I am a historian of modern Britain, with particular interests in political thought, labour history, and the history of social and economic policy. I have written about the political thought of the British left, the conceptual history of equality and social justice, corporatism and its critics, and Anglo-American political rhetoric. My current research focuses on the history of neo-liberalism, especially the international development of neo-liberal political and economic ideas between the 1930s and the 1960s. I am also working on the reception of these ideas in British politics in the 1960s and 1970s, on the history of Thatcherism, and on the history and politics of Scottish nationalism.
I teach undergraduate papers in modern British history and the history of political thought. I supervise Masters and DPhil students working on topics in modern British political history, twentieth-century British social and economic policy, and the history of modern political and economic thought. I am happy to hear from prospective research students interested in working in these fields.
I am a convener of the History of Political Thought Seminar and of the Modern British History Seminar. I am the Co-Editor of Political Quarterly and I serve on the Editorial Advisory Boards of the Journal of British Studies; Renewal; and Twentieth Century British History.
Equality and the British Left: A Study in Progressive Political Thought, 1900-64 (Manchester University Press, 2007)
The demand for equality has been at the heart of the politics of the Left in the twentieth century, but what did theorists and politicians on the British Left mean when they said they were committed to 'equality'? How did they argue for a more egalitarian society? Which policies did they think could best advance their egalitarian ideals? Equality and the British Left provides the first comprehensive answers to these questions. It charts debates about equality from the progressive liberalism and socialism of the early twentieth century to the arrival of the New Left and revisionist social democracy in the 1950s. Along the way, it examines and reassesses the egalitarian political thought of many significant figures in the history of the British Left, including L. T. Hobhouse, R. H. Tawney and Anthony Crosland.
Newly available in paperback for the first time, this book demonstrates that the British Left has historically been distinguished from its ideological competitors on the Centre and the Right by a commitment to a demanding form of economic egalitarianism. It shows that this egalitarianism has come to be neglected or caricatured by politicians and scholars alike, and is more surprising and sophisticated than is often imagined.
Equality and the British Left offers a compelling new perspective on British political thought that will appeal to scholars and students of British history and political theory, and to anyone interested in contemporary debates about progressive politics.
Making Thatcher’s Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2012), co-edited with Robert Saunders
Margaret Thatcher was one of the most controversial figures of modern times. Her governments inspired hatred and veneration in equal measure and her legacy remains fiercely contested. Yet assessments of the Thatcher era are often divorced from any larger historical perspective. This book draws together leading historians to locate Thatcher and Thatcherism within the political, social, cultural and economic history of modern Britain. It explores the social and economic crises of the 1970s; Britain's relationships with Europe, the Commonwealth and the United States; and the different experiences of Thatcherism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The book assesses the impact of the Thatcher era on class and gender and situates Thatcherism within the Cold War, the end of Empire and the rise of an Anglo-American 'New Right'. Drawing on the latest available sources, it opens a wide-ranging debate about the Thatcher era and its place in modern British history.
The rise of the neo-liberal right and Thatcherism
The political thought of British liberalism and socialism
The history and politics of Scottish nationalism
The history and politics of the Labour Party
Twentieth century British social and economic policy
The Case for Scottish Independence: Nationalist Political Thought in Scotland, c. 1960-2014
Scottish nationalism is a powerful movement in contemporary politics, yet the goal of Scottish independence emerged surprisingly recently into public debate. The origins of Scottish nationalism lie not in the medieval battles for Scottish statehood, the Acts of Union, the Scottish Enlightenment, or any of the other familiar historical milestones that regularly crop up in debates about Scottish identity. Rather, an influential separatist Scottish nationalism began to take shape only in the 1970s and achieved its present ideological maturity in the course of the 1980s and 1990s. The nationalism that emerged from this testing period of Scottish history was unusual in that it demanded independence not to defend a threatened ancestral culture but as the most effective way to promote the agenda of the left.
This book provides the first detailed account of the political thought of Scottish nationalism. Drawing on a wide range of published and unpublished sources, it traces how the arguments for Scottish independence were crafted over some fifty years by intellectuals, politicians and activists and why these ideas had such a seismic impact on Scottish and British politics in the 2014 independence referendum.
A review essay on Alexander Zevin, Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist. Available at http://bostonreview.net/class-inequality-politics/ben-jackson-whose-liberalism.
Free Markets and Feminism: The Neo-Liberal Defence of the Male Breadwinner Model in Britain, c. 1980-1997
Women's History Review
Although neo-liberalism is often seen as a set of ideas that prioritises the individual, in fact neo-liberals have always seen the traditional family as the critical social institution that is to be protected from the state and to be granted new freedoms by greater access to market opportunities. A male bread-winner model of economic life was therefore as central to the worldview of neo-liberalism as it was to post-war social democracy. How did the advocates of market liberalism on the British right conceptualise the shifts in gender norms that took place during the 1980s and 1990s? How far did they try to adapt their free market objectives to this new social reality and how far did they try to resist it? How did they react to the growing salience of feminist arguments and policies on the left of British politics, and in particular Labour’s growing enthusiasm for a social democratic politics that integrated some feminist insights? This article investigates these questions through an examination of the political thought of Britain’s market liberals. The picture that emerges is two-fold: in the first instance, a concerted, although unsuccessful, effort by the free market right to resist some of this social change, but secondly greater ideological success for neo-liberals with respect to the role that could legitimately be played by the state rather than the market in addressing the social challenges posed by shifting gender roles.
Richard Titmuss versus the IEA: The Transition from Idealism to Neo-Liberalism in British Social Policy
Welfare and Social Policy in Britain Since 1870: Essays in Honour of Jose Harris
An influential strand of Jose Harris’s research has emphasised the importance of idealist political thought to the rise and fall of the British welfare state. Harris argues that the mid-twentieth century demise of political theory about social policy left the welfare state vulnerable because its defenders lacked a philosophical discourse with the depth of idealism. This chapter tests this argument by looking in more detail at a case study from the post-1945 discussion about the welfare state: the debate between the group of socialist social policy academics associated with Richard Titmuss and the neo-liberals at the Institute of Economic Affairs spear-headed by Arthur Seldon. The chapter demonstrates that while the defenders of the Beveridgean welfare state lacked theoretical firepower when confronted by a philosophical counterblast from the right, the major weakness of the left’s social policy analysis was in fact a failure to contest the neo-liberal appropriation of economic theory.
Citizen and Subject: Clement Attlee's Socialism
History Workshop Journal
A review essay on John Bew, Citizen Clem: A Biography of Clement Attlee
Richard Titmuss, Essays on 'the Welfare State'
Introduction to a new edition of Richard Titmuss, Essays on 'the Welfare State'
A Union of Hearts? Republican Social Democracy and Scottish Nationalism
Making Social Democrats: Citizens, Mindsets, Realities: Essays for David Marquand
The aim of this chapter is to consider how far it is possible to distinguish the progressive strand of Scottish nationalist thinking that coalesced in the 1980s and 1990s from the similar discourse of constitutional reform at the British level associated with movements such as Charter 88 and their leading intellectual advocates such as David Marquand, Paul Hirst and Will Hutton. This latter body of opinion was in the 1980s and 1990s generally indifferent or hostile to Scottish nationalism, but it has become harder in recent years to formulate a hard and fast distinction between them. Should those committed to a more democratic and pluralist British constitutional settlement such as David Marquand in fact ‘logically’ favour Scottish independence as part of such wide-ranging reform?
The State of Social Democracy and the Scottish Nationalists
A Nation Changed? The SNP and Scotland Ten Years on
How social democratic is the policy record of the SNP in government? This is a harder question to answer than partisans on both sides of this argument will admit.
Progressivism in British Politics: Some Revisionist Themes
This article argues that a return to the history of progressive political thought can help us to think afresh about what a renewed centre-left politics might look like today. The article identifies some significant aspects of this history that attracted little attention in earlier debates over the British progressive tradition, in particular debates about social ownership, nationalism and distributism. This revisionist history of British progressivism points the way towards some common ideological ground that could provide a starting point for a new dialogue between different ‘progressive’ political parties and interests.
Currents of Neo-Liberalism: British Political Ideologies and the New Right, c. 1955-79
The English Historical Review
This article investigates the emergence of neo-liberalism in Britain and its intellectual relationship with each of the three main British political ideologies. The article distinguishes between different currents of neo-liberalism that have been absorbed into British political thought, and shows that this process to some extent pre-dated the electoral success of Thatcherism in the 1980s. The article further suggests that labelling recent British political discourse as unvarnished ‘neo-liberalism’, while at times analytically useful, simplifies a more complicated picture, in which distinctively neo-liberal ideas have been blended in different ways into the ideologies of British Liberalism, Conservatism and even Labour socialism. The article therefore turns the spotlight on a more obscure aspect of the making of British neo-liberalism by exploring how politicians and intellectuals of varying partisan stripes generated policy discourses that presented neo-liberal ideas as an authentic expression of their own ideological traditions. Perhaps the most surprising finding of this article, then, is that neo-liberalism, although frequently characterised as rigid and dogmatic, has in fact proved itself to be a flexible and adaptable body of ideas, capable of colonising territory right across the political spectrum.
I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding:
Modern British political history
Twentieth century British social and economic policy;
The history of modern political and economic thought
I currently teach:
History of the British Isles 1815-1924
History of the British Isles 1815-1924
History of the British Isles Since 1900
History of the British Isles Since 1900
Theories of the State
Political Theory and Social Science, c. 1780-1920
Approaches to History
War and Reconstruction: Ideas, Politics and Social Change, 1939-45
Disciplines of History
In the Media
Great Thinkers: Beatrice Webb FBA
In 1931, the British Academy elected its first female fellow, Beatrice Webb. A sociologist, economist and social reformer, she was one of the four founders of the London School of Economics. In this episode, Professor Jose Harris FBA and Dr Ben Jackson take a closer look at Webb’s extraordinary life and legacy.