British Politics

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 525–548 | Cite as

Gripped by the past: Nostalgia and the 2010 Labour party leadership contest

  • Richard Jobson
  • Mark Wickham-Jones
Original Article


Ed Miliband was elected to the Labour leadership claiming that ‘the past is another country’. In this article, we assess Labour's transition from office to opposition in 2010 and we address the nostalgic dimension of the party's politics through an examination of the 2010 contest for the party leadership. We scrutinise the role of nostalgia in shaping Labour politics and evaluate its contribution to debates within the party. Historically, Labour has been identified as a nostalgic party, one deeply attached to the past. New Labour, however, claimed to have broken with such an outlook. During the 2010 contest for the party leadership, both leading candidates, David Miliband and Ed Miliband, also claimed to reject a nostalgic orientation. An examination of their campaigns indicates, however, that both, along with two other contestants, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham, made reference to the past in the orientation of their candidacies. All four male candidates offered signals locating themselves within Labour's history. We conclude that nostalgia shaped the 2010 leadership contest: it hindered the development of any candidate developing the kind of modernising appeal on which New Labour was based; it helped to define the locations of the candidates; and it moulded the claims and counter-claims made by the Miliband brothers against each other. Labour's relationship with the present remains defined, in part, by its complicated historical understanding of the past. As far as the Labour party is concerned, the past is rarely another country.


history identity Labour party leadership election nostalgia social democracy 



This article draws on fieldwork undertaken at the 2009 and 2010 Labour party conferences. We are grateful to participants, especially Hugh Pemberton, at the PSA Labour Movements group annual conference at University College, Oxford, 11 June 2010 for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Jobson
    • 1
  • Mark Wickham-Jones
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Historical StudiesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.School of Sociology, Politics and International RelationsBristolUK

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