Fabian Society

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The Fabian Society


Fabian Society vice presidents 2020: Nick Butler, Lord Dubs, Baroness Hayter, Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Lord Neil Kinnock, Sadiq Khan, Christine Megson, Baroness Thornton, Giles Wright.[1]

Executive Committee 2020

  • Ivana Bartoletti (chair) is vice chair of the Labour Movement for Europe. In her day job, she heads up the privacy and data protection practice at Gemserv. She is passionate about privacy, data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, and speaks at conferences and events in the UK and overseas.
  • Adam Allnutt is the chair of the Young Fabian Executive and has recently worked with Extinction Rebellion on their London political strategy group. He previously worked in parliament for Tom Watson MP, is an advocacy consultant for Trees for Cities and recruits professionals for environmental, conservation and biodiversity charities.
  • Stephen Bradley is a doctor in a specialist service for homeless people and immigrants in Leeds. He is also a tutor and researcher at the University of Leeds Medical School.
  • Emily Brothers (local Fabian societies representative) was Labour parliamentary candidate for Sutton and Cheam for the 2015 general election and was a Labour London Assembly list candidate in 2016. Not only was Emily the first blind woman to stand for Westminster, but she was Labour’s first trans parliamentary candidate and has received wide acclaim for raising awareness on equality. Emily is elections and campaigns co-ordinator for LGBT Labour and serves on the executive committee of Disability Labour.
  • Anneliese Dodds MP has been Labour MP for Oxford East since 2017. She is a member of the shadow Treasury team. She was previously a member of the European parliament for the south east England region.
  • Martin Edobor is an NHS doctor specialising in general practice and a former national chair of the Young Fabians. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a trustee for CommUNITY Barnet, a voluntary service charity.
  • Tom Gardiner is an NHS doctor and co-convenor of the Fabian Health Network. He has a special interest in health inequalities.
  • Kate Green MP is Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, where she was first elected as an MP in 2010. She is a past chair of the Fabian Society. She is the chair of the select committee on standards and a member of the home affairs select committee. She also chairs the all-party parliamentary group on migration.
  • Sara Hyde (Fabian Women) has worked in the criminal justice system, primarily with women, for 10 years, following a first career in theatre. She has been both a parliamentary and a London Assembly candidate. She was in the inaugural Jo Cox Women in Leadership cohort and is chair of the Fabian Women’s Network.
  • Lord Kennedy (treasurer) Lord Kennedy of Southwark is a Labour and Co-operative peer. Roy is shadow minister for housing and local government in the House of Lords and a lifelong Fabian and Co-operator. He is a director of his local credit union and supports both Millwall FC and Surrey County Cricket Club.
  • Seema Malhotra MP is the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, which she has represented since 2011. She is a senior member of the select committee for exiting the European Union and chair of the APPG on assistive technologies. She served in Labour’s Treasury team as shadow chief secretary from 2015 to 2016 and previously was a shadow Home Office minister and opposition whip. She is a former chair of the society and is co-founder and president of the Fabian Women’s Network.
  • Catriona Munro (chair, Scottish Fabians) has been a Fabian and actively involved in politics throughout her adult life. She has been a candidate in Westminster and Holyrood elections. She is a practising lawyer, specialising in EU and competition law.
  • Rory Palmer MEP has been a Labour MEP for the East Midlands region since 2017. He is a former Leicester city councillor and a longstanding Fabian member.
  • Vanesha Singh (Staff representative) joined the Fabian Society in April 2018 having previously worked in research and communications for an international affairs organisation. She holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and Global Issues from the University of Nottingham and wrote her thesis on the value of utopian and dystopian literature in an era of environmental crisis.
  • Keir Starmer MP is Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, where he was first elected in 2015. He serves as shadow Brexit secretary. He was formerly director of public prosecutions.
  • Wes Streeting MP is the Labour MP for Ilford North. He was first elected in 2015 and is a member of the Commons Treasury committee. He is a former president of the NUS.
  • Helen Taylor (Welsh convenor) is a Labour community councillor and an active member of her local constituency Labour party in Carmarthenshire (branch secretary and CLP policy officer). She volunteers with Crisis, the homelessness charity, and her local community centre. She is a retired NHS consultant and has a continuing interest in health service provision.[2]

Fabians Against Corbyn

According to Julie Hyland of the World Socialist Website 20 January 2017:

The January 14 Fabian Society conference, “The Left in Britain. Britain in the World,” was called to discuss “where next for the British left” following “the Brexit referendum in the UK and the accession of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.”

It would supposedly outline “what we believe, who we speak to, and how we win.”

Keynote speaker at the conference was Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Fabianism was central to the moves against both of Corbyn’s leadership challenges in 2015 and 2016. Fabian members and supporters within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) led last year’s attempted coup against him. No less than 15 shadow secretaries of state and nine shadow ministers, who resigned from Corbyn’s cabinet in a bid to force him out, were associated with the society.

Corbyn’s professed aim of transforming Labour into a vehicle for socialism was an anathema to the Fabian Society, which sought to utilise the party’s defeat in the 2015 General Election to engineer a further shift to the right. To this end it had launched its “Facing the Future” programme, to “bring together a broad range of voices” aimed at answering what Labour needed to do “to secure a winning coalition of support across every region and age-group, attracting SNP [Scottish National Party], UKIP [UK Independence Party] and Conservative voters..?”

It has had to make several adjustments to its efforts to position Labour firmly on the right given the failure of the anti-Corbyn coup and the crisis created by the vote to leave the European Union in the UK referendum last June. But its aims remain unchanged.

Prior to its conference, Fabian General Secretary Andrew Harrop published a report, "Stuck, How Labour is too weak to win and too strong to die". He wrote that Labour’s problem was that it is too weak to win the next election, but too strong to be displaced as the UK’s main party of opposition—mainly as a result of the first-past-the-post system. The sense of stagnation was compounded by an “uneasy calm” in the party. While Corbyn had beaten off the coup, the Labour leader had “no roadmap for winning back lost voters,” Harrop asserted, while amongst the PLP there is “quietude, passitivity and resignation.”

“This is the calm of stalemate, of insignificance, even of looming death,” he warned.

Harrop presented statistics purporting to show that Labour was haemorrhaging support to the more overtly pro and anti-EU parties, due to its “muffled and inconsistent” line on Brexit. The bottom line was that Labour “has no choice but to reach out to people in both camps, by positioning itself in the middle of the newly dominant social/cultural axis of politics….”

It must “become the party of this cultural ‘middle’,” Harrop went on. Tony Blair had tried to “own the ‘centre ground’ of the left-right economic axis. Now the party’s goal must be to dominate the centre of the newly dominant social/cultural axis that runs between Blair’s liberal internationalism and Trump’s social authoritarianism. The party must plant its flag midway between these poles and seek to occupy as much space as possible…”

The reference to Blair makes clear the character of what Harrop is proposing. The former Labour leader was the figurehead for the transformation of Labour into a right wing party of big business. The claim to stand at the centre of a “newly dominant social/cultural axis” is aimed at re-consolidating this shift, through a noxious brew of identity politics and support for Britain’s continued access to the European single market (so-called “liberal internationalism”) with economic nationalism and anti-migrant restrictions, masquerading as a defence of working people (“social authoritarianism”).

On the eve of the conference, Harrop extrapolated on this theme, writing that within the Labour Party there was a “three-way tug-of-war between populist socialism, mainstream social democracy, and the communitarianism of Blue Labour. Each has something to offer, but can Labour create a fresh politics that coherently combines a bit of them all?”

The aim is not merely to fashion some arrangement that can keep Labour together. Its goal is a Progressive Alliance that will allow Labour to “govern in partnership with other parties,” Harrop states—mainly, but not confined to, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Whether this is possible matters less than the political function that such an orientation will serve—which is to bury entirely the common class issues facing working people beneath one or another variety of nationalist politics.

This is made clear by Harrop’s suggestion that Labour should recognise that “an English majority [in parliament] is also much more achievable than a UK majority. Labour must prepare itself to work in partnership, in an era of quasi-federal, multi-party politics.”

This means that Labour should essentially accept that Scotland belongs to the SNP, as the price for the Progressive Alliance and as part of the Balkanisation of the UK. Having accepted the goal of an “English majority,” Harrop suggests this would “enable Labour to legislate under the terms of ‘English votes for English laws’,” “develop a clear manifesto for England,” and a “mandate for an English legislative agenda.”

The Fabian Society’s support for a Progressive Alliance has been broadly welcomed. The Compass think-tank, founded by forces close to former Labour leader Gordon Brown and now including in its leadership representatives of the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), has been one of its main advocates. Writing in the run-up to the conference, Compass chair Neal Lawson welcomed Harrop’s “no-brainer of a political strategy.”

He ridiculed “tribalist” policies, in which Labour appeared to hate the Liberal Democrats and the SNP—writing sarcastically, “Because we are so much better than the Lib Dems, are we not? We introduced tuition fees and they doubled them. We started illegal wars and they started the bedroom tax. We focus on the 10 percent we disagree on and forget the 90 percent of times when we walk through the same lobbies… The lurch to the right means we have to forgive each other.”

Lawson was present at the conference alongside Richard Angell, of the Blairite think-tank Progress, and leading anti-Corbyn coup plotters such as Labour MPs Nia Griffith, Keir Starmer, Maria Eagle and Stephen Kinnock. Griffith and Starmer are now prominent members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.

Consensus is emerging in Labour that free movement must be limited. Kinnock, a leading figure in the pro-Remain campaign, has joined Starmer, Corbyn’s shadow Brexit secretary, in arguing for a two-tier migration system, that divides into highly-skilled EU workers and tier two, low and semi-skilled workers that should be “restricted by sector-based quotas, negotiated between government, industry and trade unions.”

Guardian journalist Paul Mason, also present at the conference, is a former member of the Workers Power group in the 1980s. His main value to the ruling class is his connections with the pseudo-left around Corbyn. Mason is another supporter of Labour building a “progressive alliance,” although previously he has sought to portray this as an opposition to the supposed racism of the white, male working class whom he blames for Brexit and Trump’s victory.

Writing the day after the conference in the Guardian, Mason now agitates for immigration controls, along the two-tier line proposed by Kinnock. He argues that Britain can remain inside the European Economic Area (EEA), while restricting freedom of movement, because “freedom of movement has always been a ‘qualified right’—not an absolute one: that is, constrained by national conditions.”

Citing the EEA treaty, Mason asserts that countries are allowed “to suspend freedom of movement, for an unspecified period and unilaterally, due to ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties’. Well, we have a serious societal difficulty: we have lost consent for high inward migration, and we need to regain it.”

Mason claims that such restrictions are aimed at clamping down on low wages and deregulated employment. Answering those who say this is “pandering to racism,” he continues, “This betrays a profound misunderstanding of what drives opposition to free movement among progressive, left-minded people,” which is really bound up with “strong cultural traditions, a strong sense of place and community…”

There is nothing to separate such language from that of the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage or Trump.

Mason’s comment was framed as a defence of Corbyn, who only last week stated that freedom of movement was “not a principle.” It is only the latest of Corbyn’s one-time “red lines”—opposition to NATO, the EU, now immigration controls—that has been unceremoniously jettisoned.

Thus Corbyn was happy to accept the position of keynote speaker at a conference organised and attended by many of his one-time political assassins.

The Labour leader said nothing explicitly on the progressive alliance, but he has no need to. His presence was proof enough. In a speech that borrowed from Trump’s references to the elite “rigging” the system, and arguing for “our exit from the EU to rebalance Britain and provide a vision for what the country could be,” he effectively signed up to the Fabian agenda.

Pledging a “further devolution of powers” in the UK, Corbyn said that a “people’s convention on how a federal Britain could work is something that is overdue.”

On immigration, he said that Labour will “do what is best for the economy,” using Brexit to “develop a genuine industrial and regional strategy…”[3]


The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the society has been at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left for over 130 years.

The archives of the Fabian Society are held at the London School of Economics, including a comprehensive digital archive. If you’re interested in the history of the Fabian Society and would like to write for us on any aspect of the society’s past, please contact our media and communications manager, Rabyah Khan or our assistant editor, Vanesha Singh.

The Fabian name The Fabian Society derives its name from the Roman general Quintus Fabius, known as Cunctator from his strategy of delaying his attacks on the invading Carthaginians until the right moment. The name Fabian Society was explained in the first Fabian pamphlet which carried the note.

“For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless.”

The Early Fabians: “Educate, Agitate, Organise”

The Fabian Society emerged in 1884 as an off-shoot of the Fellowship of the New Life. The new Society soon attracted some of the most prominent left-wing thinkers of the late Victorian era to its ranks.

The 1880s saw an upsurge in socialist activity in Britain and the Fabian Society was at the heart of much of it. Against the backdrop of the Match Girls’ strike and the 1889 London Dock strike, the landmark Fabian Essays was published, containing essays by George Bernard Shaw, Graham Walls, Sidney Webb, Sydney Olivier and Annie Besant. All the contributors were united by their rejection of violent upheaval as a method of change, preferring to use the power of local government and trade unionism to transform society.

The early Fabians’ commitment to non-violent political change was underlined by the role the Fabian Society played in the foundation of the Labour Party in 1900. The society is the only original founder of Labour Party that remains affiliated to the present day in unchanged form.

None of the early figures in the society were more significant than Beatrice Webb and Sidney Webb in developing the ideas that would come to characterise Fabian thinking and in developing the thorough research methodology that remains a feature of the Society to the present day. Both prodigious authors, Beatrice and Sidney wrote extensively on a wide range of topics, but it was Beatrice’s 1909 Minority Report to the Commission of the Poor Law that was perhaps their most remembered contribution. This landmark report provided the foundation stone for much of the modern welfare state.

The London School of Economics & the New Statesman Two other abiding contributions of the Webbs that persist until the present day are the New Statesman magazine and the London School of Economics.

The London School of Economics, today one of the most pre-eminent universities in the world, began far more humbly. A bequest of £20,000 left by Derby Fabian Henry Hutchinson to the Society for “propaganda and other purposes” was used by the Webbs, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw to found a research institute to provide proof positive of the collectivist ideal. The LSE flourished and continued to associate with Fabian academics including Harold Laski, Richard Titmuss and Brian Abel-Smith.

Today, the society and the LSE continue to work closely together. The London School of Economics holds the Fabian Society archives including extensive correspondence and early photographs of Fabian Society events. It is also home to the Fabian window, a stained-glass image of early Fabians, designed by George Bernard Shaw.

The New Statesman was founded in 1913, the brainchild of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. With the financial support of George Bernard Shaw and other Fabian Society members, the Webbs recruited Clifford Sharp as the founding editor of the magazine and sold over 2,000 copies of the initial edition.

Writing in the Manchester Guardian of the new magazine, Sidney Webb said:

“Its distinctive feature will be its point of view – absolutely untrammelled by party, or sect, or creed. Its general attitude will be best designated by the term ‘Fabian,’ but it will endeavour to bring to light and to appreciate in a wide catholic spirit all those features in other social projects or movements which can be recognised as making for progress. A number of these connected with it are members of the Fabian Society, but this is true of nearly every enterprise nowadays, and the paper is in no sense the organ of the Fabian Society, any more than it will be that of the Liberal party. It is going to be really independent.

The New Stateman remained true to Webb’s independent vision and the voice of Fabianism gradually diminished over time. But the New Statesman remains a leading voice on the left in contemporary British politics.

Between the wars As the electoral significance of the Labour Party grew in the inter-war period, the contribution of the society kept pace. In 1923, over twenty Fabians were elected to parliament, with five Fabians in Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet. Future prime minister and Fabian Clement Attlee received his first ministerial post at this time.

The development in 1931 of a New Fabian Research Bureau, the brainchild of G.D.H Cole added vigour to Fabian debates and set the scene for much of the work of the 1945 Labour government. As war broke out in Europe, the Fabians creatred the intellectual architecture for the peacetime reconstruction. The Colonial Bureau of the Fabian Society attempted to set a timetable for the end of imperialism, and William Robson’s essay Social Security explored many of the ideas that would later feature in the landmark Beveridge report.

The war also saw the blossoming of local Fabian societies. In 1939 there were just 6 local societies, by 1945 there were 120 local societies across the country. Though we do not today reach the numbers of those heady days, the local societies continue to be at the absolute heart of the society’s work.

1945: High tide and after “It looks just like an enormous Fabian School”

Zena Parker on seeing the 1945 Parliamentary Labour Party in conclave

229 Fabian Society members were elected to Parliament in the 1945 Labour landslide, with many of them ministers in the Attlee administration.

But the Fabian contribution to Attlee’s reforming programme of 1945-51 had begun much earlier. The Labour manifesto Let us Face the Future had been written by Fabian Michael Young and many of the pioneering reforms of the 1945 Labour government had been first developed in Fabian essays or pamphlets.

The process of renewal that had always been a part of the Society began in earnest as the general election in 1951 loomed. The New Fabian Essays included contributions from Anthony Crosland, Richard Titmuss, Richard Crossman, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and would do much to refocus the Society’s work on the continuing problems of inequalities that persisted in British life.

These thinkers would prove vital to developing the agenda of the next Labour government in 1964 as Crossman, Titmuss, Abel-Smith and Crosland became the intellectual engine that underpinned much of the Wilson government.

But the 1960s and 70s proved a challenge for the society. Though it continued to expand its activity into new areas and developed a formidable research wing, it came to be marginalised as the post-war consensus in British politics was put under increasing pressure in the mid- to late seventies.

Challenge and recovery The Fabian Society, like all organisations on the left, was rocked by the post-1979 Labour disputes. The chair of the society, and former general secretary, Shirley Williams became one of the founding members of the SDP and the defection of a number of executive committee members challenged the long-standing affiliation of the Fabian Society to the Labour party. In a ballot of the whole membership it was affirmed that members of the SDP could only be non-voting, associate members and that the Society would continue to be affiliated to the Labour party.

This crisis successfully weathered, the society recovered to provide a platform for debate in the Labour party following the electoral mauling Labour suffered in 1983. It hosted the only debate between the post-Foot leadership candidates which was televised. The eventual leader Neil Kinnock and deputy leader Roy Hattersley were both actively engaged with the Society and the 1980s saw a number of important pamphlets published that both addressed the social and economic challenges of the day while developing and articulating an electoral strategy for the left to win again.

New Labour In the 1990s the society came to be a major force in the modernisation of the Labour party, building on its work from the 1980s and developing many of the ideas that would come to characterise New Labour.

A New Constitution for the Labour Party was instrumental in the introduction of “one member, one vote” to party elections and contained the original recommendation for the replacement of Clause IV. A Fabian pamphlet by Ed Balls proposed independence for the Bank of England. The Fabians applied themselves to the challenges that Labour faced in building an election-winning coalition of voters and in the Southern Discomfort series pointed the way towards many of the changes that would take place and help Labour to its historic 1997 victory.

After Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997, over 200 Fabians sat in the House of Commons, including many of the cabinet. However, the society developed its role as a critical friend, supporting the Blair and Brown government’s in developing policy, without being afraid to draw attention to the omissions or shortcomings of the government. During these years the society conducted influential policy commissions on reforming the monarchy, ending child poverty and taxation and citizenship (the latter laying the ground for the Labour government’s decision to raise taxes to fund the NHS).

Into opposition The fall of the Labour government and the election of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government in 2010 posed new challenges for the society. During the 2010-2015 parliament it renewed its focus on tackling the big issues facing policymakers including the future of the state and public services, and the creation of a more robust, balanced and equal economy. In particular the society completed major policy commissions on public spending choices and food poverty.

After the 2015 election and the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader the role of the society as a pluralist, non-factional forum within the Labour movement became even more important. The modern society continues to be a source of robust, evidence-based ideas with influence across the left. Since 2016 its single largest focus has been the world of work, with a dedicated research initiative, the Changing Work Centre.

With over 7,000 Fabians the society has had more members since 2015 than at any time in its long history.[4]