The trouble with timely books is that time is apt to run out rather suddenly for them. No doubt when the 20 members of Labour's Shadow Cabinet planned the essays in Renewal they expected them to thicken the political debate during the six to nine months run-up to a general election. As it is, they have been overtaken by events: shortly we shall have the more clipped and precise promises of the real Manifesto instead of the discursive and sometimes cloudy compositions presented here. 'Timely and provocative' is the publisher's claim for this volume. Provocative? Not at all - nor should one expect it to be, for elections in Britain are invariably won by those who manage to be reassuring to the electorate. Even the notable left-wing victories of 1906, 1929, 1945, 1966 and 1974 all owed something to the capacity of the radical party of the time to allay the fears of voters alarmed by the Right. Now Mrs Thatcher is as reassuring as a lively ferret in a warren full of rabbits, but Labour's escape route attracts little traffic. Many of the contributors seem primarily to be reassuring themselves, for they look back to 1945-51 as if hoping to recapture glad confident morning again. As always, they find no inspiration in Clement Attlee. He is very much Labour's Lord Salisbury - long-lasting and successful, but an end rather than a beginning. Instead it is Nye Bevan whose words our authors like to quote.
LRB 2 June 1983 | PDF Download