Labour History Review

From Labourism to Thatcherism: Stephen Haseler and the Social Democratic Alliance

Labour History Review (2019), 84, (3), 267–294.


During the 1970s, the dominant position of the revisionist ‘right wing’ of the Labour Party began to fall apart under continuous pressure, both from within and from without. One of revisionism’s most consistent internal critics was Stephen Haseler, an academic and former Labour parliamentary candidate. Haseler argued that the creed he had once supported enthusiastically was now saturated by the prejudices of the liberal-minded ‘elites’, and must be replaced with an alternative model of social democracy – which he dubbed ‘Labourism’ – that would prioritize the concerns of the party’s traditional working-class electorate. In 1975 he formed the Social Democratic Alliance to assist the Cabinet minister Reg Prentice in his campaign against the hard left, but his fiercely combative style won him few admirers from among the moderates in the party. Concerned for the future of democracy, Haseler gravitated towards the new style of Conservatism then being propounded by Margaret Thatcher, and soon began informally advising her on several key aspects of policy – all while remaining a member of the Labour Party. But if his position on the political spectrum had changed, his world view had not: still suspicious of the ‘liberal establishment’, he converted his earlier ‘Labourist’ perspective, with its steadfast belief in working-class virtue, into a wider, less sectional ‘populist’ emphasis on representing ‘ordinary people’ against the Leviathan of big government. Thus Haseler’s example illustrates how divisions within the Labour right could create a gateway to the world of Thatcherite politics, as he successfully managed to propagate his core ideological values in a new context.

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Author details

Aikman, Calum