted, the circus moves on to the next election and the hype starts afresh, often playing a role in the framing of, and potentially influencing, the process and policies, but also ignoring problems in mainstream, establishment parties and the system itself—including racism.
This overwhelming focus on electoral competition tends to create a normative standard for measurement and brings misperceptions about the extent and form of mainstreaming. Tackling the issue of mainstreaming beyond elections and electoral parties and more holistically does not only allow for more comprehensive analysis that addresses diverse factors, manifestations, and implications of far-right ideas and politics, but is much-needed in order to challenge some of the harmful discourses around the topic peddled by politicians, journalists, and academics.
To do so, we must first understand and engage with the idea of the ‘mainstream’, a concept that has attracted very little attention to date; its widespread use has not been matched by definitional clarity or subjected to critical unpacking. It often appears simultaneously essentialised and elusive. Crucially then, we must stress two key points establishing its contingency and challenging its essentialised qualities. The first of these points is therefore that the mainstream is constructed, contingent, and fluid. We often hear how the ‘extreme’ is a threat to the ‘mainstream’, but this is not some objective reality with two fixed actors or positions. They are both contingent in themselves and in relation to one another. In any system, the construction and positioning of the mainstream necessitate the construction of an extreme, which is just as contingent and fluid. These are neither ontological nor historically-fixed phenomena and seeing them as such, which is common, is both uncritical and ahistorical. What is mainstream or extreme at one point in time does not have to be, nor remain, so. The second point is that the mainstream is not essentially good, rational, or moderate. While public discourse in liberal democracies tends to imbue the mainstream or ‘centre’ with values of reason and moderation, the reality can be quite different as is clearly demonstrated by the simple fact that what is mainstream one day can be reviled, as well as exceptionalised and externalised, as extreme the next, and vice versa. Racism would be one such example. As such, the mainstream is itself a normative, hegemonic concept that imbues a particular ideological configuration or system with authority to operate as a given or naturalise itself as the best or even only option, essential to govern or regulate society, politics and the economy.
One of the main problems with the lack of clarity over the definition of the mainstream is that its contingency is masked through the assumption that it is common sense to know what it signifies, thus contributing to its reification as something with a fixed identity. Most people (including academics) feel they have a clear idea of what is mainstream; they position themselves according to what they feel/think it is and see themselves in relation to it. We argue that a critical approach to the mainstream, which challenges its status as a fixed entity with ontological status and essentialised ‘good’ and ‘normal’ qualities, is crucial for understanding the processes at play in the mainstreaming of the far right.
To address various shortcomings, we define the process of mainstreaming as the process by which parties/actors, discourses and/or attitudes move from marginal positions on the political spectrum or public sphere to more central ones, shifting what is deemed to be acceptable or legitimate in political, media and public circles and contexts.
The first aspect we draw attention to is the agency of parties and actors in the matter. Far-right actors are often positioned as agents, either unlocking their own success through internal strategies or pushing the mainstream to adopt positions that would otherwise be considered ‘unnatural’ to it. While we do not wish to dismiss the potential power of far-right actors to exert influence, it is essential to reflect on the capacity of the mainstream to shift the goalposts, especially given the heightened status and power that comes from the assumptions described above. What we highlight as particularly important is that shifts can take place independently and that the far right is not the sole actor which matters in understanding the process of mainstreaming. A far-right party can feel pressured or see an opportunity to become more extreme by mainstream parties moving rightward and thus encroaching on its territory. However, a far-right party can also be made more extreme without changing itself, but because the mainstream moves away from its ideas and politics. The issues associated with the assumed immovability and moderation of the mainstream have led towards a lack of engagement with the role of this group. It is therefore imperative to challenge these assumptions and capture the influence of mainstream elite actors, particularly with regard to discourse, in holistic accounts of mainstreaming.
This leads on to one of the core tenets of our framework, which places discourse as a central feature with significant influence across other elements. Too often, discourse has been swallowed up within elections, seen solely as the means through which party success might be achieved, but we argue that it can stand alone and that the mainstreaming of far-right ideas is not something only of interest and concern when it is matched by electoral success. Our framework highlights the capacity of parties and actors from the far right or mainstream (though the latter has greatest influence) to enact discursive shifts that bring far-right and mainstream discourse closer or further from one another.
Problematically, we argue, discourse is often seen solely in terms of its strategic effects for electoral outcomes. While we do not deny its importance in this regard, we suggest that discursive shifts may not always be connected in the ways we might expect with elections, and that the interpretation of electoral results can itself feed into the process of normalisation. First, changes at the discursive level do not always lead to a similar electoral trajectory, nor do the effects stop at elections: the mainstreaming of far-right ideas and narratives (including in and as policies) has the potential to both weaken the far right’s electoral performance if mainstream politicians compete over their traditional ground or bolster such parties by centring their ideas as the norm. Whatever the case, we must not lose sight of the effects on those groups targeted in such exclusionary discourse. The impact of mainstreaming does not stop at the ballot box. This feeds into the second key point about elections, in that the way they are interpreted can further contribute to normalisation, either through celebrating the perceived defeat of the far right or through hyping the position of far-right parties as democratic contenders. Certainly, this does not mean that we should not interrogate the reasons behind examples of increased electoral success among far-right parties, but that we must do so in a nuanced and critical manner. We must therefore guard against simplistic conclusions drawn from electoral, but also survey, data which we discuss at length in the article. Accounts of the electorate, often referred to through notions of ‘the people’ or ‘public opinion’, have tended to skew understandings of mainstreaming towards bottom-up explanations in which this group is portrayed as a collection of votes made outside the influence of elite actors. Through our framework, we seek to challenge these assumptions and instead underscore the critical role of discourse through mediation in constructing voter knowledge of the political context.
Far from being a prescriptive framework or approach, our aim is to ensure that future engagement with the concept, process and implications of mainstreaming is based on a more critical, rounded approach. This does not mean that each aspect of our framework needs to be engaged with in great depth, but they should be considered to ensure criticality and rigour, as well as avoid both the uncritical reification of an essentially good mainstream against the far right, and the normalisation and mainstreaming of the far right and its ideas. We believe it is our responsibility as researchers to avoid the harmful effects of narrower interpretations of political phenomena which present an incomplete yet buzzword-friendly picture (i.e. ‘populist’ or ‘left behind’), often taken up in political and media discourse, and feed into further discursive normalisation.
This brings us to the more epistemological, methodological, and political reason for the intervention and framework proposal: the need for a more reflective and critical approach from researchers, particularly where power and political influence are an issue. It is imperative that researchers reflect on their own role in contributing to the discourse around mainstreaming through their interpretations of related phenomena. This is important in the context of political and social sciences where, despite unavoidable assumptions, interests and influence, objectivity, and neutrality are often proclaimed. Necessarily, this demands from researchers an acknowledgement of their own positionality as not only researchers, but also as subjects within well-established and yet often invisibilised racialised, gendered, and classed power structures, notably those within and reproduced by our institutions, disciplines, and fields of study.
by Ben Williams
A burgeoning area of political research has focused on how the ideas and practical politics arising from the theories of the ‘New Right’ have had a major impact and legacy not only on a globalised political level, but also in relation to the domestic politics of specific nations. From a British perspective, the New Right’s impact dates from the mid-1970s when Margaret Thatcher became Leader of the Conservative Party (1975), before ascending to the office of Prime Minister in 1979. The New Right essentially rejected the post-war ‘years of consensus’ and advocated a smaller state, lower taxes and greater individual freedoms. On an international dimension, such political developments dovetailed with the emergence of Ronald Reagan as US President, who was elected in late 1980 and formally took office in early 1981. Within this timeframe, there was also associated pro- market, capitalist reforms in countries as diverse as Chile and China. While the ideas of New Right intellectual icons Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman date back to earlier decades of the 20th century and their rejection of central planning and totalitarian rule, until this point in time they had never seen such forceful advocates of their theories in such powerful frontline political roles.
Thatcher and Reagan’s explicit understanding of New Right theory was variable, but they nevertheless successively emerged as two political titans aligned by their committed free-market beliefs and ideology, forming a dominant partnership in world politics throughout the 1980s. Consequently, the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ that had traditionally incorporated shared cultural values and military and security co-operation, reached new heights amidst a decade very much dominated by New Right ideology. However, as we now look back over forty years on, debate has arisen as to what extent the ideas and values of the New Right are still relevant in the context of more contemporary political events, namely in relation to how the free market can appropriately react to major global crises. This has been notably applied to how various governments have reacted to both the 2007–8 global economic crash and the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, where significant levels of state intervention have challenged conventional New Right orthodoxies that ‘the free market knows best’.
The New Right’s effect on British politics (1979-97)
In my doctoral research into the evolution of contemporary Conservative Party social policy, the legacy and impact of the New Right on British politics formed a pivotal strand of the thesis, specifically how the UK Conservative Party sought to evolve both its image and policy agenda from the New Right’s free market economic emphasis into a more socially oriented direction.  Yet my research focus began at the tail end of the New Right’s period of hegemony, in the aftermath of the Conservative Party’s most devastating and humiliating electoral defeat for almost 100 years at the 1997 general election.
From this perspective of hindsight that looked back on eighteen years of continuous Conservative rule, the New Right’s influence had ultimately been a source of both rejuvenation and decline in relation to Conservative Party fortunes at different points of the electoral and historical cycle. In a positive sense, in the 1970s it appeared to revitalise the Conservative Party’s prospects while in opposition under the new leadership of Thatcher, and instilled a flurry of innovative, radical and eye-catching policies into its successful 1979 manifesto, which in subsequent years would be described as reflecting ‘popular capitalism’. Such policies would form the basis of the party’s accession to national office and consequent period of hegemonic rule throughout the 1980s in particular. The nature of such party-political hegemony as a conceptual term has been both analysed and explained in terms of its rise and fall by Andrew Gamble among others, who identified various core values that the Conservatives had traditionally stood for, namely ‘the defence of the Union, the defence of the Empire, the defence of the Constitution, and the defence of property’.
However, in a negative sense, by the mid to late 1990s, as Gamble identifies, the party appeared to have lost its way and had entered something of a post-Thatcher identity crisis, with the ideological dynamic instilled by the New Right’s legacy fatally undermining its previously stable equilibrium and eroding the traditional ‘pillars’ of hegemony’ as identified above. While Thatcher’s successor John Major was inclined to a more social as opposed to economic policy emphasis and between 1990-97 sought to distance himself from some of her harsher ideological policy positions, it was perhaps the case that the damage to the party’s electoral prospects had already been done. Not only had the Conservatives defied electoral gravity and won a fourth successive term in office in 1992, but the party’s broader ethos appeared to have become distorted by New Right ideology, and it became increasingly detached from its traditional instincts for pragmatic moderation located at the political centre, and notably its capacity to read the mood with regards the British public’s instinctive tendencies towards social conservatism, as has been argued by Oakeshott in particular. 
Critics also commented that the New Right’s often harsh economic emphasis was out of touch with a more compassionate public opinion that was emerging in wider public polling by the mid-1990s, and which expressed increasing concerns for the condition of core public services. This was specifically evident in documented evidence that between ‘1995-2007 opinion polls identified health care as one of the top issues for voters. The New Right’s focus on retrenchment and the free market was now blamed for creating such negative conditions by some, both within and outside the Conservative Party. Coupled with a steady process of Labour Party moderation over the late 1980s and 1990s, such trends culminated in major and repeated electoral losses inflicted on the Conservative Party between 1997 and 2005 (with an unprecedented three general election defeats in succession and thirteen years out of government).
The shifting spectrum and New Labour
When once asked what her greatest political achievement was, Margaret Thatcher did not highlight her three electoral victories but mischievously responded by pointing to “Tony Blair and New Labour”. It is certainly the case that Blair’s premiership from 1997 onwards was very different from previous Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s, and arguably bore the imprint of Thatcherism far more than any traces of socialist doctrine. This would strongly suggest that the impact and legacy of the New Right went far beyond the end of Conservative rule and continued to wield influence into the new century, despite the Conservative Party being banished from national office.
This was evident by the fact that Blair’s Labour government pledged to “govern as New Labour”, which in practice entailed moderate politics that explicitly rejected past socialist doctrines, and by adhering to the political framework and narrative established during the Thatcher period of New Right hegemony. This included an acceptance of the privatisation of former state-owned industries, tougher restrictions to trade union powers, markedly reduced levels of government spending and direct taxation, and overall, far less state intervention in comparison to the ‘years of consensus’ that existed between approximately 1945-75 (shaped by the crisis experience of World War Two). Most of these policies had been strongly opposed by Labour during the 1980s, but under New Labour they were now pragmatically accepted (for largely electoral and strategic purposes).
Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown tinkered around the edges with some progressive social reforms and there were steadily growing levels of tax and spend in his later phase in office, but not on the scale of the past, and the New Right neoliberal ‘settlement’ remained largely intact throughout thirteen years of Labour in office. Indeed, Labour’s truly radical changes were primarily at constitutional level; featuring policies such as devolution, judicial reform (introduction of the Supreme Court), various parliamentary reforms (House of Lords), Freedom of Information legislation, as well as key institutional changes such as Bank of England independence. The nature of this reforming policy agenda could be seen to reflect the reality that following the New Right’s ideological and political victories of the 1980s, New Labour had to look away from welfarism and political economy for its major priorities.
Conservative modernisation (1997 onwards)
Given the electoral success of Tony Blair and New Labour from 1997 onwards, the obvious challenge for the Conservatives was how to respond and readjust to unusual and indeed unprecedented circumstances. Historically referred to as ‘the natural party of government’, being out of power for a long time was a situation the Conservatives were not used to. However, from the late 1990s onwards, party modernisers broadly concluded that it would be a long haul back, and that to return to government the party would have to sacrifice some, and perhaps all, of its increasingly unpopular New Right political baggage. This determinedly realistic mood was strengthened by a second successive landslide defeat to Blair in 2001, and a further—albeit less resounding—defeat in 2005. Key and emerging figures in this ‘modernising’ and ‘progressive’ wing of the party included David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May, none of whom had been MPs prior to 1997 (i.e., crucially, they had no explicit connections to the era of New Right hegemony) and all of whom would take on senior governmental roles after 2010.
Such modernisers accepted that the party required a radical overhaul in terms of both image and policy-making, and in global terms were buoyed by the victory of ‘compassionate’ conservative George W. Bush in the US presidential election in late 2000. Consequently, ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ became an increasingly used term among such advocates of a new style of Conservative policy-making (see Norman & Ganesh, 2006). My doctoral thesis analysed in some depth precisely what the post-1997 British Conservative Party did in relation to various policy fronts connected to this ‘compassionate’ theme, most notably initiating a revived interest in the evolution of innovative social policy such as free schools, NHS reform, and the concept of ‘The Big Society’. This was in response to both external criticism and self-reflection that such policy emphasis and focus had been frequently neglected during the party’s eighteen years in office between 1979 and 1997.
Yet the New Right legacy continued to haunt the party’s identity, with many Thatcher loyalists reluctant to let go of it, despite feedback from the likes of party donor Lord Ashcroft (2005) that ‘modernisation’ and acceptance of New Labour’s social liberalism and social policy investment were required if the party was to make electoral progress, while ultimately being willing to move on from the (albeit triumphant) past.
Overview of The New Right and post-2008 events: (1) The global crash (2) austerity (3) Brexit (4) the pandemic
During the past few decades of British and indeed global politics, the New Right’s core principles of the small state and limited government intervention have remained clearly in evidence, with its influence at its peak and most firmly entrenched in various western governments during the 1980s and 90s. However, within the more contemporary era, this legacy has been fundamentally rocked and challenged by two major episodes in particular, namely the economic crash of 2007–8, and more recently the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both of these crises have featured a fundamental rebuke to the New Right’s established solutions as aligned with the culture of the reduced state, as had been cemented in the psyche of governance and statecraft within both Britain and the USA for several decades.
In the context of the global economic slump, the immediate and instinctive reaction of Brown’s Labour government in Britain and Barack Obama’s Democrat administration in the USA was to focus on a primary role for the state to intervene and stimulate economic recovery, which entailed that large-scale ‘Keynesian’ government activity made a marked comeback as the preferred means of tackling it. While both such politicians were less ideologically wedded to the New Right pedigree (since they were attached to parties traditionally more of the liberal left), this scenario nevertheless marked a significant crossroads for the New Right’s legacy for global politics.
However, once the dust had settled and the economic situation began to stabilise, the post-2010 austerity agenda that emerged in the UK (as a longer-term response to managing the global crash) provided New Right advocates with an opportunistic chance to reassert its former hegemony, given the setback to its influence in the immediate aftermath of 2008. Although Prime Minister David Cameron rejected criticism that austerity marked a reversion to harsh Thatcherite economics, having repeatedly distanced himself from the former Conservative Prime Minister since becoming party leader in 2005, there were certainly similarities in the emphasis on ‘balancing the books’ and reducing the size of government between 2010-15. Cameron argued this was not merely history repeating itself, and sought to distinctively identify himself as a more socially-oriented conservative who embraced an explicit social conscience that differed from the New Right’s primarily economic focus, as evident in his ‘Big Society’ narrative entailing a reduced state and more localised devolution and voluntarism (yet which failed to make his desired impact). Cameron argued that “there was such a thing as society” (unlike Thatcher’s quote from 1987), yet it was “not the same as the state”. 
Following Cameron’s departure as Prime Minister in 2016, the issue that brought him down, Brexit, could also be viewed from the New Right perspective as a desirable attempt to reduce, or ideally remove, the regulatory powers of a European dimension of state intervention, with the often suggested aspiration of post-Brexit Britain becoming a “Singapore-on-Thames” that would attract increased international capital investment due to lower taxes, reduced regulations and streamlined bureaucracy. It was perhaps no coincidence that many of the most ardent supporters of Brexit were also those most loyal to the Thatcher policy legacy that lingered on from the 1980s, representing a clear ideological overlap and inter-connection between domestic and foreign policy issues.
On this premise, the New Right’s influence dating from its most hegemonic decade of the 1980s certainly remained. However, from a UK perspective at least, the Covid-19 pandemic arguably ‘heralded the further relative demise of New Right influence after its sustained period of hegemonic ascendancy’. This is because, in a similar vein to the 2007–8 economic crash, the reflexive response to the global pandemic from Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in the UK and indeed other western states (including the USA), was a primarily a ‘statist’ one. This was evidently the preferred governmental option in terms of tackling major emergencies in the spheres of both the economy and public health, and was perhaps arguably the only logical and practical response available in the context of requiring such co-ordination at both a national and international level, which the free market simply cannot provide to the same extent.
Having said that, during the pandemic there was evidence of some familiar neoliberal ‘public-private partnership’ approaches in the subcontracting-out of (e.g.) mask and PPE production, lateral flow tests, vaccine research and production, testing, or app creation, which suggests Johnson’s administration sought to put some degree of business capacity at the heart of their policy response. Nevertheless, the revived interventionist role for the state will possibly be difficult to reverse once the crisis has subsided, just as was the case in the aftermath of World War Two. Whether this subsequently creates a new variant of state-driven consensus politics (as per the UK 1945-75) remains to be seen, but in the wake of various key political events there is clear evidence that the New Right’s legacy, while never being eradicated, certainly seems to have been diluted as the world progresses into the 2020s. How the post-pandemic era will evolve remains uncertain, and in their policy agendas various national governments will seek to balance both the role of the state and the input of private finance and free market imperatives. The nature of the balance remains a matter of speculation and conjecture until we move into a more certain and stable period, yet it would be foolish to write off the influence of the New Right and its resilient legacy completely.
 Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, (1944)
 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, (1962)
 Ben Williams, The Evolution of Conservative Party Social Policy, (2015)
 BBC ON THIS DAY | 2 | 1997: Labour routs Tories in historic election (2nd May 1997)
 Andrew Gamble, The Crisis of Conservatism, New Left Review, (I/214, November–December 1995)
 Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, (1975)
 Rob Baggott, ‘Conservative health policy: change, continuity and policy influence’, cited in Hugh Bochel (ed.), The Conservative Party and Social Policy, (2011), Ch.5, p.77
 Jesse Norman & Janan Ganesh, Compassionate conservatism- What it is, why we need it (2006),
 Ben Williams, Warm words or real change? Examining the evolution of Conservative Party social policy since 1997 (PhD thesis, University of Liverpool), https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/11633/1/WilliamsBen_Apr2013_11633.pdf
 Michael A. Ashcroft, Smell the coffee: A wake-up call for the Conservative Party, (2005)
 Ben Williams, The Big Society: Ten Years On, Political Insight, Volume: 10 issue: 4, page(s) 22-25 (2019)
 Margaret Thatcher, interview with ‘Woman’s Own Magazine’, published 31 October 1987.
Source: Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689
 Society and the Conservative Party - BBC News (9th January 2017)
 Ben Williams, Brexit: The Links Between Domestic and Foreign Policy, Political Insight,
Volume: 9 issue: 2, page(s): 36-39 (2018)
 Ben Williams, The ‘New Right’ and its legacy for British conservatism, Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021)
by Joshua Dight
Today, you do not need to go far to locate debates on how to remember the past. From public squares in Glasgow to parks in Australia, questions over statues have been drawn into an open contest. However, this opposition over meaning, and the fight for one reading of history over another is not a new phenomenon. As the title of this piece of writing suggests—How to Read History?—it comes not from the latest newspaper headline, but rather, the past itself. Printed in the Chartist newspaper the Northern Liberator in 1837 at the outset of this mass working- and middle-class movement, the article spoke to the mood of radicals by rejecting established historical narratives that favoured elites. ‘George the third’ for instance, is portrayed as a ‘cold hearted tyrant’ and a ‘cruel despot’, not an uncommon refrain amongst radicals and their chosen lexicon in the unrepresentative political structure of Britain during this period and George III’s reign (1760-1820). Yet, this reimagining does strike upon the issue of locating ‘truths’ within the past, and, by inference, falsehoods. As this article explores, Chartist responses to the existing composition of an anti-radical historical narratives gave them the opportunity to voice their ideology and make commemoration am instrument of their opposition.
From the late 1830s through to the early 1850s, Chartists nurtured this attachment to the past in the pursuit of the Six Point Charter (hence Chartism). These core demands guided the principles of Chartism, and included suffrage for all men over the age of 21, annual Parliaments, the secret ballot, eliminating property qualifications for becoming a Member of Parliament (MP), ensuring equal electoral districts, and supplying MPs with salaries. Fulfilling the Six Point Charter promised the means to restructure the political system away from an ‘Imperial’ institution of ‘class legislation’ and move towards ‘the empire of freedom’. Even at the earliest stages of Chartism, the past was instrumentalised and narrativised as an expression of politics. Chartists evoked a welter of radical heroes from a wide and sprawling pantheon. It brought together mythicised patriots like Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, with recently deceased radicals like Henry Hunt, Britain’s preeminent orator of radicalism and a leading figure at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Its application was flexible and accessible, with an intangible pantheon at surface level ready to be put to use within the rhetoric of those agitating for the Charter.
The deployment of memory as an expression of protest can be found at different levels of Chartism. The work of the great Chartist historian Malcolm Chase identified fragments of a radical past within the language of the three great National Petitions Chartism produced and presented to Parliament. In 1839 this document invoked Britain’s constitutional past with reference to the Bill of Rights 1689, whereas the petitions of 1842 and 1848 moved towards using the idioms of the American and French Revolutions. Viewed more generally, memory was a presence in Chartism that was flexible enough to contribute to arguments concerning a myriad of issues, such as whether force should be used in order to obtain the Charter if the petitions failed, along with discussions on what it meant to be a Chartist. This subsequently contributed to personalities like Thomas Paine, the republican author of Common Sense (1776) and Rights of Man (1791), and the radical journalist William Cobbett being redescribed as something akin to proto-Chartist in the rhetoric of meetings held across the country. The past was something practical, and the Chartists put it to use.
This engagement with the past saw Chartists responded to ‘libels’ on radical memory by constructing their own marginalised histories that spoke to their ideology. One clear example of this intervention was radical journalist Bronterre O'Brien’s ‘The Life and Character of Maximillian Robespierre’. In this work, he sought to recover the lawyer and the French Revolution from Burkean denouncements of earlier generations. O'Brien’s ‘long promised’ dissenting narrative recast this context by emphasising its democratic qualities in the minds of readers and erasing images of the Terror. He considered the French Revolution as something requiring attention, and to encourage a kinship with this ‘democratic’ episode. The production and celebration of such histories opposed the output of Whiggish narratives that venerated ‘tradition made malleable by change’.  The output of the Edinburgh Review and works like Henry Cockburn’s Examinations of State Trials set out a narrative that was paternalistic and progressive in tone. Worse still for Chartists, moments identifiable as radical victories over a repressive state were claimed by Whigs and incorporated into tales of liberty and progress. Vexation for the Whig government and their handling of the restructuring of Britain’s political system with the Reform Act in 1832 showed how lacking Whig histories were from a Chartist perspective. By reframing the historical narrative, Chartists were able to express their ideology by lionising the memory of radicals whilst puncturing Whig readings that supported the social hierarchy.
This relationship with the past was not confined to the written word. Chartists were practitioners of remembrance and celebrated the memory of the ‘illustrious dead’ at banquets and dinners that anchored their political opposition. By the late 1830s regular meetings across the country saw radical icons honoured. Reading over newspaper reports of these gatherings reveals the orderly manner in which these affairs were conducted – the announcement of a chairman, polite speeches, and finally a selection of toasts, often conducted in ‘solemn silence’. As is the case with memory formation, the roots of these rituals of remembrance are complex. They were, in part, taken from elite dining culture or were developed by radicals in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Chartists assumed these civilised niceties, but crucially, as with O’Brien’s penwork, recalibrated them to remove the sting of anti-radicalism. In halls, taverns, and homes, Chartists rehabilitated the memories of their patriots through singing about the career of Paine, toasting Cobbett, or cheering Hunt’s heroic stand at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.
This organised culture of commemoration served Chartism by encouraging and structuring social engagement with its ideology. One of the key attributes of memory is its function as something inherently sociable, inviting the community to participate in ceremonies and share in the past. Evidence of this communal festivity is found in the many anniversaries of a radical’s birth or death that were adhered to. These frequent fixtures were often promoted in the Chartist press beforehand, showing the dedication to memory and its importance in uniting radicals. Notices included titles that read ‘THOMAS PAINE’S BIRTHDAY’, or tickets available to those wishing to spend an evening dining to the memory of William Cobbett. These anniversaries were a stimulant to popular protest, a particularly useful quality for a movement like Chartism that rested on mobilising the masses.
This collection of radical anniversaries and the reports they produced speaks to the structure commemoration provided. The value of anniversaries to a protest movement like Chartism should not be underestimated. Memory is inherently social and, as observed by the Chartists, encouraged exchanges between persons within the community and other constituencies. Details of this coverage reveal that anniversaries events, such as the birthday of Henry Hunt, allowed for opportunities to celebrate the memories of other heroes in the radical pantheon. This was particularly true for places like Ashton-under-Lyne which had a strong radical tradition. A newspaper report of one such commemorative dinner to Hunt in November 1838 reveals the breadth of patriots honoured, from Irish romantic hero Robert Emmett, to the Scottish Martyrs. These proliferations of commemoration allowed Chartism to act as a juncture in which the wide sprawling past intersected. For instance, during the same dinner, Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor personified this interaction between past and present. As a symbol of Chartism, he was at one point described as the ‘father of reform’, a title initially bestowed to Paine, and later in the evening, aligned with Hunt, who ‘could not be dead while Feargus O'Connor was alive’. Here, the strongest symbol of Chartism, O’Connor himself, was imprinted onto the projections of those being commemorated The connection established here speaks to the reciprocal relationship in which Chartists popularised the memory of radicals whilst inscribing the hallmarks of Chartism. Not only then did the collection of radical anniversaries offer structure, their calendrical qualities secured moments in the year that guaranteed the practice and pronouncement of Chartism’s opposition to the state with almost limitless personalities to deploy as an expression of their protest.
These festivities were frequently reported on and circulated in the Chartist press. Indeed, the popularity of these affairs was such that some felt it necessary to hold newspapers to account for not reporting upon them. Studying these newspaper reports shows a spike in commemoration through the months of January, March and November in honour of Thomas Paine, William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. At times, multiple reports of these banquets are scattered throughout the issues of newspapers like the Northern Star. This Chartist press was crucial to helping to sustain the movement itself, with newspapers acting as a channel for Chartism’s ideology and showcasing to readers the national activity of the movement. Yet, it should not be forgotten that these newspapers were also vital in capturing and bringing together Chartism’s culture of commemoration. These transcriptions allowed readers to reexperience the remembrance of their past patriots, and so share in any ideological impressions placed onto memory.
By analysing newspaper reports we can gain further insights into how a dedicated commemoration culture allowed the past to be recalled in order to serve the politics of Chartism. At a ‘Great Demonstration in Commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre’, held at Manchester and reported in the Northern Star on 18th August 1838, attendees discussing the adoption of what would become the 1839 National Petition did so on a sacred site of memory. Nineteen years before, in August 1819, protesters at St. Peters Field gathered to listen to Henry Hunt on the right to political representation. The response from local magistrates was heavy handed and resulted in the violent use of force on the crowd. The memory of the Peterloo Massacre was sacred to Chartists, and this sense of the past contributed an historical significance to the meeting. In addition to the symbolism memory leant to the staging of this affair, visual displays in the form of banners, flags, portraits, and old ballads that all contributed to creating a sense of the past at this important juncture in Chartism. Within these surroundings, Chartists expressed their animosity towards Britain’s ruling elites; Whigs and their cheap ‘£10 Reform Bill’, along with ‘Sir Robert Bray Surface Peel’ and his Tory supporters. The clearest sign of memory combining with this political expression came later on, when personalities of reform—Major John Cartwright, Cobbett, and Hunt—were declared as the tutors of radicalism. Through the didacticism of their memories, Chartism was made a part of this earlier radical narrative. At the same time, by making these figures of reform relevant, they were inducted into Chartism and used as devices that allowed Chartists to express their commitment to the cause.
Celebrations of the past were not always grandiose events but could be small local affairs. Sacred sites of memory or the possession of radical relics were not a prerequisite for social gatherings to take place, nor for the past to be invited into proceedings. This accessibility to a common view of the past speaks to the pervasive nature of memory, and personalities from the pantheon of the ‘illustrious dead’ could be recalled when necessary at local dinners or banquets. The flexible qualities of memory allowed it to be remembered and applied however needed. Conjuring the past in this way was particularly useful to a political movement like Chartism, which was formed through a patchwork of regional affairs mixing with common political grievances felt across the country. Drawing on a common past helped to inspire a sense of unity.
Whilst some attendees may have taken umbrage at how an illustrious patriot was represented, the malleability of memory allowed Chartists to immediately render the radical relevant to the current debate. Paine could be invoked for his ardent republicanism, as a working-class hero, or enlightened philosopher. Memories of radicalism not only helped to inspire a spirit of protest, but circulated a political language, contributing rhetorical devices at meetings that were subsequently captured and reported in the Chartist press, thus consolidating the ideological foundations of Chartism. As discussions on the collective nature of anniversaries has shown, celebrations of a shared past helped to remedy some of the fractures within the Chartist movement, for instance, splits among the leadership, or disagreements on the use of physical force (‘ulterior measures’) to obtain the Charter. The mere evocation of an intangible past did not prevent these divisions from occurring. However, uniting to celebrate radicalism’s key moments and an ‘illustrious dead’ helped to restore a degree of cohesion. Recognition of this ability to overcome fault lines within the movement only heightens the remarkable nature of Chartism’s commemoration culture. Despite the different locations, diverging interpretations of the past or political viewpoints, memory provided intersections within a wide national movement of regional affairs in the nineteenth century.
Commemorations of the past continued to be a part of Chartism until its decline following the last of the great National Petitions in 1848. In being able to reach for a familiar past, Chartists were able to enthuse a spirit of protest and celebrate intervals in the calendar year with anniversaries that strengthened their ideological commitments. This pantheon of radical heroes continues to be mobilised today, and, arguably, has only grown in number. Perhaps the most recent personality to be recovered and admitted is William Cuffay, the black Chartist and long-term political activist. These figures are a reminder of the potency of memory as an expression of protest and the malleability of the past when ideology is put into practice.
 Northern Liberator, 9 December 1837.
 J. R. Green, A Short History of the English People (1874), 859.
 Northern Star, 24 October 1840.
 Matthew Roberts, Chartism, Commemoration and the Cult of the Radical Hero (Routledge, 2019), 3.
 Malcolm Chase, ‘What Did Chartism Petition For? Mass Petitions in the British Movement for Democracy’, Social Science History, 43.3 (2019), 531–51.
 Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory (Routledge, 2003).
 Northern Star, 17 March 1838.
 David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country - Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 181.
 Gordon Pentland, Michael T. Davis, and Emma Vincent Macleod, Political Trials in an Age of Revolutions: Britain and the North Atlantic, 1793-1848, Palgrave Histories of Policing, Punishment and Justice (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 215.
 Roberts, Chartism, Commemoration, xii; James Epstein, Radical Expression: Political Language, Ritual, and Symbol in England, 1790-1850 (Oxford University Press, 1994), 192.
 Geoffrey Cubitt, History and Memory, History and Memory (Manchester University Press, 2013), 219-20.
 Steve Poole, ‘The Politics of “Protest Heritage”, 1790-1850’, in C. J. Griffin and B. McDonagh (eds.), Remembering Protest in Britain since 1500 Memory, Materiality, and the Landscape (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 194.
 Northern Star, 8 January 1842.
 Northern Star, 17 November 1838.
 Northern Star, 6 February 1841.
 Northern Star, 18 August 1838.
 Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 67.
by Eunice Goes
Political parties have a complex relationship with ideologies. If on the one hand they are their most visible embodiment and are active contributors to their production and contestation, on the other, they are not necessarily their most faithful followers. Indeed, political parties often seek to make ideologies fit their electoral strategies. To complicate matters further, the ability of political parties to reinvent themselves is constrained by ideologies as any attempt to change and revise their programmes must reflect their ideological trajectories across time and space.
In short, parties’ relationship with ideologies is both instrumental and constrained. These two understandings of parties’ relationships with ideologies dominate the academic literature on the subject. But there is a third dimension in this relationship that has been overlooked by the literature which shows that ideology is central to the activities of political parties.
Because ideology is central to their life, political parties are heavily involved in the production and contestation of ideologies not only because they want to win elections or are historically constrained by them, but also because ideology is what political parties ‘do’. As political institutions that are, as Sheri Berman reminds us, ‘shaped by the ideological projects they championed’, all activities, including power-seeking strategies, pursued by political parties are driven by ideological and ideational consideration.
To show how political parties engage in processes of ideological production, this article will use a new methodological approach, which combines V. A. Schmidt’s discursive institutionalism and Peter A. Hall’s historical institutionalism, to analyse how the Labour Party under Ed Miliband used the idea of ‘predistribution’ to drive ideological change. In particular, the article will show how Miliband used the idea of predistribution to develop and articulate an agenda that sought simultaneously to renew the socialist roots of the party, to address the political and policy challenges created by the 2007 global financial crisis and three decades of neoliberal politics, and to win a general election.
The Mechanics of Ideological Analysis
The methodological approach proposed here, which combines discursive institutionalism and historical institutionalism, places ideas at the centre of political action. As such, it does not disregard the role of interests in political decision however, it assumes that ‘ideas cause actors to make certain choices’. Each of the ‘new institutionalisms’ offer insights into how that process happens.
As an approach that focuses on ‘who talks to whom, where, and when’ discursive institutionalism maps how ‘ideas are generated among policy actors and diffused to the public by political actors through discourse’, and shows how ideologies are produced, renewed, and changed. Thus, the key contribution of discursive institutionalism is to propose a method to map the different stages of how ideas influence the behaviour of political actors from ‘thought to word to deed’.
To properly understand how ideas can influence or drive processes of ideological change, discourse needs to be contextualised and categorised by degree of generality (policies, programmes, and philosophies), and type of content (cognitive or normative). Moreover, Schmidt identified two types of discourse that need to be analysed: coordinative, among political actors; and communicative, between political actors and the public. This distinction is important because coordinative discourse signals the intentions of political actors as well as their thought-processes, but communicative discourse reveals the constraints they face.
Because discursive institutionalism focuses on explaining how ideas can lead to change it pays special attention to the ideational activities of the epistemic community which is responsible for the production of ideas within a party. This epistemic community, composed of professional intellectuals, think-tank experts, party intellectuals and activists from different factions, political advisers, and strategists, performs different but related roles: it prioritises issues; it offers causal explanations to problems; it links ideas and solutions to the morphologies of ideologies; and it devises strategies to make those ideas accessible and attractive to wider audiences.
But if discursive institutionalism allows us to map how political actors think, interpret, adopt, and adapt ideas in processes of ideological change, it does not explain why certain ideas gained currency whilst others were abandoned or diluted. The key element missing from discursive institutionalism is a consideration about the power of political actors to choose and impose their ideas on others. To address this weakness, this post proposes to complement discursive institutionalism with insights from historical institutionalism.
The key assumption of historical institutionalism is that to be transformative, ideas need to possess certain qualities. Peter A. Hall proposed three criteria to test the power of ideas in processes of third order change, though they can also be applied to processes of incremental change. The first criterion is about the persuasive capacity of ideas, a condition which is also required by discursive institutionalism. The idea in question needs to offer a plausible and persuasive response to a current policy puzzle.
But persuasiveness is not merely dependent on the intellectual coherence of an idea or its technical viability. Hence, in Hall’s model, to be successful ideas also need to be comprehensible. They need to resonate with the way the recipients of the idea understand the world. Third, to influence policy ‘an idea must come to the attention of those who make policy, generally with a favourable endorsement from the relevant authorities’.  In other words, to be influential ideas need to be sponsored by powerful actors.
The next section of the post will show how the methodological approach proposed here shows how the idea of predistribution drove Ed Miliband’s attempts to renew the socialist roots of the Labour Party in the period 2010-15 from thought, to word, to deed.
Predistribution and the Renewal of Social Democracy
The Labour leader Ed Miliband saw the global financial crisis as one of those critical juncture moments which opened the way for a ‘new centre-left moment’. Thus, when he was elected leader in 2010, he proposed to turn the page on New Labour and to renew the party’s socialist roots as a strategy to address the challenges and problems created (and revealed) by the global financial crisis. His blueprint prioritised the goals of reducing inequality and a reform of capitalism which was consistent with post-war social democracy.
Miliband’s search for solutions to tackle inequality, involved setting up a wide epistemic community which was given the task to lead and contribute to the party’s policy review. Several of his advisers were political scientists, philosophers, and public policy experts. Miliband also cultivated a diverse ideational network composed of academics, think-tanks researchers, senior media commentators, party strategists, influential Labour and centre-left groupings (for example, Compass), which benefited from the occasional contribution from famous public intellectual from Britain, the United States (Michael Sandel, for example) and Brazil (Roberto Unger).
The discussions between a cross-section of intellectuals, political strategists, and activists, resulted in a remarkable outpouring of new ideas and let to multiple dialogues and encounters between Miliband’s team and intellectuals, researchers, and activists from within and outside the Labour Party.
It was in one of these encounters that Miliband first heard about predistribution, a new and barely fleshed-out idea developed by the Yale political scientist Jacob S. Hacker. In 2011, Miliband attended a Policy Network event in Oslo, where Hacker spoke about predistribution for the first time. From that moment on a dialogue was established between the Yale academic, Miliband and his team, think-tanks associated with Labour, and party intellectuals from a variety of factions.
Roughly a year after this encounter, Miliband introduced the idea of predistribution in a speech delivered at a Policy Network event. Henceforth, the concept of predistribution made regular appearances in the political debates of the time and quickly gained the status of big idea in party and media discussions.
If the term became ubiquitous there was no settled interpretation for its meaning. To gain a better understanding of how Miliband used this idea it is useful to look first at how its author defined it. Hacker, proposed predistribution as an approach to ‘stop inequality before it starts.’ As a transformative idea, predistribution required a change in the relationship between the state and the market which recognised the role of the state in creating and shaping markets. As such, predistribution advocated the regulation of markets to serve the public good as well as a new role for the state as an investor in innovation and public infrastructures
Hacker was not overly prescriptive about what a predistribution agenda would entail. He argued, however, that it would touch upon three main planks of public policy. The first focused on market reforms that encouraged a more equal distribution of economic power and included proposals as varied as a stronger regulation of financial markets and executive pay, and the strengthening of trade unions. The second plank concentrated on what Hacker called expanding equality of opportunity, and included proposals like the expansion of pre-school education, investment in vocational training and in affordable housing, and improving working conditions by raising wages, introducing a living wage, and improving job security. The third plank was about organising what Hacker called a ‘countervailing power’ to the market which aimed to empower ‘new forms of work organisations’.
Miliband and his team were keen on the transformational potential of a predistribution agenda. This was, after all, an idea that sought to tackle the root-causes of inequality and to reform capitalism, two goals associated to the party’s ideology, but which sounded reassuringly technocratic. the political backlash that traditional redistributive strategies normally attracted.
The interest in a predistribution agenda extended beyond Miliband’s office. Different factions of the party showed interest in the idea. Several MPs and Labour-leaning think-tanks like Policy Network, the Resolution Foundation, the IPPR, and the Fabian Society were quite supportive. The think-tank Policy Network hosted Hacker several times and devoted a number of seminars and publications to its discussion and dissemination.
Unsurprisingly, the different Labour factions interpreted the concept in a variety of ways. Whilst figures associated with the Right presented it as an alternative to redistribution, others emphasised its potential either to promote ‘responsible capitalism,’ or to promote equality, or to strengthen an emancipatory agenda centred around ideas of economic democracy and mutualism.
Interestingly, Miliband’s engagement with the idea of predistribution evolved over time. In his first explicit reference to the idea, Miliband presented predistribution as a transformative idea:
Predistribution is about saying:
We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy.
It is neither just, nor does it enable us to pay our way in the world.
Our aim must be to transform our economy, so it is a much higher skill, higher wage economy.
Tellingly, predistribution would not replace redistribution, because redistributive measures would always be necessary. Thus, Miliband’s predistribution agenda was about tackling the causes of inequality by promoting what he called ‘a more responsible capitalism’. This would be achieved by changing the rules that ‘shape the ways markets work’, namely by ‘changing the relationship between finance and the real economy. To deliver this agenda, Miliband proposed the creation of a British Investment Bank, an active industrial policy which would focus on investments in infrastructure and skills. He also defended state intervention in markets to ensure they served the public good.
The political reaction to this speech was mixed. Whilst commentators on the left thought the idea was interesting and had potential, others resisted it because it was a nebulous concept that was difficult to sell on the doorstep. This reaction largely explains the fact that following this speech, Miliband rarely mentioned the word predistribution again and his press team banned him from using it in public. In a recent podcast devoted to the idea, Miliband said that predistribution was a ‘throwaway remark’ that was then presented in the media as his big idea. He also said that ‘the word was ugly’, though he recognised its importance.
In its place, Miliband developed other narratives—namely, the squeezed middle, the ‘producers versus predators’ narrative (which was also dropped very quickly), the power agenda, One Nation, the ‘cost of living’ crisis, the zero-zero economy—to promote a predistribution agenda that followed the three planks suggested by Hacker. For example, his senior policy adviser Stewart Wood explained that the ‘One Nation’ approach aimed ‘to change the rules of markets, so that we get to a more equal distribution of economic power and rewards even before government starts to collect taxes or paying benefits’.
Miliband was equally interested in the second plank of the predistribution agenda about expanding opportunity and he used a variety of narratives to promote it. For instance, his ‘power agenda’; his ‘producers vs predators’ agenda was used to defend a capitalism that protected the public good; and his ‘cost of living crisis’ narrative were used to address issues like low wages, job insecurity, and work-life balance. To this end, he proposed to widen the adoption of the Living Wage, the extension of free nursery provision, and the introduction of new apprenticeships.
The Labour leader was equally supportive of Hacker’s ideas about developing ‘countervailing power to the market’. To that effect he talked about extending power to individuals and grassroots organisations in several speeches. His ‘power agenda’ was the focus of lively discussions within Miliband’s circle and led to proposals like the devolution of power to local communities through mutualisation, participatory budgeting, and bringing workers into company boards.
Though rarely uttered in speeches, the idea predistribution informed several sections of Labour’s 2015 electoral manifesto which promised to reform the relationship between the market and the state. Labour’s manifesto promised, as well, a rise to the minimum wage, the promotion of the living wage and the expansion of free childcare, the banning of some zero-hours contracts, freezing energy prices, and investing in infrastructure and in the green economy. Finally, there were proposals to create a bank bonus tax, and to introduce workers’ representatives in the boards of companies.
The author of the idea was encouraged by Labour’s 2015 manifesto. For him, it was ‘the idea, not the label, that mattered’. However, Hacker was less encouraged by Labour’s approach to developing countervailing power. In his appraisal of Miliband’s take on predistribution he noticed the ‘notable lack of serious discussion of the alternative to unions that could provide some degree of representation for workers’. This omission was so glaring that Hacker even questioned whether ‘predistribution of the sort I have discussed is even possible given the decline of labor [sic] unions’. Hacker was not the only one to be disappointed by this omission. Jon Cruddas, one of the co-authors of the manifesto, admitted that Labour’s failure to strengthen trade unions undermined the idea of predistribution.
There were other problems with Miliband’s predistribution agenda. Some of the proposals to ‘widen opportunities’ were almost tokenistic. The promise of a Living Wage, an idea that had been at the centre of Miliband’s campaign to become Labour leader, was presented as an aspiration.
Assessing Miliband’s Take on Predistribution
The mapping of the idea of predistribution ‘from thought to word to deed’ showed us that Labour Party under Ed Miliband ‘thought’ and ‘discussed’ it as a transformational idea by Miliband however it was watered down when it reached the ‘deed’ stage. To understand why, the next section of the article will apply Peter A. Hall’s three criteria to explain why Miliband diluted his approach to predistribution.
The first difficulty Miliband encountered was presentational. Predistribution was a complex idea to present to voters on the doorstep. It was a term with an unclear meaning and was therefore not a persuasive concept. To overcome this constraint Miliband and his team developed different narratives to promote the predistributive agenda. But this approach was ineffective because the narratives kept changing from speech to speech, preventing voters from gaining a familiarity with it. As it challenged voters’ understanding of how a predistribution agenda could be compatible with the goal of reducing the public deficit, it was not a persuasive and comprehensible idea.
But the greatest obstacle to the success of Miliband’s predistribution agenda was his inability to attract the support of relevant actors both inside and outside the Labour Party. Private interviews with Miliband’s senior advisers, Labour MPs, activists, observers close to the Labour leader, as well as media and academic accounts suggest that Miliband was isolated in the party and shadow cabinet. In reality, the Shadow Cabinet was divided about the extent of Labour’s radicalism. Whilst one powerful group believed that a few retail offers would suffice for Labour to win the election, there were others who argued that Labour had to be more radical and transformative.
Miliband’s team also had reservations about giving more powers to trade unions in economic policy. Some of Miliband’s advisers thought that British trade unions were not ‘sufficiently responsible’ to be awarded co-determination powers. The party was equally divided about the scope of reforms to the regulation of the banking industry. Labour signalled a desire to introduce tighter regulation of the banking industry with the purpose of reducing risk and increasing competition, but the reforms to the banking industry it ended up proposing were modest in scope.
Miliband himself was ambivalent about the extent of his own radicalism in general and about these proposals to strengthen trade unions and devolve power to cities and local authorities in particular. His ambivalence was also manifested in the party’s policy development. The reality was that there were, as Stewart Wood explained, two Ed Milibands: ‘There’s Ed Miliband the son of Ralph Miliband, and there’s Ed Miliband the special advisor in Treasury for ten years’. Interestingly, in a recent interview Miliband admitted this problem and regretted not having been more radical in his approach. Miliband’s admission is telling. Though it is clear that he was constrained in his decisions by the lack of institutional support, ultimately he had the agency to decide on the direction of the party. His own interpretation of Labour’s challenges and possibilities led him to choose a more cautious policy and ideological path.
The party’s divisions and Miliband’s ambivalence impacted Labour’s predistribution agenda. That much was admitted by one of the authors of Labour’s manifesto. ‘Definition, energy, vitality, clarity’ were the price to pay for party unity, admitted Cruddas. These tensions led to the dilution of the most innovative and potentially transformative proposals, namely those that concerned the creation of greater countervailing power, the regulation of financial markets, the devolution of power to local authorities, the strengthening of workers’ rights and citizens’ voice. Instead of presenting ambitious ideas and a clear vision that renewed the socialist roots of the party, the 2015 manifesto and the party’s electoral campaign focused on modest retail offers that did not seem to cohere around a powerful message. This dilution resulted in a predistribution agenda that looked disjointed and far from transformative.
But if context, institutional and political pressures, and electoral considerations led to the dilution of Miliband’s predistributive agenda, there is no doubt that this idea drove his attempt to change the party’s ideological direction and develop an egalitarian programme that renewed Labour’s socialist roots, and sought to address voters’ concerns and aspirations.
If Miliband lost the 2015 general election, his attempt to renew Labour’s socialist roots with a predistributive agenda outlasted his efforts. His successor, Jeremy Corbyn, picked up on Miliband’s predistribution agenda and drove it into a more radical direction. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto, entitled For the Many not the Few, revisited all the themes associated with predistribution, and was seen by Guinan and O’Neill as a follow-up of that agenda. Tellingly, Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer has promised an agenda that builds on Labour’s 2017 manifesto. For an idea that was seen as ‘ugly’ and too complex, predistribution has surely demonstrated an impressive resilience.
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