How Labour Governs: A conference to mark 100 years of Labour Governments

This conference commemorated the 100th anniversary of the British Labour Party’s first government in 1924 by examining the record of Labour in power and the challenges it has faced since that time.

Date: Saturday 27 January 2024

Venue: Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge campus, East Road, CB1 1PT

Convenor: Rohan McWilliam.

Read the full conference report by PhD student Polly Bowerman


Professor David Edgerton (Kings College, London) - "A Declinist with a Purpose: Harold Wilson and the Politics of Production".

Charles Clarke (former Labour MP and Home Secretary) - "The Political Challenges facing Labour in Government".

Professor Rohan McWilliam introducing Charles Clarke at the How Labour Governs conference



It is now 100 years since Labour first formed a government. This conference explores the statecraft of Labour in power. How have Labour governments adjusted historically to taking over the levers of the British state? To what extent did Labour governments control their own destiny and implement their programmes? In what ways did Labour transform Britain? How might we define and analyse Labour’s political creativity (or lack of creativity)? To what extent did Labour governments prove able to rethink policy and take account of its changing electorate? How might we use our understanding of Labour’s history to interpret the challenges of Labour today?

To what extent can Labour historians make a contribution to the intellectual culture on which future Labour governments might draw? How can we do progressive politics better?

This conference drew together historians, policy specialists, politicians and others to explore the challenges Labour has faced and will face. It was also intended as an event in the path to the next General Election.


Labour and the Wider World
Jonathan Davis (ARU), From Soviet recognition to the ethical foreign policy: what did internationalism mean to Labour in power?
Richard Johnson (Queen Mary, University of London), Out and Into the World: Decolonisation, Development, & Euroscepticism in the 1960s-70s Labour Governments.
Charlotte Lydia Riley (Southampton), A Moral Crusade or Nothing: Labour, foreign policy and identity in government.

Labour and the Constitution
David Torrance (Independent Scholar), The Labour Party and the territorial constitution, 1924-1997.
Frederick Cowell (Birkbeck), Labour and Human Rights: The Human Rights Act and the reshaping of British government and society. Tony Taylor (Sheffield Hallam), The Labour Party in Power and Constitutional Reform.

Labour in Government
Adrian Smith (Southampton), Labour and the military: Dealing with the chiefs of staff (1929-51).
Lyndsey Jenkins (Oxford), ‘If we did not raise these simple issues, nobody will’: Labour women’s campaigns from the backbenches during the Wilson administrations.
Jonathan Portes (Kings, London), New Labour and new Britons - immigration policy under Labour 1997-2010.

Labour and the Economy
Jim Tomlinson (Glasgow), The 1974-1979 Labour government: deindustrialisation and the national economy.
Glen O’Hara (Oxford Brookes), New Labour, New Britain? Tony Blair and the Labour Governments of 1997-2007.
Colm Murphy and Patrick Diamond (Queen Mary), Is there such a thing as social-democratic austerity? Fiscal 'constraints' and Labour in power.

Final Panel
Richard Toye (Exeter), The extremely successful history of the Labour Party.
Pamela Cox (Essex), How Labour should govern: Securing the next Labour Government.