This article re-examines the British left between 1880 and 1914 in a European frame. It begins by exploring the enduring relevance of comparison through a brief review of recent historiographical trends, notably the global and transnational turns. Recognizing the importance of these bodies of literature, it nonetheless suggests that placing Britain in a European mirror remains a useful means of tracing and understanding political and intellectual developments. It proceeds to reassess the ‘socialist revival’ of the 1880s in Britain. It focuses especially upon the early Fabians, and emphasizes the centrality of ethical concerns in the metropolitan milieu from which the first Fabians emerge. It emphasizes, and places in comparative perspective, the legacy of romanticism and the impact of Ireland in understanding the forms of socialist identification in the 1880s. The ideological complexion of the British left was more distinctive in European terms by 1914 than in the 1880s. The context of party competition is shown to be crucial in explaining the institutional form that labour politics assumed in early twentieth century Britain. It was, however, the legacy of the trans-war period up to the 1920s that served a more distancing function.