David Marquand

David Marquand who was Labour MP for Ashfield from 1966 to 1977, is now a member of the Steering Committee of the Social Democratic Party. His biography of Ramsay MacDonald appeared in 1977.

Putting it on

David Marquand, 12 September 1991

My favourite memory of Roy Jenkins dates from a golden July evening during the Warrington by-election. He is standing in the front garden of a council house, deep in conversation with an elderly Labour housewife, for whose support he is canvassing. Stooping slightly, and with a courtly gravitas that would not have seemed out of place at a European Summit, he is explaining why the ‘fluctooations’ which have characterised British economic policy for the last ten years have done so much damage to our international credit. The housewife is looking up at him with an expression of bemused, yet indulgent admiration, like an aged aunt applauding the exploits of a favourite nephew. In the background is a gaggle of SDP helpers, desperately trying to signal to the candidate that it is time to move on. It is clear that the housewife hasn’t the remotest idea what Jenkins is talking about, and that he hasn’t the remotest idea why his supporters are making faces at him. It is also clear that she is delighted to be talked to as though her opinions matter. Most of all it is clear that she will be switching her vote to him.


David Marquand, 20 December 1990

As the enterprise culture crumbles, and a sadder and wiser society begins to count the cost, two connected themes – one novel and surprising, at least in its present form, the other a ghost from a half-forgotten past – have acquired an unexpected urgency. The first is the theme of citizenship, of civility, of membership of and participation in a community bound together by ties of mutual obligation. The second is the theme of the mixed economy or the developmental state, of a socially just and economically productive balance between market forces and public intervention.

Maximum Embarrassment

David Marquand, 7 May 1987

As the Labour Party continues to unravel, it becomes more and more obvious that the follies and misadventures which have plagued it during the last few months can be understood only against the background of the betrayals, suspicions and hatreds of more than a generation of civil war. It is not, of course, the only mass party of the Left in trouble. The German Social Democrats – only a few years ago, one of the most competent and cohesive governing parties in the Western world – are also going through lean times. So are the American Democrats. But trouble is one thing: systematic self-mutilation is another. Despite their current difficulties, neither the American Democrats nor the German Social Democrats give off the smell of death. With the possible exception of the French Communists, Labour is the only mass party of the Left which has suffered a prolonged and apparently irreversible haemorrhage of support for more than fifteen years. The reason is that – again with the possible exception of the French Communist Party – no other mass party of the Left has found it so difficult to adjust to the technological and social changes which have robbed its traditional themes of their appeal.


David Marquand, 19 September 1985

As late as 1951, the British economy was the strongest in Western Europe. Only the wartime neutrals, Sweden and Switzerland, surpassed us in income per head. In his magisterial new history of the economic policies of the post-war Labour Government, Sir Alec Cairncross shows that our industrial production was larger than that of France and Germany combined. It was 50 per cent above the 1938 figure, compared with 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in Germany. France and Germany together exported less than we did. The seeds of our subsequent economic misfortunes were, of course, germinating beneath the surface: they had been doing so since the last quarter of the 19th century. But they were still a long way beneath, and they could not have been detected merely by looking at the statistics.

Hello, Fred

David Marquand, 21 March 1985

Hugh Dalton was a Member of Parliament for 35 years, a minister for 12, a Front-Bencher for 30 and a member of the Labour Party National Executive for 25. In the Thirties, as Ben Pimlott shows in this absorbing, perceptive and sometimes moving biography, he played a central part (after Bevin, the central part) in dragging the Labour Party out of the semi-pacifist isolationism of the Twenties into a grudging acceptance of re-armament and, when necessary, the use of force. As President of the Board of Trade in the wartime coalition, he laid the foundations of the post-war Labour Government’s regional policies. As chairman of the policy sub-committee of the National Executive, he did more than anyone else to shape the economic strategy on which the Labour Party fought the 1945 Election. He wrote 12 books, one of which ran to five editions over thirty years, and edited two others. He was an assiduous, not to say relentless patron of bright and, if possible, handsome young men, counting among his protégés Hugh Gaitskell, the most impressive leader the Labour Party has ever had, and Tony Crosland, one of its two or three most important theorists.


David Marquand, 20 September 1984

For neo-liberals and neo-socialists, the deepening crisis with which this and other advanced industrial societies have been grappling since the early Seventies is essentially economic – a matter of insufficient competition, or inadequate investment, or lax monetary management, or deflationary fiscal policies, to be put right by the appropriate bag of economic tricks. Those who belong to what Roy Jenkins once called the ‘radical centre’ rightly reject the economism of their rivals. For them, the crisis is not only, or even mainly, economic, but political as well. Yet even the ‘radical centre’ has so far seen it in a curiously narrow perspective. There has been a lot of talk about institutional change – electoral reform, trade-union reform, reform of the social security system, industrial democracy, a new ministry of education and training, a Freedom of Information Act, a Bill of Rights. But on the fundamental questions of value and purpose, on the answers to which any worthwhile programme of institutional change must be based, little has been said.–

Keynesian International

David Marquand, 5 July 1984

As the name they gave their subject implied, the great political economists of the 19th century knew that the economy cannot be studied fruitfully in isolation from the polity. The notion that there is, or should be, a distinct and autonomous discipline of ‘economics’, whose practitioners are solely concerned with economic relationships, and for whom the corresponding political relationships are professionally irrelevant, would have seemed to them absurd, even shocking. By a curious paradox, however, the 19th-century tradition of political economy has fallen further and further into abeyance the more closely the economy and the polity have been intertwined in practice. Nowadays, in this country at any rate, economists study economics, while political scientists study politics. The result is that neither discipline has much to say about the central economic and political problems of our time.

Party Man

David Marquand, 1 July 1982

I first met Tony Crosland 25 years ago, at a seminar at Nuffield College. I took an instant dislike to him. I was then a rather priggish Bevanite, and I was shocked by his politics. I was even more shocked by his manner. He seemed to typify what I most disliked about the Southern English mandarinate. He had a cut-glass accent. He was insufferably sure of himself. He was appallingly and gratuitously rude. Then I read The Future of Socialism. Slowly, reluctantly, and with many backward glances, I was converted. Capitalism, it seemed, had changed, after all. Public ownership was not essential to socialism. It was merely a means to an end, and not a very important means. What mattered was equality, and equality could be achieved in other ways. Bevan dropped out of my pantheon, and Gaitskell took his place. Crosland did not join the pantheon, exactly, but he became a sort of candidate member. The next time I met him, the qualities which had previously shocked me seemed forgivable, perhaps even endearing. Very well, he had a cut-glass accent. Who can help his upbringing? Very well, he was sure of himself. If the author of The Future of Socialism did not have a right to self-assurance, who did? Very well, he was rude. That was a sign of a fundamental seriousness and egalitarianism.

After Hillhead

David Marquand, 15 April 1982

Whatever else it may or may not have been, Hillhead was unquestionably a personal triumph for Roy Jenkins. The crowds which packed the silent, thoughtful meetings were drawn by him. The old ladies who switched tremulously and belatedly from the Tories switched to him. The clever-silly London journalists who explained why the SDP bubble was going to burst made their jokes at his expense. Defeat would have kept him out of the leadership of the SDP and perhaps out of the leadership of the Alliance as well. Victory has consolidated his claims to both. After the long, grey years of the Seventies – the agonies of conscience over the European Communities Bill, the frustrations of office in the dismal governments of 1974, defeat in the Labour leadership election, the poisoned chalice of the Brussels Commission presidency – he can now enter his inheritance as the rallying-point for the forces of conscience and reform which have been leaderless since Gaitskell’s death. It is a sweet moment for those of us who followed him.

Beyond Proportional Representation

David Marquand, 18 February 1982

The ‘Attlee consensus’, under the aegis of which the welfare state was consolidated and the mixed economy established, has been in ruins for some years now, but it is still too soon to tell whether a new consensus will replace it, or, if so, what the shape of that new consensus will be. The neo-liberal and neo-Marxist models offered by the Thatcherite Right and Bennite Left respectively are patently archaic and barren. Both rest on assumptions drawn from the primitive industrialism of the early 19th century. Neither is remotely relevant to a post-industrial society in the late 20th. But huddling in the rubble, gamely pretending that the familiar old building is still intact – the alternative offered by the Tory Wets and the traditional Labour Right – is not a satisfactory option either. With all their faults, the Thatcherites and Bennites have at least realised that the world of the Forties and Fifties is dead. The Gilmours, the Priors, the Healeys and the Hattersleys seem to think it can be resuscitated by mellifluous invocations of the spirit of Disraeli or cosy chats in a trade-union country house.

The pregnancy was long, difficult and ridden with anxiety, but the birth was easy and infancy has been a triumph. Unfortunately, however, Mr Bradley’s instant history of the first few months of the Social Democratic Party tells us a good deal more about its gestation before the launch on 26 March than about its development since. This was inevitable, no doubt. Even instant historians have to get their books printed; and Mr Bradley’s would not be in the bookshops yet if he had dealt with the final stages of his story in as much detail as the earlier ones. All the same, the effect is curiously lop-sided: lop-sided, moreover, in a way which obscures much of the real significance of the events which Mr Bradley has set out to analyse.

It is too soon to tell whether the month-old Social Democratic Party will replace the Labour Party as the main anti-Conservative force in Britain. What is certain is that the omens are far more propitious than anyone could reasonably have expected as recently as three months go. The death-wish which has gripped the Labour Party for the last two years shows no sign of loosening its hold. Though it is hard to believe that Tony Benn can actually win the deputy leadership, his attempt to do so is bound to inflict yet more damage on his torn and battered colleagues. Roy Hattersley’s quaintly-named Solidarity Campaign may reverse some of the wilder decisions taken at the Wembley conference in January, but even if it does the Party will still be committed to an electoral college of some sort, and the leadership will still be even more obviously in thrall to an incompetent and unpopular trade-union movement than it used to be in the past. Meanwhile the issue of compulsory reselection is ticking away in the background, and is almost certain to produce more Parliamentary defections to the Social Democrats as and when it explodes. More important than any of this, it is now as certain as anything in politics ever can be that Labour’s right wing has lost the battle over policy: that the positions which the Party took up at Blackpool last October will not be changed in any fundamental way and that Michael Foot and Denis Healey will therefore have to fight the next election on a programme closer to the French Communist Party’s than to that of any other important working-class party in the Western world.


David Marquand, 22 January 1981

After a decade of decline, the old, Fabian right of the Labour Party is now so chastened that it is hard to remember that it was once the dominant tradition in British left-wing politics. These two volumes of autobiography bring back its great days: in doing so, they also throw a good deal of unintentional light on the reasons for its fall. Michael Stewart and Douglas Jay were both awarded Firsts at Oxford in the Twenties, entered Labour politics in the Thirties, held junior office in the Attlee Government in the Forties, supported Gaitskell in the battles of the Fifties and were appointed to Wilson’s Cabinet in the Sixties. Both served their country and party honourably, faithfully and as selflessly as anyone can reasonably be expected to do. Both exhibited, to an almost alarming degree, the characteristic Fabian virtues of rationality and reliability. Both are so obviously fish out of water in the Labour Party of the Eighties that the reader can almost hear them gasping for breath. Neither has the remotest idea why.

Lessons for Civil Servants

David Marquand, 21 August 1980

The Civil Service attracts so much foolish, ignorant and malicious criticism that the unprejudiced observer is apt to assume, on the principle that mine enemy’s enemy is my friend, that nothing much can be wrong with it. After all, an institution which manages to upset Mr Tony Benn, Lady Falkender, Mr Michael Meacher, Mr Joe Haines, the editor of the Spectator and the sub-editors of the Daily Express cannot be all bad; and from there it is a small step to conclude that it must be all, or nearly all, good. The step is a dangerous one, however, and readers of these two attacks on the Civil Service will have to be on their guard against taking it. Both attacks are sometimes silly and sometimes unfair. Both advocate, or appear to advocate, dangerous solutions to non-problems. Yet in both there are shrewd hits as well as misses, and both focus attention on one of the central problems of modern British politics.

Remaking the Centre

David Marquand, 3 July 1980

For more than a generation, what Europeans call social democracy and what Americans call liberalism has been the dominant political creed of the North Atlantic world. Its achievements have been enormous. As Ralf Dahrendorf points out in his important and persuasive pamphlet, ‘After Social Democracy’, ‘it has turned the empty promise of freedom of contract into effective citizenship rights; the welfare state lies at the heart of social democratic politics. It has proved the ability of open societies to change without revolution; the varieties of Fabianism are, among other things, a triumph of democracy. It has spread the belief in a rational society; human improvement by education, social improvement by the uses of science, decision-making by rational discourse are all a part of the prevailing creed.’

What’s wrong with Britain

David Marquand, 6 March 1980

Thirty years ago, as Keith Middlemas reminds us in his messy, but important and sometimes brilliant new book, Britain served as the model for the reconstruction of European democracy. Not only the British themselves, but their Continental neighbours, took it for granted that the secret of ordered freedom had been learned more successfully here than anywhere else, and that that secret had been encapsulated in the British version of parliamentary government. Today, it is clear to all but a handful of law lords, political columnists and past, actual or would-be Cabinet ministers that the version of parliamentary government which we thought we had thirty years ago no longer exists, if it ever did, and that the doctrines with which it was explained and justified no longer offer any guidance to the way in which our polity is organised.

Gloomy Pageant: Britain Comma Now

Jeremy Harding, 31 July 2014

What happens when you set out to look the present in the eye but can’t quite bear the thought?

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With or without the workers

Ross McKibbin, 25 April 1991

This book contains reflections on both history and theory, and is written with David Marquand’s usual elegance and intelligence. Its 19 essays concern themes familiar to readers of his...

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