Casualisation, Contracts, and Crisis: The University in the early 21st Century

Interviews conducted and written by Jamie Gemmell.

From the University of Edinburgh’s various prospective student webpages, you would conclude that teaching lay at the heart of the institution. In their words, Edinburgh offers “world-class teaching” and is “always keen to develop innovative approaches to teaching.” Whilst the quality of Edinburgh’s teaching may not be in doubt, it is apparent that, judging by the way the institution treats staff, teaching is near the bottom of the university’s priorities. Over the past few months I have conducted interviews with Dr. Tereza Valny (Teaching Fellow in Modern European History), Dr. Megan Hunt (Teaching Fellow in American History), Dr. Kalathmika Natarajan (Teaching Fellow in Modern South Asian History), and Professor Diana Paton (William Robertson Professor of History). This piece aims to give voice to some of their experiences, putting a face to some of the more opaque problems raised by the ongoing industrial dispute between the UCU and Universities UK.

Three of my interviewees are “Teaching Fellows,” a position frequently defined by its contractual vagueness. On the surface, this short-term position is designed to provide opportunities for early career scholars, with an emphasis is on teaching and other student-facing activities. Often, the role is financed when a permanent member of staff acquires a large research grant. Theoretically, it’s a win-win: a more senior scholar can dedicate more time to their research, whilst a more junior scholar can gain some of the necessary skills and experience required for a permanent position. The reality is very different. In Dr. Valny’s words, the Teaching Fellowship is “extremely exploitative and really problematic.” In her experience, it meant being “plunged into an institution” to run modules and “figure[ing] it out as you go along.” Similarly, Dr. Natarajan referred to the contract as “precarious.” She finds the contractual obligations “so overwhelming, that I often … need a bit of a break,” leaving her unable to conduct research in her, unpaid, spare time. 

One of the primary issues around the Teaching Fellowship is the workload. Whilst Dr. Hunt’s contract stipulates that she should be working around twenty-nine to thirty hours per week, in reality she works “easily double that.” If she doesn’t have “specific plans on a weekend” she “will work.” Even then, she remains in a “cycle where you never quite get on top of it.” Dr. Natarajan puts it a bit more diplomatically, suggesting that her hours “definitely stretch more than the average work week.” Under the department’s carefully calibrated workload framework, five hours of one-on-one time are given to each tutorial group for a whole semester and forty minutes for a typical undergraduate essay – that includes engaging with work, writing up feedback, and discussing it with the student. Obviously, this is not sufficient. Dr. Hunt concludes that if she worked the hours laid out by the workload framework, her classes “would be turning up and saying let’s have a chat.” Even as a Professor, these issues do not fall away. Whilst working to contract as part of the UCU industrial action this term, Professor Paton has been able to spend much less time preparing for teaching than she normally would, only “scanning over primary sources” and “relying on long-term knowledge” when it comes to the secondary literature. By focusing on quantifying time so precisely, the institution has failed students completely, relying on the goodwill of the University’s employees. It hardly reflects a desire to introduce “innovative approaches” to teaching. 

With workloads so high, it is common for early career scholars to become trapped in teaching positions. Advancement in the sector relies on putting together a strong research portfolio – that means articles in highly regarded journals and respected book publications. As one of the University’s primary sources of income is research funding, scholars with reputable research backgrounds are crucial. However, Teaching Fellowships, by their very nature, stipulate little to no time to research. When I asked Dr. Natarajan how many hours she dedicated to research she laughed and said, “absolutely none.” Despite developing many of her key ideas through her teaching, Dr. Valny has never had the “space to take those ideas” and transform them into a book proposal. This can lead to anxiety and stress. Dr. Natarajan’s PhD is “constantly at the back of my mind,” yet she rarely finds significant time to transform the piece into a monograph. Without the adequate time allocated to research, these scholars can never advance. Dr. Valny, rather depressingly, concludes that if she continues within a Teaching Fellowship she will become “unemployable” in any other position. With her contract expiring in August this year, it appears that this possibility could become a reality. Her situation reflects a broader problem where staff dedicated to their students and teaching are not rewarded for their work.

The emphasis on research has led to pernicious discourses that have devalued teaching, further demoralising many early career scholars who find themselves ensnared in these roles. In contrast to her time in Prague, where she was rewarded for producing popular courses (although still employed only temporarily), Dr. Valny finds herself suffering from feelings of “imposter syndrome” and “guilt, or inadequacy” when confronted with suggestions that she need only apply for research grants to escape her role. For Dr. Hunt, being “respected for what I already do quite well,” would be more appreciated. She claims that “institutionally it (teaching) doesn’t matter.” By being “a good teacher,” she has risked her career being “put on hold, if not completely stalled.” Similarly, Dr. Natarajan has found her teaching being treated as “a side-line” or a “side-note” to research. Performative professionalism has often defined these scholars’ teaching approaches, hiding an institution that disregards teaching and actively encourages academics to move away from teaching. This is despite some Teaching Fellows, such as Dr. Valny, accepting that a permanent teaching position would be “actually fine.”

These issues around workloads and casualisation intersect with the brutal policies of the Home Office, frequently referred to as the “hostile environment.” Home Office regulations stipulate that only “highly-skilled migrants” can live and work here, meaning those on short term contracts face another level of instability. For Dr. Natarajan, this has been a major source of precariousness. Dr. Natarajan can “only stay as long as I have a job or, rather only as long as I have a visa and the visa depends on my job.” If Dr. Natarajan or her husband fail to secure another job, after their current contracts expire, they risk deportation. Within the sector more broadly, advertisements for short term jobs often assert that only those with a pre-existing right to reside can apply. This issue throws cold water over criticism that stereotypes strikers as middle-class whites. Demonstrably scholars of colour, often, in the words of Dr. Natarajan “have their own very different set of precarious circumstances.” 

Many of these issues reflect deeper structural problems within the higher education sector.  Scholars frequently cited the removal of the student cap and increase in tuition fees, reforms from 2010, as exacerbating pre-existing issues and transforming education into a commodity. Dr. Natarajan has suggested that the university has become a “business venture,” whilst Professor Paton claims that there was an “almost instant” change in the way students and management conceptualised higher education after 2010. Over the years, under Professor Paton’s analysis, this “quantitative increase has become a qualitative change,” putting pressure on staff and students. Despite student numbers and tuition fees increasing, Dr. Hunt suggests that “the service that people are paying” for is not being provided. Rather, money flows into marketing and big projects that elevate the positions of senior management figures.

The university sector appears to have reached a tipping point. On a micro level, staff are under increasing pressure, with workloads increasing and casualisation becoming more widespread. A two-tier system has developed, with early career scholars expected to teach more and research less. Goodwill and professionalism appear to be the only things preventing university teaching coming to a standstill. On a macro level, the sector has become partially commercialised with fees privatised and universities encouraged to compete for students. This has occurred without a concomitant provision of consumer rights, leaving students forced to accept higher levels of debt without safeguards in place to demand improvements or changes in the service provided. These institutions have been left in some middle ground between state-funded institution and privately-funded business venture, to the detriment of academics and students. Demands being made under the ongoing industrial dispute are hardly radical. Many academics are simply requesting greater job security and more respect for the work they do. If universities aren’t designed to support students or academics properly, we are all left asking who on earth are they designed for?  

A Letter To My Students

Written by: Dr Jake Blanc.

A letter to my students:

I do not want to be on strike. None of your lecturers do. We would rather be inside our classrooms giving a lecture, or in a seminar room discussing a reading, or holding office hours to talk through an essay assignment. And given that the outside temperatures have been hovering in the low single digits, coming out to the picket line every morning is far from an easy or cheerful decision.

But we cannot come back in, at least not yet. And please believe me here when I give the reason for why we have to stay outside a little longer. We are on strike for you, our students.

You probably hear that a lot around universities these days. Touch-screen panels in every classroom: for the students! A new survey every week: for the students! Two-for-one Dominos pizza: for the students!

But when I say that me and my colleagues are on strike for you—for the students—it reflects something much more important. Choosing to leave our classrooms, to forego our salary, and to hold up signs on a frozen sidewalk in your name, that is a deeply sincere statement.

Nobody goes into academia for fame or fortune. Unless you study celebrity culture or business history, you are unlikely to experience either or those two words in your daily academic life. Instead, the overwhelming majority of our time is spent thinking about, planning, and delivering pedagogy and mentorship to our students. And I would say that for almost every academic I know, that is precisely why we love our jobs.

But over the past many years (and decades!) universities have changed in ways that make it increasingly difficult, if not outright impossible, for us to give you the education you deserve. You likely have heard that our current strike has four core demands, relating to issues of casualisation, fair pay, equity, and pensions. Like any job that aims to be both part and a model of an inclusive society, ours relies on the foundation of steady employment, adequate compensation, equality amongst all employees, and the security of a dignified livelihood once we stop working. And each of the four relate to vital threads of what allows us to have the personal, financial, and mental wellbeing to come to work every day to help create the type of learning environment in which all members of a university community can thrive.

I won’t go into detail here on the four demands. That information is available elsewhere and, moreover, as a relative newcomer to the UK, I do not want to presume the cultural and institutional knowledge to properly talk through each item. (Though let’s not kid ourselves, our struggle here in Britain is part of the same struggle I would have faced if I had stayed in the U.S. or gone to teach anywhere else in the world).

Instead, I want to reiterate that I see you, that we see you. All of us, your lecturers, your tutors, your supervisors, your support staff, everyone. We all see you. We know that our decision to strike makes you stressed and worried. We know that our choice to keep you from your usual class routine makes you nervous about essays and exams. I’m sure it might even feel like we’re doing this in spite of you—or even worse, against you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We’re doing this because we are frustrated, and tired, and overworked, and to be honest, pissed off. We are angry that the university has let our conditions, and our workloads, and our hiring practices degrade to such a point that we have to abandon our classrooms just to have our demands be taken seriously. A strike is not a strategy to be used lightly, it is a last-resort, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of option. And we are currently in that sort of moment.

Personally, I am three years into what I can hope will be a long career. I’d love nothing more than to devote my professional life to working with several generations of students, where my history courses can serve as a platform for students to make sense of the past, to learn to think critically, to write well, and to engage one another with empathy. If I’m lucky enough, many of you might even follow suit and become my colleagues one day, and then you’ll get to share in the joys of what, when supported properly, is the best job in the world.

But those hopes are contingent on something changing. And for us, that something can only come about by going on strike. We’ve exhausted all other options. Believe me, we don’t want to strike. But we care too much about doing our job well, and we care too much about you and your future, to not see this through.

So thank you for your support. And if not your support, then hopefully at least your trust that when we say we’re doing this for our students, we mean it.

Dr Jake Blanc

Lecturer in Latin American History

Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro speak to Retrospect about their recent appointments to the Young Academy of Europe

By Alfie Garland and Daniel Sharp

Two members of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology have recently been given new appointments to the Young Academy of Europe. Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro are, respectively, Reader in Archaeology and Reader in Greek History at the School, and have been appointed to the Executive Board of the Academy and as a Fellow, respectively. Retrospect sat down with them in Dr Fernández-Götz’s office to talk about their impressive achievement.

We first asked them to explain what the Young Academy is for those who do not know. We were told, with a smile, that ‘young’ in this case meant under 50. Essentially, the Academy is a body which brings together experts to coordinate on policymaking throughout Europe. It is actually an umbrella organisation under which are many national Academies, such as the Scottish division which Dr Canevaro is already a member of. The Academy gives Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Canevaro access to politicians who researchers would not normally have contact with. Ultimately, the Academy offers them an opportunity to contribute to political debates and decision making indirectly by feeding politicians with different perspectives. Dr Canevaro mentioned, with pride, his discussions with the Scottish Parliament, where he, as part of the Young Academy of Scotland, helped dissuade them from a policy of giving postgraduate grants only to STEM students, arguing that this, far from widening student participation, undermines it by shutting out those who think the Humanities are the best way forward for them.

The Young Academy has its roots in the Academia Europaea. The new institution responded to a need for fresher perspectives on current pressing issues. Its constitution has proven to be incredibly beneficial to academic research, as both institutions produce different research.

Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro brought attention to the rankings to which all academics are subjected to. As positions are highly contested, the Academy provides academics with opportunities to bid for honours and awards that can serve academics to gain a higher reputation within their fields of study. The appointment of Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Canevaro to the Young Academy is a fantastic recognition for the pair’s brilliant research. Furthermore, with such nomination comes benefits for the whole School of History, Classics and Archaeology. We learned through them that thanks to their nomination, academic staff in the HCA will be able to apply for grants accounting to two million euros.

Interestingly, the Young Academy is largely formed by academic scientists rather than specialists from the Humanities. Retrospect asked what Humanities brought to the table in a room filled with scientists. Dr Fernández-Götz argued that the skills inculcated by studies in this branch of academia were vital. Self-reflection on contexts and processes as well as a critical voice and critical thinking – tools that are absolutely essential in any discussion on public policy or academic research. Furthermore, he highlighted an important connotation in the word ‘humanities’. What does it mean to be human or to be humane? Is there a difference? If so, what is it? Can we collectivise humans? And humane characteristics? What are the implications of our interpretation of ‘humanity’ when considering an individual’s role within a community? Dr Fernández-Götz quoted Winston Churchill on how this relates specifically to history: ‘The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’

On this subject, both academics stated that many of the hard sciences and the humanities are not too different in terms of their perspective. They actually stated that there is a greater difference between humanities, social sciences, and economics than between humanities and hard sciences. Humanities and hard sciences have a penchant for blue-sky research, whereas social sciences and economics mostly address quantifiable research and knowledge. By way of illustration, they mentioned Peter Higgs, professor in Physics and one of Edinburgh University’s most recent Nobel prize winners, who said that if he had tried to conduct that style of research today, he would have been fired.

Finally, Dr Canevaro and Dr Fernández-Götz lamented the dependence of academic research on finances. Dr Canevaro said that academics are terrified by a mythically monstrous taxpayer who, according to those who worry more about funding than the benefits of research, is such a penny-pincher that he or she cannot be prodded at all into paying any money for anything. Thankfully, our chat did not finish on this sour note, but rather with inspirational words from Dr Fernández-Götz on the centrality of curiosity and passion over the mundane fixation on money that has so afflicted academia lately.

Second Hand Time

second hand time

Written by Eleanor Hemming

Often when we recount the eras of Russian history, we think first of the Tsarist era, followed by the Soviet Union, and then the arrival of Putin’s Russia. Little thought is given to what happened in between the collapse of the USSR and the year 2000: the all-important tumult of the 1990s, which shook both Russia and many other former Soviet states which found themselves suddenly independent and alone in a fiercely competitive world. The result was violence, dislocation and a loss of identity affecting millions of people across Europe and Central Asia.

Second Hand Time is a book by Nobel-prize winning author Svetlana Alexievich, who has interviewed hundreds of former Soviet citizens in order to try and uncover the profound effect the break up of the USSR had on its people. Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist, who has spent many years interviewing former-Soviet citizens about their life experiences, from Nazi occupation, to Chernobyl, to war in Afghanistan. If you are at all interested by Russia today, why it is as it is, and how Russians perceive their lives today, one would benefit from reading any of the works by Svetlana Alexievich.

I was intrigued to listen to and learn about the collapse of the USSR, and how Russians view their Soviet past from the people I met and grew to know during my time in Russia. The following transcript is taken from an interview I conducted with a teacher living in St Petersburg, who is probably in her mid-sixties and who was keen to impart with me her feelings about the transformation Russia has gone through.

How has your life changed between 1989 and today?

Of course, life now has changed a lot. If you want it in a few words, I would say that before life was more modest in terms of materialism, there were fewer material benefits, but life was happier, more joyful. Our life was lighter, cleaner and in a higher place, and more fair. That’s how I feel.

We had belief in the future: not only in tomorrow but in the day after tomorrow too. Moreover, we knew that there were many years to follow us.

We knew that there would always be work; that we could take holidays and that we could go to relax in the sanatorium [spa], in the Crimea, in the Caucuses or around St Petersburg, for 20-30 per cent of the actual price, thanks to the Teachers’ Union.

We knew that we had and always would have free and decent health care. Our life expectancy was like that in Europe at the time – 76-78 years for men and even more for women.

We had free education for everyone at all levels. Not only at school but also at specialist training schools and universities. Education was splendid. For example, I was a student at the philology faculty at the Russian department at SPSU. In the first class, I studied one course of classical literature, a whole year of Latin, the grammar of Russian language, Latin and Old Slavonic. We had an excellent teacher who would give us extra lectures for free – can you believe it? As a result, we used to get ten hours a week of old Slavonic. Would this be possible under ‘capitalism’? Absolutely not, I think. Why did my teacher give us these extra lessons I ask you? She simply wanted us to have the best understanding of Old Slavonic possible. This knowledge has really helped me, in my work before and now. I pass on my knowledge to my students with enjoyment. There are many more examples like this.

Selflessness – this was the main quality of our people during the Soviet years.

In the USSR, cultural activities were free. If you wanted, you could go to the Palace of Culture, to the theatre, to listen to a choir etc. For example, I sang for two years in the university choir, and our director was an extraordinary conductor, Grigorii Sandler. He was the choral conductor on the Leningrad radio. Thanks to him I sang many times in classical music concerts – in the main hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic and in the October Concert hall, which was then the biggest hall in St Petersburg. The hall was full, more than two thousand people came to listen to us. It was the happiest moment of my life. Of course, we didn’t pay money for these concerts; instead, the ‘Golden Fund Radio’ recorded our performance. Sports were also free. If you wanted to do sport, it was all free. Therefore not only art but also sport was performed at a higher level.

Today parents must pay for all these activities. Nothing is free. Is this capitalism? I don’t know.

Accommodation – we all received a flat for free. The factory gave my father his flat, although not straight away. He was the director of the workshop at the shipbuilding factory, and he was twice offered a flat, but he twice refused, believing that the flats must first be given to the workers. The third time my mother insisted – we needed a flat too!

Now professional/vocational education has practically ceased to exist, our industry is largely destroyed, the factories are closed, and there are no jobs. It was our great chemist Mendeleev (author of the Periodic Table of Elements), who, in the nineteenth century created our legacy of technology and industry. He laid down the chemical foundations for progress and technology and science in our country and throughout the world. In Soviet times we had a powerful industry.

Do you think, in general, that you prefer life now, or before 1989?

I apologise, but I cannot answer that question exactly or unequivocally.  No matter how difficult or hard life is, we cannot turn back the clocks. However, I certainly do not want to relive the so-called ‘tumultuous’ 1990s. This was a time full of bandits, a time when many lost all of their money and savings in just one day, a time when many broke down. On the 1-2 of January 1992, we were informed that not even a kopek of our money remained. Savings were depreciated and shops were emptied. We lost everything that we had earned during our lifetimes.

During the 1990s, the population of Russia declined by ten million people – even though it seemed there was no war and no repression. The loss of work and money, the drunkenness, the disbelief, the lack of faith in the future and so on all took their toll. Not everyone could continue to live and fight for life.

Was capitalism what you thought it would be?

Of course, it was not what we had waited for. Although having said that, I had not imagined it too badly: I had read The American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, many of the works of H.G. Wells, Thomas and Heinrich Mann and much more. Nevertheless, I didn’t think that capitalism would bring prostitution, gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, violent crime, and many other terrible things.

So, we must thank Putin, for stopping the war in Chechnya, for stopping the disintegration of Russian industry, and much more. And I won’t say anything about Crimea! I grew up in a family where we talked about it a lot. We went on holiday there many times. My father built a lot of space technology there, which is not often talked about. Whilst he was in the Crimea we stayed there with my mother. Today I am proud of this.

Did you support Gorbachev and Perestroika in 1989? If Gorbachev were here now, would you still support him?

Yes. I supported Perestroika, as did many of the intelligentsia, and in fact the majority of the population. I understood that change was necessary – reforms, renovation. Moreover, at first, Gorbachev was very confident. But it turned out that he didn’t have a plan of action for reforming the country. He was only confident abroad. It turned out later, that the opinion of the West was much more important to him than the opinion of his fellow citizens. He betrayed the army. And he did it many times. He did not think about our relationship with the republics etc. It was he who ‘forgot about the Crimea’. We are seeing the results now! In conclusion, it’s like the saying ‘you start on a merry note, but finish on a sad one’.

Do you think that people today have different values than those who lived in the USSR?

Yes, as I already mentioned, this is our biggest loss.

We lost what held us together – universal values, collectivism, a sense of responsibility, a sense of partnership, of being ‘elbow to elbow’. However, I hope that Russians can still come together at a time of crisis. They say that Russians don’t give up. They can die, but they won’t give up. This is a quality that I saw in my own unforgettable parents. My father was strong, intelligent, from a wonderful, educated family (his father was a lawyer). He graduated from university a laconic, strong, intelligent man with a fine sense of humour that lasted the whole war, until August 1946! My mother was sweet, kind and joyful. She was left alone in St Petersburg after her parents both died of starvation in 1943, during the Leningrad blockade. My parents survived the war and preserved their humanity and kindness.

The modern youth – they don’t have courtesy, goodwill, respect for themselves and others. These qualities have been replaced with ambition and rudeness. Perhaps this is because today’s television educates these qualities in them, it corrupts them and destroys their moral values.



This is an account of someone who has lived in both the then and the now, and whilst it is important to remember that these are the views of one woman from one generation, she does give us an insight into the mindset of some Russians today. As someone in her mid-sixties, she probably grew up under Khrushchev and Brezhnev and did not experience the terror of Stalin’s era. In the West, Soviet times are portrayed as grey, sombre and full of terror, and in comparison ‘capitalism’ is free and full of colour. Here, we see that for some, at least in hindsight, it was the reverse. Here Soviet Russia is a time of light – full of happy memories and morality. Whilst all the evils of capitalism she mentions almost certainly also existed before 1991, for her these years were a time of stability in comparison to today. In the West, we wonder how Russians can support President Putin. We forget Russia’s tumultuous and difficult past. Whilst we can criticize him on many fronts, Putin has gained tremendous support amongst Russians for restoring stability and national pride, something that during the 1990s went from being a given to a luxury overnight.

5 Minutes With… Dr Robert Crowcroft

Written by Sophia Fothergill.

Dr Robert Crowcroft has been teaching at the University of Edinburgh for five years, and currently teaches an honours class entitled ‘From New Jerusalem to New Labour: The Labour Party in Contemporary Britain’. The interview below was conducted in October 2016.

Can you briefly summarise your area of interest in history?

I work on modern British political history. Most of my work is underpinned by an interest in the character, and imperatives, of democratic politics. That is what I am most concerned with. I have written on the Conservative and Labour parties, the history of Britain during the Second World War, and political leadership. I have also edited mass-market reference books on British history for Oxford University Press.

Why did you become interested in political history specifically?

An excellent question! The answer, quite simply, is that in my view political history is the most important form of history there is. Other approaches are immensely valuable, but everything flows from political history. As the historian John Vincent wrote, ‘there are too many dead bodies on the stage to begin anywhere else’. Everyone appears to enjoy discussing it. Political history no longer holds the same position of pre-eminence within the discipline that it once did, and, arguably, that is a real shame. Political historians should never have capitulated so meekly. We have a strong group of political history scholars here at Edinburgh, thank goodness.

To what extent do you feel that all voters should have an understanding of the history of political parties, and why?

One of the ways in which political history serves a valuable social purpose is in encouraging the public to be more aware, thoughtful citizens. To take two, rather obvious examples. The Thatcher era within the Conservative party marked a significant break with traditional Conservative statecraft, and yet, in our era, Thatcherism is now widely considered to represent ‘real’ conservatism. That’s historically dubious. The current state of the Labour party is quite novel, and history does not provide much of a guide to what will happen next. That said, many of Labour’s current problems have deep historical roots. The party has always been fixated with the spectre of ‘betrayal’, and this has long impacted its politics. Every Labour leader has had to worry about being compared to James Ramsay MacDonald, who (allegedly) betrayed the party in 1931.

Why do you think Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party?

The current ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is fascinating. I think there are a number of factors. The New Labour period was one in which the leadership showed little respect for the party, and this stored up considerable resentment.  The Blair and Brown governments also made what are now seen by some as unacceptable compromises with capitalism and free markets; there has been a backlash against it. The Iraq War is now an emotive part of Labour folklore. Overall, there is a sense that the New Labour leadership were guilty of betraying (that word again) various things, and this eventually led to a radical shift in the culture of the Labour party. One also has to recall that Corbyn encouraged lots of new members to join the party and vote for him, something which has certainly compounded the discomfort of so-called Labour ‘moderates’. Something else one has to bear in mind is the general existential crisis of Labour statecraft provoked by the fall of New Labour. Labour enjoyed thirteen years in power, including a prolonged period of global economic prosperity, electoral popularity and a weak opposition. And yet Labour was still unable to create the kind of society that it desires. That is an acute intellectual problem, one that the party does not appear able to resolve. It is intriguing!

One approach to the history of the Labour Party emphasises the frequent divides in the party between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions. Why do you think this problem is specific to the Labour Party, and can you offer any explanation as to why the Conservative Party tend to appear more united?

Every party is factionalised, the Conservative party being no exception. Historically, the Conservatives have usually been cunning enough to keep this away from the glare of public view, though that has changed in the last thirty years. Yet thinking about the divisions within Labour in terms of ‘left versus right’ often tells us little. For one thing, there have always been multiple factions on ‘the left’ and ‘the right’. Moreover, many of the most important conflicts within Labour have not actually been related to doctrinal inclination. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent more than a decade manoeuvring against one another. At stake was power, not ideology. The same happened between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison. Their rivalry shaped politics atop the Labour party between 1935 and 1955. Framing one’s objections to somebody else as ideological is a useful way of presenting your ambitions in a more acceptable fashion. A lot of the time, at least, we should not take these claims too seriously.