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Unit information: The Politics of the Contemporary Labour Party in 2018/19

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Unit name The Politics of the Contemporary Labour Party
Unit code POLI30024
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Wickham-Jones
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit will examine the contemporary politics of the Labour Party. In particular it will focus on the nature of the party’s leadership and the role of senior figures in shaping Labour’s policy commitments, electoral outlook, and organizational structure. The unit will look in depth at relationships within the party including those between the leadership and different elements of it such as the parliamentary party, grassroots constituency parties, and the affiliated unions. It will assess a number of scholarly debates about the developments that have taken place to Labour politics over the last few years. It will ask such questions as how does the party’s leadership process work? What groups exist within the Parliamentary Labour Party? What is the role of Labour’s grassroots membership? What is Labour’s electoral strategy? Where does power lie in the contemporary Labour party?

The unit aims to allow students:

To outline the trajectory adopted by the contemporary British Labour Party;

  • To examine the party’s contemporary politics in comparison with its politics in earlier periods;
  • To detail the party’s policy programme;
  • To analyse Labour’s organizational structure;
  • To assess the party’s electoral strategy;
  • To discuss current academic debates about Labour Party politics.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

• Intricate knowledge of recent developments to the Labour party including such matters as its leadership, its policy programme, its electoral outlook and its organisational structure;

• An ability to critically assess these developments in a comprehensive fashion;

• An detailed understanding of academic debates about the current politics of the Labour Party;

• A critical awareness of the variety of source material available on Labour party politics in recent years, including primary source material.

Teaching details

1 hour lecture and 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

1,500 word essay (25%)
3,000 word essay (75%)

Both components assess all learning outcomes

Reading and References

Context will be provided by:

Tim Bale, Five Year Mission (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Eunice Goes, The Labour Party under Ed Miliband (Manchester University Press, 2015)

Lewis Minkin, The Blair Supremacy (Manchester University Press, 2014)

Most of the substantive material thereafter will come from electronic journals such as Political Quarterly, British Politics, Renewal, and The British Journal of Politics and International Affairs. For example:

Peter Dorey and Andrew Denham, ‘The Longest Suicide Vote in History’, The Labour Party Leadership Election of 2015’, British Politics, vol. 11, no. 3, 259-282.

Hugh Pemberton and Mark Wickham-Jones, ‘Factionalism in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the 2015 leadership contest’, Renewal, vol. 23, no. 3, 2015, 5-21

Thomas Quinn, ‘The British Labour Party’s leadership election of 2015’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 18, no. 4 (November 2016), 759-778.

Steve Richards, ‘Leadership, loyalty and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’, The Political Quarterly, vol 87, no .1 (January-Maerch 2016), 12-17.

Richard Seymour, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (Verso, 2016)

James Stafford, ‘The Corbyn Experiment’, Dissent, Winter 2016.

This is a research-based unit which will make use of on-going scholarship, drawing largely from journals.