Labour’s Civil Wars

Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice

‘meticulously fair’
Times Literary Supplement

‘[A] thought-provoking book’
Literary Review

‘Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice’s vivid account of Labour’s many civil wars should make for sobering reading’
House Magazine



‘[a] fascinating history’
Fabian Review

‘The British tradition of social democracy has needed a powerful shot of political and analytical adrenaline for a long time. Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice, bearing a large syringe, are about to administer it.’
Peter Hennessy

‘Two renowned commentators, historians – and players – in Labour’s life, offer a cool assessment of times past together with some wise suggestions on how not to repeat past failings to avoid future civil wars. These insiders, albeit with academic detachment, write in a time of peace but draw on battles fought and lost to offer new insights into some troubled years.’
Dianne Hayter

‘Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice have written the best, highly readable history of the Labour party and its civil wars that I have ever come across. Coming from different political generations but with a shared commitment to the success of social democratic politics, Diamond and Radice tell as sad but gripping story of repeated cycles of political failure, bitter division, and Left self-destructiveness, broken only by Attlee’s victory in 1945, Wilson’s in 1964 and Blair’s three election victories starting in 1997. It is a must read for anyone who cares about Labour’s future. In its concluding chapter it sets out a compelling vision of what Labour should stand for today and how the Labour party that Keir Starmer has so bravely reformed, can win and hold power to achieve profound and lasting political change.
Roger Liddle

‘Bloodcurdling strife has bedevilled the Labour party, as social democrats and socialists found fighting each other easier than defeating the real enemy. Here is a riveting account of that warfare: from Ramsay McDonald, to Bevan, Benn, and Blairites v Corbynism, these are tales of woe that helped keep Conservatives in power for most of our lives. But lifting our sights, these two fine writers, historians and Labour aficionados offer ways to avoid an internecine future, if “diverse ideological perspectives are welcomed and not merely tolerated”. One side winning is no answer: Blair was too controlling, Corbynites too insular when Labour needs to be a “national party of the widest coalition of interests”. Enjoy the riveting stories of bygone battles – and take hope that Labour can avoid repeating that fratricide in future.’
Polly Toynbee


The biblical adage that ‘if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand’ remains sound theological advice. It is also essential counsel for any political party in Britain that aspires to win elections. Though both major parties have been subject to internal conflict over the years, the Labour Party has been more given to damaging splits. The divide exposed by the Corbyn insurgency is only the most recent example in a century of destructive infighting. Indeed, it has often seemed as if Labour is more adept at fighting itself than defeating the Tory party.

This book examines the history of Labour’s civil wars and the underlying causes of the party’s schisms, from the first split of 1931, engineered by Ramsay MacDonald, to the ongoing battle for the future between the incumbent Labour leader Keir Starmer, and those who fundamentally altered the party’s course under his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

PATRICK DIAMOND is professor of public policy at Queen Mary University of London. He was senior adviser to the Prime Minister (2001-05) and head of policy planning in 10 Downing Street (2009-10).

Listen to Patrick on The New Statesman podcast here.

GILES RADICE has been in parliament for forty-six years, first as MP and later as a Labour member of the House of Lords. As a writer and historian, he is the author of fifteen books, including Friends and Rivals: Crossland, Jenkins and Healy, Odd Couples: The Great Political Pairings of Modern Britain and the Haus Curiosities pamphlet A Love Affair with Europe: A Case for a European Future.

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