Britain's Left Turns Right

How Labour Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nationalism

Through much of the 1990s, the fabled special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom ran in parallel with a similarly special relationship between the countries’ center-left parties. Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party and Tony Blair’s New Labour shared a sense that electoral success depended on their ability to occupy the middle ground of politics, and, if necessary, steal some of the other side’s clothes, particularly on questions of welfare reform. But the ideological overlap between the two parties has recently begun to shrink -- and nowhere more so than on the issue of immigration. For both parties, immigration reform has become a paramount subject. But they approach it in vastly different ways.

In the Obama era, the Democrats have become vocal proponents of open borders and ethnic diversity, as evidenced by the recent legislation passed by the Senate with the president’s backing. In the United Kingdom, however, politicians on all sides, including Labour, have been competing to sound tougher on border controls, health tourism (visitors to Britain taking advantage of free health care), and limits on the issue of student visas. Unlike in the United States, in the United Kingdom it is center-left liberals, not center-right conservatives, who are facing existential choices over immigration. The issue has even provided the launching pad for a new political movement inside the Labour Party -- Blue Labour -- whose goal has been nothing less than a wholesale re-examination of the basis of the party’s political philosophy. And the fate of that movement says much about the future of the European left as it attempts to balance political principles against electoral considerations. 

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis