Richard Jobson’s book Nostalgia and the Post-War Labour Party: Prisoners of the Past looks at the ways nostalgia has been used in conflicts within the Labour Party from the 1950s almost to the immediate presen. I reviewed the book for the History Workshop Journal.
Nostalgia has become a pervasive term in politics. Both Brexit and Trump with their demands to ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ have been described as nostalgic projects, driven by outmoded and anachronistic values and ideas. For obvious reasons, right-wing and conservative parties and causes are more prone to accusations of nostalgia than left-wing ones, who on first glance at least seem to look to the future rather than the past. The phrase ‘politics of nostalgia’, so popular today, was first used by the liberal American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr in the mid 1950s to describe the New Conservatism. Similarly, Margaret Thatcher’s endorsement of ‘Victorian values’ in the 1980s sparked accusations of nostalgia from the left. And yet, the left has not been immune from the charge, as shown by the case of Jeremy Corbyn, who is frequently portrayed as an anachronistic relic, hell-bent on returning Britain to the 1950s.
This is where Richard Jobson’s book on nostalgia and the Labour party sets in. As it turns out, Jeremy Corbyn, whose face adorns the cover, is by no means the first Labour politician to be accused of nostalgia. In fact, as Jobson shows convincingly, discussions about Labour’s past and how to engage with it in the present – which parts of it to preserve and which to discard – have played a central role in internal struggles over the party’s identity and policies ever since the 1950s. Surprisingly, even New Labour with its marked progressive, modernizing stance and its impiety towards cherished Labour values was not as straightforwardly anti-nostalgic as it may seem.
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