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UC President Emeritus Chronicles Britain's Labour Party

For more than half a century, interrupted by decades as an academic administrator, Henry R. Winkler has chronicled the development of Britain's Labour Party. His new book on Labour has received excellent reviews.

Date: 2/4/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Greg Hand
Phone: (513) 556-1822
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

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Prime Minister Tony Blair’s influence in the world can be traced to the transformation of his Labour Party in the decades prior to World War II, according to Henry R. Winkler, president emeritus of the University of Cincinnati.

Winkler calls his new book, British Labour Seeks a Foreign Policy, 1900-1940, a “synthesis” of his research over more than five decades. Reviewers have other descriptions, “magisterial,” “important,” and “the standard introduction to the subject.”

Henry R. Winkler
UC President Emeritus Henry R. Winkler

“Its account of the complex currents which shaped the party's thinking about international relations during the First World War and the 1920s in particular has not been bettered," according to Oxford University’s Martin Caedel.

In the new book Winkler, UC president from 1977-84, recounts how Labour – originally founded to improve conditions for working-class Britons – evolved to assume a position of power as growing Nazi aggression forced Britain to respond throughout the globe. Although the Labour Party was largely out of power throughout the decades leading up to World War II, Winkler noted, the party was engaged in often-bitter debates that ultimately prepared it to govern post-colonial Britain.

In the early years, Winkler said, Labour was so committed to ideology that it was unable even to serve as an effective opposition party.

“The key to understanding the development of Labour’s approach to international affairs in the first half of the twentieth century is to observe that it was characterized by a struggle between principles and practice,” Winkler said. “The record provided, to me, a fascinating look at how the party achieved a position from which it could govern on behalf of the majority of Britons.”

British Labour Seeks a Foreign Policy, 1900-1940 is not a lengthy book, and Winkler said that is intentional.

“I tried to keep it short, and spent a great deal of time whittling down the initial draft, so that the thesis is starkly clear,” he said.

There are lessons to be found in Labour’s transformation, Winkler said. A party founded and maintained by idealists was able to accommodate the realities of a changing world and a broad-based electorate, while learning that idealism need not be wholly sacrificed on the path to power.

Winkler traces his interest in the history of the British Labour Party to his early studies of the League of Nations movement. His research confirmed that the Labour Party was an influential participant in the post-World War I discussions about the League. When a prominent scholar of the early 1950s dismissed Labour’s contribution, noting that the party was only focused on the domestic issues of the British working class, Winkler responded through several papers and books, ultimately resulting in British Labour Seeks a Foreign Policy, 1900-1940.

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