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Old vs New Labour

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‘To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruit of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. ‘ Part of Labours Old constitution, Clause IV This was an essential ideological foundation that the Labour party has been built upon since it began, but does this sound like a clause that today’s New Labour would work towards?

No, that is because new labour have changed their constitution, they have replaced the roots of their party, in order to turn them into what they see as a better government. A traditional labour leader of old, would have had the complex task of balancing constituency activists, parliamentarians and trade unionists, whilst running the rest of the country. The emergence of Antony Blair as Prime Minister in 1997, saw the beginning of a very different labour government, a New labour.

Using the various sources available, I shall aim to give a thorough, un-bias and non-judgemental view o the changes that labour has seen, focusing mainly on the contrast between the pre-Kinnock, and post-Kinnock eras. The Welsh born labour leader was elected head of the party in 1983, after labour suffered a heavy defeat to the conservatives. Many consider Neil Kinnock to be the stepping stone in the divide between old and New Labour.

Pre-Kinnock saw Michael Foot carrying on the fight for the ‘future of socialism’, but at the start of the eighties, the party was suffering. Extreme internal division, and radical policies saw labour have a major, sharp shift to the left. The consequential effects of this saw many key party members leaving to form a Social Democratic Party, which had a strong alliance with the Liberals. In contrast, the post-Kinnock era sees the youngest ever labour leader, and youngest ever Prime minister, re-writing the party’s constitution in order to create New Labour.

I intend to look at the key moves made by New Labour that have taken the party away from the old ways, whilst attempting to construct my analysis around a central question, is New Labour a new Labour, or is new Labour a new party? Trade Unions have always been a fundamental part of the labour party during its history, and have generally supplied the majority of funding, in return for a large proportion of political power within the party. This may have been the case for most of labours past, but the current party reforms, have seen a reduction in Trade Union affiliation.

Tony Blair has reduced Trade Union influence at all levels of the party, including conference, candidate selection, and funding. In 1986, they supplied 75% of the party’s funding, in 1997 that figure has dropped to 50%. This is a major turn around, as the political nature of the party is derived from the early trade unionists. This signifies the new stance that the government has taken, and this also highlights why there was so much division in the party during the reigns of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, as some old MPs tried desperately to hang on to the roots of their party.

Europe and the UK’s integration has become one of the most charged debates in Britain over the last few years, and continues to be so. Again the complete about turn of the labour party’s policies is evident with the discussions surrounding Europe. A common old Labour thought on Europe was that it was ‘far too capitalist’ and therefore their left-wing ideological values and policies had no place in that kind of place. In fact, even the man who arguably started the reform (Kinnock), was also anti-Europe. During the election campaign of 1983 Kinnock used his anti-Europe policy as a front runner for voters.

He promised the removal of the UK from the European Economic Union if elected. We now see Mr Blair slowly but surely trying to bring the nation round to the idea of further more European integration. Although as to not alienate his public supporters, he has promised a referendum before any decision is made, Tony Blair seems to be very much pro-Europe, and especially pro-Euro. The 1997 labour manifesto stated that the party was ‘against a European Federal State’, yet this does not mean that Blair is anti-Europe, to me it seems as if he wishes to retain some kind of British sovereignty.

When the New labour Party took control in 1997, there decision on the future of the UK’s economy, was once again one that would have opposed most economic policy of the old Labour government. Tony Blair has kept true to the 1997 election manifesto and followed the former conservative government’s economic policies for the first two and a half years of office. It could be argued that any old labour government put into power after Mrs Thatchers policies on de-nationalisation of British industries, would have done their up most to work towards the restoration of national industry.. But this is New Labour, and it is unlike the old.

It is no longer a radical party, as it was twenty, thirty and forty years ago. New Labour is very much in favour of ‘the market’, as first championed by Thatcher. Mr Blair, like the rest of the educated western world, has seen the benefits of the market system, and has seen the demise of state allocation of resources. The movement away from the reliance on the welfare state, is also something fresh from New Labour.

Bill coxall and Lynton Robins write in ‘Contemporary British Politics From Attlee to Major’; ‘ by the mid-70’s, public expectations in the welfare state were running well head of public willingness and national capacity to finance it’ New Labour, well aware of mistakes of the past, have not gone back towards old Labour’s policies, and have maintained the UK’s economic prosperity of the late 90’s and early millennium. Keynesian economics have been left behind, and the governments intervention in the economy is now minimal. Highly progressive taxation has been an ideology associated very closely with Labour. The kind of ‘rob from the rich, and give to the poor’ consensus was thought to be a major deterrent to the potential voters.

For example, those earning ‘supernormal’ profits during the 60’s and 70’s were sometimes being taxed as highly as 99%. Not only was this form of taxation have a negative impact on the wealthier voter, but it has now been pushed aside by the emergence of supply-side economic thought. Here again is evidence of a policy that was the brain child of Thatcher’s Conservative government, and its positive potential has now been harnessed by New Labour, rather than reverting back to unsuccessful, old labour methods of taxation.

By the Blair administration changing the constitution, they have changed the very foundations and structure of the party. Along with the constitutional change, we see a shift along the political spectrum. New labour is now described as occupying a position right of the centre, lying between the Liberal Democrats on the left, and the Conservatives on the right. This change could be put down to the evolution of politics that the developed world has recently witnessed during the last decade or so. The change could also be put down to the repeated failure of the left wing Labour parties of old, to win or maintain control of government.

The old saying ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ may have been the general philosophy that has been followed in order to come to the drastic change by New Labour. During the 1997 election campaign, the Conservative party used the political slogan, ‘New Labour, Old Danger’. Now it is not clear to me whether the Conservative party actually believed that New labour were a new danger, or maybe they were actually just trying to remind the public of the problems of old Labour governments during their time in office.

Either way, now in 2002, Tony Blair’s ‘Thatcherism MarkII’ government, are a far cry from the Labour party’s of pre-Kinnock years. Changes ranging from constitutional alterations, up through the re-structuring of Trade Union power, the role and composition of women in the government, to the way the party is now funded. I think that it is more than the modern evolution of politics, I think it was an admittance that Labour’s ideologies were inappropriate in the new global economy.

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