Must Labour Lose?

The 1959 election and the politics of the people

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Charlotte Lydia Riley University of Southampton, UK

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This article explores Mark Abrams, Richard Rose, and Rita Hinden's 1960 publication Must Labour Lose? in order to demonstrate that contemporary debates around British identity and political culture are nothing new. The concerns about political, party, and national identity in this book clearly prefigure 2016 debates about Britain, not least because a specific question—how to vote—became a conversation about a broader set of ideals. This article explores how Must Labour Lose? constructed an image of British politics in 1959. It interrogates its silences around racial identity and argues that we must read race into this book and others like it. And it concludes that research like this enables a much wider understanding of the British electorate than simply how they voted.

Contributor Notes

Charlotte Lydia Riley is Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History at the University of Southampton. She is interested in the cultural history of politics and identity in twentieth-century Britain, with a focus on the left, second-wave feminism, and decolonization. She has written on British overseas aid policy, the UN International Decade for Women, and Labour's approach to the end of empire, and has recently edited a book, The Free Speech Wars: how did we get here and why does it matter? (MUP, 2021). She is currently writing a book, Imperial Island, which explores the influence of the British Empire on British society, politics and culture between World War II and Brexit, which will be published in 2022 by Bodley Head. Email:

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