The obvious definitional caveat:. to simplify, let me suggest that the left is concerned with the achievement of rational social relations. That leaves plenty of room for disagreement on 'rational', which the left has certainly displayed over the years. It also carries different meanings in different spheres. In the social and cultural spheres, it means the elimination of rank and status, and the reform of social institutions and practices. In the political sphere, it means the reorganisation of economic life. The left has been relatively successful in the first, but failed in the second.
It oversimplifies to say that government is larger now than it was in the twentieth century. The argument over the People's Budget was less about the expansion of social policy than it was about how it would be financed: the Conservatives wanted to use import duties and opposed the introduction of a higher rate of income tax. You can be on the right (as I am) and say that rising prosperity and technology caused the state to expand in this way, as we could afford and it could provide more collective goods; ideological fervour was secondary.
At any rate, the expansion of the fiscal state was never the left's purpose - only a means to the end of social justice. Instead, the left's hope was that they could use the state to change the way our economy functioned, to allow for a more equal distribution of goods and the end of exploitation. That was the cause by which Labour supplanted the Liberals as the party of the left, and from the 1920s to the 1990s defined political life.Read More