Marc Collinson (Bangor) on the Labour Party, post-war immigration and the politics of race

From the late 1950s, mass immigration had a major impact on British, predominantly urban, society. This caused problems for the Labour Party, not least because it claimed to represent a white working-class that often felt threatened and angered by immigration. Areas like the West Midlands, Merseyside and declining northern mill towns like Blackburn, Batley and Oldham saw racist agitation from an early date. These regions were also a stronghold of the populist ‘right-wing’ of the Labour Party and insufficient attention has been given to the responses of these Labour members to immigration. The membership of the National Front was often formed from these traditional Labour ranks. Fundamentally, this is a study of the political and cultural effects of extremely difficult economic and social conditions on working class communities.

This project is focused on understanding the political dynamics of the Labour Party, and the degree to which policy development at the Party’s London Headquarters reflected the opinions of the party and voters in provincial constituencies. Limited work has been undertaken to understand the tension that clearly existed within the Labour Party at this time. The aim of this project is to understand how issues of immigration, discrimination and urban decline informed both party policy and were reflected in its electoral performance between c.1960 and c.1980. At the LHASC, I used a number of collections: the minutes of the Labour Party sub-committees on immigration and race relations; National Executive Committee minutes, papers related to the Labour Party Research Department as well as the personal papers of MPs such as Michael Foot, Ian Mikardo and Judith Hart. These shed an important light on how the Labour Party reacted to the issue of immigration as well as specific events, such as the 1964 election at Smethwick and the rise of the National Front in the 1970s

I am a self-funded, part time PhD student currently researching the effect on contemporary Labour politics of post war immigration. The funding I received from the Society for the Study of Labour History was vital in allowing me to undertake research at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (LHASC). The trip was incredibly insightful and fruitful. It providing me with a large amount of archival evidence for my research and opening new avenues for further trips. The trips funded by the Society have already led to planning more research trips based on this research. The bursary allowed me to undertake an intensive trip to the LHASC, allowing me to photograph all of the relevant documents held at the archive as well as making two brief afternoon trips to the Working Class Movement Library to consult their collections.

The bursary allowed me to conduct a vast amount of research and I am very thankful to the Society for the Study of Labour History for the opportunity.

Find out more about SSLH bursary schemes.