The area of study of this thesis is party management in the Labour Party from 1951 to 1986. Its focus is upon managerial control, that is the capacity of Party authorities (especially the National Executive Committee) to direct the internal life of the Party. The thesis identifies a distinct managerial regime – social-democratic centralism – which evolved after 1918, with its heyday in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. It was characterised by a (relatively) high degree of centralisation and strict discipline. The right to organise opposition to the leadership was closely regulated and the threat or actual use of sanctions was employed to maintain order and cohesion. The thesis explores in detail the methods and rationale of the social-democratic centralist regime. The regime did not derive from any endemic features of a mass political organisation but from a set of circumstances which underwent change from the late 1960’s onwards. As a result, social-democratic centralism was gradually replaced by more relaxed forms of party management. An increasingly left wing NEC set about easing discipline and extending the autonomy of local party units. Two other changes were also occurring which were sapping the capacity of the centre to exert control over the rank and file. The first was a radical alteration in the composition and orientation to authority of the membership, the second a growing insistence by the Courts upon the obligation of the NEC to respect natural justice in any disciplinary action it took. The effect of both was to curtail the NEC’s discretion in exercising its managerial powers. This became evident when, in 1982, a new centre-right NEC launched a campaign against the Trotskyist Militant Tendency with very limited success. After (and largely as a result of) the 1983 general election there was a significant shift in internal Party alignments which, coupled with a growing antipathy towards Militant, ensured the greater success of the second campaign against Militant, centred on its citadel in Liverpool. This was part of a general revival of managerial control which, nevertheless, fell short of the rigours of social-democratic centralism.
Last updated: 15.2.2005