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From the Archives #1

27 January 2012

This is the first post aiming to unravel the research process to provide a first hand account of the primary source material that underpins historical analysis. The last couple of weeks have seen me return to Labour Party Research Department material freely available at the party’s archives at the Peoples’ History Museum in Manchester.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the Labour Party’s Research Department was  responsible for the day-to-day work of a number of subcommittees and provided a bridge between them and the Party’s high-level Policy Committee. Despite its limited size and available resources, the department was also responsible for the presentation of policy.

I first used some of these sources in late 201o but have only just begun to sift through the notes and integrate them into my work. And, due to constraints of time and space, I’ve only really scratched the surface of what is a very detailed and rich collection.

One of the most fascinating themes that has emerged from that which I have been able to analyse  is the party’s thinking – and rethinking –  on its relationship with private industries. In particular, the tensions between a party that was explicitly committed to state planning and the understanding that this would have to be achieved within a mixed economy. This is a theme that continues to resonate.

In 1957, many of these tensions emerged in a published statement of policy called ‘Industry and Society’. Although little known, and subject to a very mixed reception at the time, this document is arguably very important. In it, Labour promoted the use of a cooperative model of share ownership as a means of regulating private companies and ensuring ‘responsible’ capitalism.

All of which I hope to explore in a little more detail. I’ll keep you posted.


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