Marquand Work Comparison Other Perspectives


In 1991, David Marquand wrote the book The Progressive Dilemma which consists an extension of reflections concerning the British politics progressive tradition and the dilemma which progressive intellectuals faced from the start of the 20th century (Marquand,1999). The progressive tradition demanded reforms in all spheres; the political, social, and economic kinds of reform. However, there was a contest of the best way of achieving the reforms. The Liberal Party, during the neo-liberalism period, as described by Marquand, was considered by the progressive intellectuals as the key driver for reforms. During the first few ten years of the 20th century, the progressive intellectuals were faced with options of whether to join the Labour Party that was newly formed, after leaving the Liberal Party (Marquand, 1999). The Labour Party’s ambitions appeared to be modest at the beginning as it portrayed itself to include more than just the representatives of the interests of Labour in the Parliament and had only a small number of Members of Parliament. After the Liberal Party split, the Labour Party came up suddenly as an opposition to the Conservatives in the Parliament. It turned into the only party which had the potential to dislodge Conservatives from the Government. What remained in question was whether the progressives should agree to collaborate with the Labour Party – a party which fundamentally fostered Labour interests alone.

This paper seeks to critically analyze David Marquand’s work in The Progressive Dilemma with regards to other perspectives from Steven Fielding and McHugh, Andrew Thorpe and Peter Sloman concerning the question of; progressive dilemma or progressive fallacy.


Neo-liberal Reforms

During the 20th Century, the British political history was characterized with a new mood surrounding the neo-liberal reforms of the Conservatives. These problems were addressed by the progressive intellectuals, which Marquand refers to as the new political and intellectual paradigm that emerged while combining the insights from traditional social democracy and traditional social liberalism (Fielding & McHugh, 2003). Also considering that Kinnock modernized the formal attitude of the Labour Party regarding key policy areas, some observers thought that the party would move from its labourist roots, which are distinctively British to a European model social democratic party (Marquand, 1999). This body was believed to be ideal in putting the reconciliation between socialisms and liberalism into good practice. The Labour Party had indeed stood out other center parties as the only way practical advance in the desired direction (Fielding & McHugh, 2003).

Marquand, however, was skeptical about the progressive intellectual support of the Labour party (Gamble, 2017). As a result, he described the progressive dilemma based on the idea that even though the division existing between the majority anti-Conservative Party would be would be closed, the Labour Party, which was still in favor of unions, would not allow them to gain command. Marquand exhibited little confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to hold the national office any longer than one term. His skepticism arise from Labour’s two wins of a Common’s working majority, although, neither did both of the wins in 1966, nor 1945 lead it to acquire a sustainable period of power (Gamble, 2017). The key reason for the Labour Party’s failure was due to its inability to develop a strong attraction to those who are past the manual working class. The Labour Party was too concerned with the industrial labour unions and had constructed an anti-Conservative coalition which was socially diverse (Gamble, 2017). The Labour Party’s reason for its weakness is its belief and structure – its nature as codified in the constitution of 1918. If the Labour Party had a different character as suggested by Marquand, its record of elections would have acquired some respect (Gamble, 2017).

Marquand recommended that Labour ought to have been established on the basis of the progressive alliance. It would be better if the Labour Party remained part of the coalition which took to facilitate the concerns of the unions. If it were not for World War 1 and the lack of patience by the Labour Party, the working class would be accommodated by Liberals under terms which are more favourable compared to the terms before 1914 (Fielding & McHugh, 2003). The New Liberals wished to develop a balance between labour and capital and their goal was to incorporate the labour movement with capitalism which was reformed suitably (Fielding & McHugh, 2003). For proper incorporation, Marquand suggested that the unions should be part of a cross-class and broad-based coalition within which they could acquire an important though non-dominant part. Similar coalitions of different classes were successfully implemented by the Democrats in the United States of America and many other social democratic parties in Europe (Gamble, 2017). Britain was the only exception where, as embodied by the Labour Party, labour interests were dominant. T

The Labour Party bolstered the unions with their defensive labourist ‘us-and-them’ outlook to the extent that it excluded others and only acquired solid support from few beyond the proletarian fortresses (Fielding & McHugh, 2003). Marquand was aware that parties have the potential to shape the attitudes of voters and be able to transform their ideologies into appreciating their interests. Thus, he stresses that the internal character of the Labour Party prevented it from addressing the ideas of voters who are outside its redoubts which are union-dominated using communication that could have yield some positive response. The party had a ‘class’ appeal and this meant that it could not make a necessary intellectual leap to attract those who found the class to be of little meaning (Fielding & McHugh, 2003). The Labour Party was unable to sustain itself in government due to its confining mentality and structure. By being able to appeal to the progressive alliance, the party would have undue advantage over other labourist successors. The Labour party had a goal to protect worker’s interests in industries which are declining due to economic change. Having based its appeal to voters on beinf able to present material improvement, the Labour Party lacked a moral language which would have appealed those who are less reliant on protection of that kind (Gamble, 2017).

Marquand’s perspective utterly dismisses the Labour party’s rigidity which is the reason for it being unable to attract or pursue the interests of those did not find material development to be necessary. McHugh has a different perspective. Labour Party was only focused on union interests because of its strict devotion to do so and it also presented an alternative to the Conservative Party (McHugh, 2001). The progressive intellectuals needed a way of getting reforms which were anti-Conservative at the moment. Choosing to be a part of the course set out by the Labour Party proved to be a challenging decision. The Labour Party remained rigid due to its labour focused foundation. In cities like Manchester, the local Labour Parties would not receive any funding if they did not support trade unions (McHugh, 2001). Also, parties which showed to have a strong unionism support had an upper hand in developing in areas which had no support at all. The local parties too, the labor activists were increasingly being populated by trade unionists and parties which only presented some assistance to unions were amenable to the idea of acquiring individual members from those unions (McHugh, 2001). The World War may have ended with the growing need for reforms but during the war, the Labour Party was seeking to increase its membership. Trade union affiliated membership was beefing up the Labour Party, and members were already visiting branches of trade unions hoping to win their support (McHugh, 2001).

The Labour Party’s leadership had a Labour Socialist ideology which was different from Marxism, and more visionary and comprehensive than the ordinary Labourist creed. While the British Labour Party did not advocate socialism, it had fairly formed means for embracing social democracy. Labour socialism is different from the perspective of Marxism. Socialism in Marxism is scientific, materialist, critical, revolutionary and oppositional (McHugh, 2001, p. 183). Labour socialism is ethical. It was constructive, corporate, reformist and educative. The only way that labour socialism was similar to the Marxist perspective was by unconsciously accepting the capitalist system. Labour socialists perceived capitalism to be some kind of social organization that was founded on private ownership of the production means thus dividing the society into antagonizing classes (McHugh, 2001). It was considered that capitalism’s root evil was the goal of acquiring individual profit. In capitalism, goods were produced without much care being given to the community’s desire. Labour socialism, the driving philosophy of the labour party was contrary to capitalism in the sense that it was aware of the significance of making profits and instead chose to foster concerns for the impact of wealth distribution in the society. The Labour socialist critique had a moral approach towards capitalism by focusing on presenting the public with material developments (McHugh, 2001).

Andrew Thorpe’s Perspective

Marquand held that the Labour Party was rigid to take up new reforms from the progressive intellectuals and it was the only party that presented an outlet for the Conservative Party. McHugh opined that the Labour Party’s rigity emanated from its staunch trade unionist foundation and members who form its back bone (Thorpe, 2015). Also, considering that it was reformist in nature, it offered a offered a moral perception to capitalism. Andrew Thorpe presents a different perspective of the historical background of the progressive dilemma through defining the division existing between the Labour and Liberal parties. The Liberal Party had a formed coalition government with the Conservative Party (Thorpe, 2011). However. The coalition government imparted an extended run of strain on the Liberals who were in pursuit of not being some type of social democracy in the surrogate perspective. The Liberal party was more right-wing and centrist according to its political identity (Thorpe, 2015).

Thorpe considered the debate of the progressive dilemma in terms of the politics of possibility and politics of identity. Also, he considered the manner in which people create their own unique political commitments. According to Thorpe, the Liberal and Labour party ideologies were frustrated by their political commitments and this resulted in the thriving of the Conservative Party (Thorpe, 2011). The Conservative Party was self-consciously right due to the more ideological and self-conscious left was against it. Earlier on in the 1900s, the Conservative party has established itself as a wide church of the right politics. This brought them no serious national challenge. Especially the merger with the Liberals gave them unlimited control and longevity (Thorpe, 2011). The Conservatives, unlike the Liberals, were very well financed. They had a wide foundation of prvate wealth to make generous expenditures unlike the Liberals who were quite tight on their budget expenditures (Thorpe, 1927). Its wide foundation of affluence was the cornerstone to its success and stability. The Conservative Party had already created an identity, whereas the Liberals were working on possibilities. Although the Liberals may have consisted influencive progressive intellectuals, it lacked stability and had a weaker financial base (Thorpe, 2015). The Labour Party on the other hand also had a quite strong political identity which still presented the possibility of collaborating with the Liberals to facilitate reforms.

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David Marquand’s Progressive Dilemma has a perspective of the rigidness of the Labour Party which did not present a way through for Liberalism immediately. The Conservative Party was able to dominate after the coalition government due to the strong political identity it had created and the wide financial support it acquired from its members. The inability of the Labour and Liberal party to reach a common ground led to the battles between socialism and unionism. The Labour party had a staunch union background which offered little concern for other ideologies such as Liberlism (Thorpe, 1927). As a result, the Liberal Party’s progressive intellectuals remained in a tight position because of anti-Conservative efforts and the conflict between socialism and unionism (which was embodied in the Labour Party). The Conservative party dominated the British political landscape due to the existence of the progressive dilemma (Thorpe, 2011).


  • Fielding, S. & McHugh, D., 2003. The Progressive Dilemma and the social democratic perspective. In: Interpreting the Labour Party. s.l.:Northern Phototypesetting Co. Ltd, pp. 134-149.
  • Gamble, A., 2017. The progressive dilemma revisited.. Political Quarterly, 88(1), pp. 136-143.
  • Marquand, D. (1999) The Progressive Dilemma: From Lloyd George to Blair (2nd ed.) Orion/Phoenix('Foreword', Ch 1&2)
  • McHugh, D., 2001. A 'Mass' Party Frustrated? The Development of the Labour Party in Manchester, 1918-31, s.l.: European Studies Research Institute.
  • Thorpe, A., 1927. The Failure of Political Extremism in Inter-war Britain. s.l.:University of Exeter.
  • Thorpe, A., 2011. The progressive fallacy: Liberals and Labour in 20th and 21st century British politics. [Online]
  • Thorpe, A., 2015. A History of the Labour Party. London: Palgrave.

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