For more than a decade, political power in Britain has largely been the preserve of the Conservative Party. While there are now three former Tory prime ministers on the back benches of the House of Commons, Labour lacks even one.
Yet a sea change is under way. The recent local election results confirmed what opinion polls already show: Labour is expected to return to government for the first time since 2010. Even as the Tories remain in power, they are being forced to embrace interventionist policies such as higher public spending and higher taxation. But who are the people who enjoy the greatest influence within Labour and across the wider British left?
In this issue, we publish our inaugural Left Power List – a guide to the 50 most influential people in progressive politics. The individuals below were selected and ranked by a panel of New Statesman staff and contributors and were not told in advance of the project.
We define power as the ability to change policy or to change minds: to shape political opinion and debate. To qualify, individuals must have some affiliation with the left, whether the social democratic or socialist tradition, or have challenged the economic status quo; social liberalism alone is not sufficient.
Individual rankings can only reveal so much, and so what are the broad trends that emerge from our list? In a reflection of Labour’s current strength, the top three places are occupied by members of the party and 21 of those on the list are serving Labour politicians or aides. After the largest wave of strike action since 1989, we also include four trade union general secretaries in the top 20. Finally, our list testifies to the growing influence of broadcast and social media over traditional newspaper columns.
27 Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury
When the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, polls suggested nearly half of all Church of England members supported them, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has spent the past decade as a bold critic of the central tenets of Tory policy.
Welby, 67, an Old Etonian, condemned austerity as a policy of “crushing the weak” and called for the end of Universal Credit. In a speech to the Trades Union Congress he described the gig economy, which has thrived under Tory rule, as “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”. He has repeatedly defended refugee rights and in a recent House of Lords debate described the Sunak government’s Illegal Migration Bill as “morally unacceptable”.
The Church’s membership is in steep decline, at least in Britain, but Welby still commands both a sizeable congregation of 600,000 and a position in the House of Lords. Like his predecessor, Rowan Williams, a formerNew Statesman guest editor, he seems content in the role of meddlesome priest.
Read it all in The New Statesman