Labour History Review

Rethinking Revisionist Social Democracy: The Case of the Manifesto Group and Labour's 1970s ‘Third Way’

Labour History Review (2014), 79, (2), 201–225.


The Manifesto Group of centre-right Labour MPs was established in December 1974 to combat the growing organizational strength and success of the left-wing Tribune Group in elections to Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) office, and to buttress the 1974 Labour government against the general advance of the left within the party. It was also an attempt to respond to the emerging incoherence of the personnel and programme of revisionist social democracy and to attempt to organize the centre-right of the PLP under a single banner. In policy terms, it concerned itself inevitably with analysis of economic and industrial policy, both as a critique of the perceived limitations of Labour's attachment to conventional tools of Keynesian social democratic political economy as it crumbled in the 1970s and as a ‘moderate’ social democratic ‘third way’ response to the emerging alternatives of the Labour left's Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) and the neo-liberalism of the New Right. Much of the meaning and impact of Manifesto Group ideas and proposals were lost in the context and clamour of economic crisis and polarized political divisions of the time. With recent claims of adherence to ideas and politics that claim to chart a ‘third way’ course through the mire of discrete and outmoded ideologies, emerging themes, ideas, and proposals of the Manifesto Group retrospectively possess greater resonance for analysis of the subsequent development of social democracy and social democratic political economy and emergence of ‘New’ Labour. The article argues that Blair's Labour Party was less a simple compact of internal and external political influences than the legatee of the interrupted and circuitous trajectory of post-revisionist social democracy from deferred Manifesto Group themes through the (Owenite) SDP, Labour's own Policy Review after the 1987 election defeat, and indirectly to ‘New’ Labour.

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Author details

Meredith, Stephen