Was there a political consensus post-Thatcher?
During her ten years in power, Mrs Thatcher changed the political landscape and, whatever his original intentions, John Major largely continued the same policies. When Tony Blair became Leader of the Labour Party in 1994, he sought to rebrand it as New Labour, move the party to the centre and accept the changes that had taken place. This meant that a consensus developed between the Labour and Conservative leaderships in the following areas:-
- Britain was now in a globalised market and needed to improve the education and skills of the workforce and remove many labour regulations to help firms compete against those in other countries.
- Wealth creation by business and particularly entrepreneurs was to be encouraged and would provide the resources to pay for public services. This would also raise incomes overall so that there was no need to redistribute wealth by taxation of the rich.
- The trade union reforms of the 1980s would remain in place. Blair distanced himself from the trade unions that were affiliated to the Labour Party and did not involve them in developing policy.
- There would be no reversal of the privatisations carried out by the Conservative Government. The provision of public services could be contracted out to the private sector if they were cheaper and more efficient. Private finance could be used to build major public projects such as hospitals by means of the Private Finance Initiative.
- Consumer choice was important in all areas. People should be able to choose between schools and where to have a hospital operation. Public service reform would be carried out through league tables and performance measures so that local authorities and hospital trusts worked efficiently.
- People should be encouraged into work and off benefits by programmes to help them do this but with sanctions if they did not participate.