In David Marquand's alternating chronology, the governments of Clement Attlee marked a moralist-activist collectivist phase. Yet, this was also a transition stage in the Labour Party, and indeed in the history of Britain. Labour could also be an ally of ‘mental improvement’. First, historiographical romanticisation of the ‘moral’ politics of liberalism masks the limits to its egalitarianism. This chapter charts the attitude of the Labour Party towards the idea of intellectual and moral improvement between 1931 and 1951. It calls for greater long-term perspective in chronologies of ‘progress’, especially ‘mental progress’ in Britain, stressing the unrealistic expectations of such progress by both historians and contemporary Labour figures. It argues that Labour itself in this period should be seen in terms of its own inexperience, as a party groping for an understanding of what a governing mentality or psychology entailed. It also places the development of the Labour Party, socialism, democracy, and the minds of the British people in a long historical context.
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