30 years of Progressive Review: Reflecting on three decades of progressive politics
This year, IPPR’s Progressive Review turns 30. Since its creation the journal has provided a space for progressives to debate ideas and policies which can change politics and society for the better.
If a week is a long time in politics, three decades is an age. Of those years, the Labour party has governed for 13 and the Conservatives for 17, including ﬁve with the Liberal Democrats in the ﬁrst coalition government since 1945. The UK has left the EU, substantial power has been devolved across the UK’s nations and regions, and calls for the centuries-old union to be dismantled have become louder. Britain’s population has grown by more than 10 million and income per person by 20 per cent,1 yet on some measures inequality has increased.2 Widespread adoption of the internet and the advent of the smartphone has made us more interconnected, while changes in social attitudes are reﬂected by the declining prevalence of religious beliefs.3 Years of ﬁscal austerity after the ﬁnancial crisis were followed by a global pandemic, the effects of which we are still recovering from.
“If a week is a long time in politics, three decades is an age”
Those three decades have brought immense changes which have only deepened the need for productive debate among progressives. And in its various forms over 30 years, this journal has traced every twist, turn and changing fortune of progressive politics.
PROGRESSIVES IN PARLIAMENT AND BEYOND
When the ﬁrst issue was released in 1993, then titled New Economy, the UK was partway through a fourth consecutive Conservative-led parliament and still reeling from the economic fallout of the Black Wednesday ﬁnancial crisis. (If that sounds eerily close to home, it’s worth reminding yourself that Meat Loaf sang the best-selling record in Britain that year, proving that times really do change).
Among the contributors was Charles Bean, a future deputy governor at the Bank of England. He penned an article calling for greater independence for the central bank.4 IPPR’s then-director Gerry Holtham took to the following edition to challenge Bean and mount his own, opposing view.5 Three years later and barely hours after Labour’s 1997 landslide victory, Gordon Brown delivered New Labour’s ﬁrst major policy announcement as a government: that the bank would be granted independence over monetary policy.
“in its various forms over 30 years, this journal has traced every twist, turn and changing fortune of progressive politics”
Progressive Review has continued to foster debate among progressives ever since, whether through the NHS special issue during Labour’s ﬁrst year in power6 or the reckoning with the crisis caused by the ﬁnancial crash.7 Renamed and reshaped as Public Policy Review in 2005, Juncture in 2012 and Progressive Review in 2017, the journal has sought to set the agenda for progressives in the UK through special editions such as the ‘next destination for feminism’8 and our most recent issue on the rise of the far right.9 Our contributors have hailed from academia, policy, politics, journalism, activism, and countries across the world.
In these ways, Progressive Review has sought to shape progressive debate and policy no matter which party is in power. Progressive change - whether liberalised attitudes to LGBTQ+ rights or the introduction of the minimum wage - happens both through government and powerful movements. For this reason, the journal has also endeavoured to contribute to the energy of social movements that campaign beyond political parties, from Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers to movements against inequalities stratiﬁed by race, gender and sexuality.
This edition of IPPR’s Progressive Review sees prominent voices in progressive politics grapple with the last 30 years, and what we can learn from them in the years ahead. It explores changes to Britain’s economic, social and political landscape and how we can respond to the challenges of the current moment.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the British Trades Union Congress, reﬂects on progress towards economic justice in the UK over the last 30 years. She states that if we hope to have a green economy rooted in equity and fairness, dignity of labour must be recognised as the essential foundation to this.
Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, documents the changing tide of public opinion on immigration, showing that voters are typically more liberal now than ever before. This, he argues, presents an opportunity for progressive politicians to adopt a more open stance on immigration.
“Progressive Review has also endeavoured to contribute to the energy of social movements that campaign beyond political parties”
Dr Halima Begum, director and CEO of Runnymede Trust, writes that 30 years on from Stephen Lawrence’s tragic death, if we are to be serious in our pursuit of racial equality and equity in the UK, we need evidence-based interventions to tackle the barriers faced by our multi-ethnic working class: and for the government to place racial justice at the heart of the national agenda.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, former director of research at Chatham House, is in conversation with Isabel Muttreja, marketing manager of the journal.
International Affairs, in a reprint of their interview where Lord Wallace elaborates on the relationship between British foreign policy and national identity, 30 years on from his seminal essay on the topic. He concludes that there is a societal need to reconsider “where we came from, where we are now, and who we are linked to”.
Professor Stephen Reicher from the school of psychology and neuroscience at St Andrews writes about the impact the pandemic had on democracy and our conception of groups. He argues that the pandemic demonstrated how people have the ability to quickly form wide-reaching groups based on solidarity and suggests the government in their response both underestimated and consequently let down the British public.
Dr Justin Bengry, director of the Centre for Queer History at Goldsmiths, reﬂects on the law’s treatment of men who have sex with men in England and Wales and how this has shifted within the past 30 years, arguing that the pardon scheme, operational since 2012, is a good idea executed poorly. As we rightly celebrate the achievements of the past three decades, states Bengry, we must also recognise that they remain incomplete.
Christine Burns, author of Trans Britain, draws on her own lived experience and on decades of campaigning with Press For Change to chronicle the exhausting battle for transgender rights. While there has been signiﬁcant legislative progress, Burns concludes that the current moral panic about trans people suggests that there is much still left to ﬁght for.
Anastasia Kavada, reader at the University of Westminster, takes us through the evolution of social movements in a digital and social media age. She explores how changes in organisation, mobilisation and public relations have been shaped through the pre- and post-social media phase. These, she argues, have given opportunities for progressive movements to increasingly push for change.
“Progressive change - whether liberalised attitudes to LGBTQ+ rights or the introduction of the minimum wage - happens both through government and powerful movements”
Gareth Dennis, railway engineer and writer, traces the calamitous state of today’s railways back to the atomisation of the railway network in the early 1990s. He calls for the government to realise the potential of rail for tackling climate change, as well as devolving powers to the UK’s regions and cities, in order to shore up a brighter future for Britain, the rail industry and passengers alike.
Gerry Holtham, director of IPPR from 1994 to 1998, offers his perspective on the challenges and opportunities that may lie in wait for a future progressive government. He argues that previous Labour governments have been deﬁned by their boldness of vision, irrespective of how long they were in power. As a result, if the Labour party today wants to leave a truly progressive legacy, it must not shy away from undertaking the reforms needed to make the economy fairer and ensure renewal in public services.
Wes Ball, senior vice president at Edelman Global Advisory, and Alan Wager, research associate at the UK in a Changing Europe, analyse transitions of political power in Britain from the last thirty years to produce recommendations for Keir Starmer and other Downing Street hopefuls. These transitions, they argue, are never as smooth as they appear, and require months – even years – of preparation.
Professor John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde looks back on the 1990s as Conservative party support was waning and compares polling data between then and now in order to evaluate if history will repeat itself. He argues that while there are some similar economic conditions and circumstances, polling shows how key demographic lines between the major two parties have shifted somewhat from middle or working class and left or right, to young or old and liberal or authoritarian.
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW FOR A PROGRESSIVE FUTURE
With politics in ﬂux, the time is opportune for progressives to take stock of our successes and shortcomings over the last 30 years. It’s through this kind of critical reﬂection that we can make better sense of the challenges we face and prepare ourselves to build a fairer, healthier and more sustainable future. We hope this collection of essaays can act as tools to inspire further reﬂection, critical discussion and action.
Anita Bhadani, Joshua Emden, Joseph Evans, Ellie Kearns, Lucy Mort, Rachel Statham and Jonathan Webb
Ofﬁce for National Statistics [ONS] (2022) ‘UK Real net domestic product per capita CVM SA’. https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/grossdomesticproductgdp/timeseries/mwb6/ukea
Ofﬁce for National Statistics [ONS] (2021) ‘Household income inequality, UK: ﬁnancial year ending 2021’. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personaland householdﬁnances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householdincomeinequalityﬁnancial/ﬁnancial
Ofﬁce for National Statistics [ONS] (2022) ‘Census 2021 results’. https://census.gov.uk/ census-2021-results
Bean C (1993) ‘The case for an independent central bank’, New Economy
Holtham G (1994) ‘The war of independence’, New Economy
Robinson P (1998) ‘Health – a “Third Way”?’, New Economy
Oppenheim C and Harker L (2008) ‘The end of progressive politics?’, Public Policy Research
Jenkinson S, Roberts C and Snelling C (2018) ‘Editorial – Forward march’, Progressive Review
Bhadani A, Mort L, Statham R, Thomas C and Emden J (2022) ‘Editorial – Reacting to red pill politics’, Progressive Review