To what extent has New Labour abandoned traditional Labour values
After decades of consistent defeat, the Labour party sought the need for change in the early 1980s. Although Labour started to change under the leadership of Neil Kinnock in 1983, it wasn’t until 1990 that Peter Mandelson, then the party’s director of communications, was able to claim that “we have now effectively completed the building of the new model party”. And it wasn’t until 1994 when Tony Blair was chosen to lead the Labour party that the “New Labour” project was introduced.
The introduction of New Labour was aimed at getting rid of the “party of the past” image that Labour had earned to itself and also to evolve into an electable party. For this to happen, radical policy changes needed to be made. In Blair’s view, “Labour needed a quantum leap to become a serious party of government again”.
There were however, significant constraints on the way to achieving drastic changes. An attempt to modernise the Party was in need to change policies which were formulated based on values which the party was actually based and founded upon. The changes that were proposed by Tony Blair and those who shared his views were in clear contrast with the Socialist ideology on which the Labour Party had originated from. The proposed changes also sought to prevent the Trade Unions- another main source of the Party’s origins- from having any further influence in the Labour Party.
It was also a part of New Labour’s new policies to abandon the ‘tax and spend’ ideology and instead take cooler stands on public spending. They came to a conclusion that expenditure on public services was no longer an accurate measure of how well the public services were being run.
Only one year after being elected as Party leader, Tony Blair mentioned the word ‘new’ on 59 occasions- 16 of them with reference to New Labour- in the Party Conference in 1995. In contrast, he referred to socialism just once and to the working class not at all. Comparison with old Labour has been a constant feature of his ever since in which the pre-1994 party is portrayed as committed to centralised planning, state control, public ownership, trade union power and high public expenditure.
One of the first actions that Tony Blair took as the Leader of New Labour was to bring forth a discussion of Clause IV of the Party constitution which had a history going back to 1918, addressing the main principles and beliefs of the Labour Party. After holding a special conference in Central Hall, Westminster, the same venue where Labour’s 1918 Constitution was adopted, the Clause was dimineshed and a replacement was put forward.
In the first Party conference after the 1997 general elections- in which Labour won with a majority greater than any other party had enjoyed since the 1940s- Tony Blair said: “Last May they (the electorate) voted for New Labour … They wanted a new Labour Party. Not in the pocket of the trade unions. Not taxing them through the roof. Not chasing after every passing fad of the political fringe.”
The most radical change that New Labour had adopted was in economical policies. After admitting that Globalisation had taken away the ability to control and direct the flow of wealth centrally, New Labour decided to abandon the Party’s policy of state-ownership shifting the economy towards Privatisation with an aim to have a mixed economy with a trend towards private ownership. Businesses were now seen as means of active competitiveness in the global economy and a positive contribution towards a free-market economy.
Tony Blair introduced a compromise of Labour’s Socialist and Tory’s Capitalist ideologies and introduced the ‘Third Way’ and has implemented his ideology in the party’s policies. This has caused a great confusion in the public opinion on what does the Labour Party really stand for. This has also come as a result of extremely similar policies on certain issues by the two major parties.
Another feature which distinguishes Old Labour from New Labour is the importance of constitutional change. Whilst this matter was not of high priority for Old Labour, New Labour held four referendums on constitutional changes within two years of holding government.
One other policy adopted by New Labour which was not of Old Labour’s interest, is active involvement in the European Union. New Labour is considerably pro-European and supports adopting the single currency. This would not have been the case, if Old Labour was still around.
There is clearly enough evidence to claim that New Labour has adopted entirely new beliefs on certain issues, such as the economy, Trade Unions, Europe, etc. But of course, there is no need for argument on this claim since it is widely accepted by the Labour Party and Tony Blair himself that the party has changed and moved on to a new stage. He officially condemns the era in which his party refused to respond to the need for change (and preferred to lose elections rather than give up principles). He addressed his party members in Labour’s latest Party conference warning them to learn the lessons of history and remember that the party was banished to the electoral wilderness for 18 years when it refused to face up to the need for change.
But the question is, if a Labour Party doesn’t stand for Labour values, how can it call itself the Labour Party? Well, it actually calls itself ‘New’ Labour.
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