Must Labour Always Lose? by Denis MacShane – book review

I bought Must Labour Always Lose? by Denis MacShane at last year’s Labour Conference and last weekend thought I should get round to reading it before coming to Liverpool. It was worth doing (but wait for the twist at the end); even if it is three different pieces of material, which don’t blend together particularly well, it remains timely.

cover of Must Labour Always Lose? by Denis MacShane
Must Labour Always Lose? by Denis MacShane, published by Claret Press in 2021. Copy bought from City Books, Brighton

The first part of the book is a year-by-year memoir of MacShane’s political journey as Labour oscillated between government and (more usual) opposition between 1970 and 2020. For each year there is some commentary and anecdote accompanied by a ‘lesson’. The final pages are a further 12 ‘lessons’ some of which repeat earlier lessons.

I found this format somewhat bizarre. The lessons seemed rather shoe-horned in and unearned. They don’t always fit with the theme of winning and losing, and the chronological nature of the memoir meant that the themes could not be developed in depth over time. That together with some haphazard proof-reading made for a strange reading experience.

That’s a shame because as well as some top-notch gossip, MacShane provides a useful critique of the Blair/Brown governments, and in particular some of the gaps in their thinking about working families. It seems timely, now that the Blair government in particular seems to have been rehabilitated in Labour circles, that the party doesn’t forget that there were policy areas where further work should have been done.

MacShane was of course at one point minister for Europe and is very interesting on the topic. His commitment to forging links across left and centre-left parties – and to broadening the intellectual heft behind Labour – is also worth reading about.

The twist at the end is that I bought the book at conference in Brighton, and am writing this (slightly shorter than usual) review while at conference at Liverpool. On the penultimate page is lesson 4: ‘Abolish the annual conference [with its] tired vanity…showboating…and cliches.’ Hmph.

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