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The Ages of VoluntarismHow we got to the Big Society$
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Matthew Hilton and James McKay

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264829

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264829.001.0001

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Labour, charity and voluntary action

Labour, charity and voluntary action

The myth of hostility

(p.69) 4 Labour, charity and voluntary action
The Ages of Voluntarism

Nicholas Deakin

Justin Davis Smith

British Academy

This chapter overturns the simplistic characterisation of the twentieth-century Labour party as antagonistic to voluntarism. As it sets out, while opposition to voluntarism has indeed been a theme throughout Labour's history, particularly on the hard left, the notion of a broad and consistent antagonism is largely a myth, based upon a confusion of charity and philanthropy with other forms of co-operation, mutual aid and active citizenship. Instead, what Attlee called ‘the associative instinct’ has been an overlooked, but nevertheless important, constant in Labour's social thought, from Attlee's experiences as a young man at Toynbee Hall, through the promotion of active and local democracy in the 1940s and the revisionist turn away from macro-economics, and towards quality-of-life issues in the 1950s and 1960s, to the ‘rainbow coalition’ partnerships between local Labour administrations and voluntary groups in the 1980s.

Keywords:   Labour party, voluntarism, mutual aid, active citizenship, co-operation, associative instinct, Clement Attlee

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