Find out more about Tony Blair in his auto-biography, through the eyes of spin doctor Alastair Campbell and in The Deal set around the relationship between Blair and Gordon Brown.
What Was New Labour?
1. That New Labour was a continuation of Thatcherism. Thatcher produced a new settlement which no Government has yet tried to change. Writers stress the continuity of economically liberal policies and the continuation of the private sector involvement in the provision of services and also in public capital projects, through the Private Finance Initiative.
2. That New Labour is a genuinely new Third Way which reconciled competitive capitalism with a social equality agenda and developed new ideas of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and a new pattern of what has been called governance, to replace traditional Labour State intervention.
3. That New Labour is Labour Party politics updated to the context of the 21st. century. Labour Governments have always accepted capitalism and had not carried out any significant programme of nationalisation since the 1940s. Traditional Labour concerns with poverty and equality (updated to take account of feminism, the existence of ethnic minorities and the recognition of gay people) were central to policy setting. The assumption that state intervention could improve society was still accepted.
The Creation of New Labour
1. The Labour Party was re-branded as New Labour and in 1995 a symbolic change was made to the Party Constitution by removing Clause IV which had a commitment to common ownership and replacing it with a statement about individual potential and community in a more equal society.
The improvement in Labour’s communications strategy, already underway for the 1992 election, was improved further. Peter Mandelson was already the key person in this area and he refined the principles that a few simple messages were put across, there was an instant rebuttal of any attacks and the Conservatives were not allowed to own issues such as law and order.
2. Tony Blair was never that interested in political theory but he picked up ideas that gave New Labour some sort of ideological basis. The political theorist, Anthony Giddens, was arguing that rapid social change, globalisation and a more individualistic society made top-down interventionist socialism outdated. Instead the State should support people to adjust to the difficult changes that were taking place and accept capitalism, but intervene to deal with its inevitable inefficiencies.
(Anthony Giddens article in the New Statesman 17th May 2010 gives a summary of New Labour thinking and assesses its record)
What was Old Labour?
The Labour Party is unusual among European socialist parties in that it was formed partly by the trade unions, so that the Independent Labour Party, which contained a left wing membership, was only one element in the new party formed in 1900.
MacDonald as the leader and then Prime Minister in the 1920s sought to promote Labour as a moderate party appealing to the lower middle class as well as the working class. The 1945-51 Labour Government made significant changes but the new settlement that it created was one that the following Conservative Governments were able to fit in with and the Wilson Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s did not significantly depart from.
From the 1970s
By the mid-1970s the Labour Party was facing two major problems:-
1. The post-war policies of Keynesian economic management and the Welfare State that Labour had relied on no longer seemed to be working and the Labour Party leadership failed to develop a new alternative. It was the New Right that inspired Mrs Thatcher and the Left of the Labour Party with its Alternative Economic Strategy that were proposing solutions to the crisis.
2. The Labour Party had always had a federal structure with the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Trade Unions and the National Executive Committee representing party members all having influence. A rival power base to the Leader could be developed in any of these and the party Conference could vote for policies that the Leader did not want, as they did to Gaitskell over nuclear disarmament in 1960. When the left reacted against the failures of the 1974-9 Labour Government and called for a more socialist programme, it unleashed a battle between left and right in all three parts of the party. The left was temporarily in control with Michael Foot as leader and a left manifesto for the 1983 General Election.
After the disastrous defeat in the 1983 general election, the new leader, Neil Kinnock sought to modernise the party and blend left and right positions in its policies for the 1987 and 1992 general elections. The left-right battle ceased but Kinnock failed to win the elections.
When Blair won the leadership election in 1994, following John Smith’s sudden death, he still faced the two problems that had appeared in the 1970s – to develop a new governing philosophy for Labour and to remove the memories of divisions in the party in the mind of the electorate.
Labour Policies - Constitutional Reform
- Devolution of most domestic policy areas to a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly
- The achievement of a settlement in Northern Ireland was one of Blair’s major successes and a power sharing Northern Ireland Assembly was created
- The great majority of the hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords but the Parliamentary Labour Party failed to agree on a second stage of reform leading to either an elected or appointed House
- A Freedom of Information Act required public bodies to provide information that they held
- The European Convention of Human Rights was incorporated into British law as the Human Rights Act
- London Government was restored and local authorities were able to change to having an elected mayor who would run the council
- A Commission on electoral reform was set up but no decision was taken on replacing first past the post for parliamentary elections
The biggest problem with the reforms was that there was no overall plan as to how they related and what the long term implications would be. The Human Rights Act changed the balance between Parliament and the Courts and devolution introduced a quasi-federal system.
New Labour Policies - Economic
- The Governor of the Bank of England was given the power, independent of Government, to set interest rates with the objective of keeping inflation below 2% and with a Monetary Policy Committee of experts to advise him.
- Public expenditure was held to the Conservative Government’s spending plans for two years. It was then increased in line with the extra income created by greater prosperity, especially on health and education. Brown promoted the ‘golden rule’ that over the economic cycle the Government would balance spending and borrowing so as not to increase the National Debt. This was fairly successful but then was blown apart by the financial crisis of 2008 after which the Brown Government borrowed heavily to buy out the banks and stimulate the economy.
- Education and training policy concentrated on improving skills in the population
- New Labour broadly followed the deregulation policies of the Conservative Government and encouraged foreign inward investment. Although New Labour signed up to the EU Social Chapter and introduced a Minimum Wage, policy was mostly directed towards the consumer rather than the worker
Labour Policies - Rights and Responsibilities
In aspects that had previously been entirely in the public sphere such as childcare, smoking, obesity and excessive drinking, New Labour intervened on the argument that society as a whole would benefit if women were able to work or the health effects of smoking were reduced. In most cases these policies involved persuasion but a ban on smoking in public places was instituted.
Labour Policies - The Equality Agenda
Labour Policies - Reform of Public Services