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POL13: New Labour
Easter Term 2019
Labour Party leaders:
1935-55: Clement Attlee
1955-63: Hugh Gaitskell
1963-76: Harold Wilson
1976-80: James Callaghan
1980-83: Michael Foot
1983-92: Neil Kinnock
1992-94: John Smith
1994-2007: Tony Blair
2007-2010: Gordon Brown
2010-2015: David Miliband
According to Andrew Gamble (2010), there are three approaches to whether the 1997 election is a watershed election like the ones in 1945 and 1979:
● First approach emphasises the continuity between the Thatcher and Major govts and New Labour
○ Those who accepted the radicalism of Thatcherism will tend to accept the legacy of Thatcherism in New Labour, and those that downplay the former will downplay the latter too
○ E.g. Eric Shaw who claims that New Labour has completely broken with the old Labour Party—'post-revisionism regarded the central
Croslandite proposition, that democratic government had the ability to prevail over the power of business, as false'
○ E.g. Perry Anderson: 'Labour's new programme accepts the basic parameters of the Thatcher Settlement, in much the same way that the
Conservative government of the fifties accepted the parameters of the
● Second interpretation is that New Labour was a period of radical ideological and policy renewal that combined social justice and economic efficiency. It also developed a new electoral strategy that changed the landscape.
● Third interpretation: New Labour is a continuation of old Labour
○ e.g. Martin Smith and Tudor Jones who claim that New Labour is a return to the spirit of Croslandite revisionism of the 1950s and 60s
History of the Labour Party
● organisation origin was a resolution passed by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in 1899 to establish an independent political body whose purpose was to represent the unions in
Parliament. They were in electoral pact with the Liberals in early days. Made little progress to appeal to beyond the union members prior to WWI.
● some factors contributed to the elevation of the party's status to become the second party: split within the Liberal Party, extension of franchise to all men and most women.
They appealed more overtly to non-union members. An important expression of this breakaway from Liberal Party was the party's commitment to common ownership,
embodied in clause four of its founding 1918 constitution.
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the National Government was so weakened during the military reverses during 1940 that
Churchill offered Attlee participation in office on equal terms. Moreover, the public demand for full employment after the war.
During the 1945 govt, Labour nationalised 20% of the economy and created a welfare state, notably the NHS.
During the 1950s, Labour lot three general elections. Some believe that the party was losing touch with the younger and better-off working and middle class voters who saw the party's aims as old-fashioned. This is where the first wave of revisionism came in.
Leader Hugh Gaitskell published the policy document Industry and Society in 1957 to present a less class-conscious image of the party. He also tried to revise clause four after the party's 1959 defeat, but was prevented through a lack of trade union support.
Wilson introduced proposals in 1969 to limit the no. of wildcat strikes, but was forced to withdraw in the face of union outrage.
Callaghan provoked the 1979 'winter of discontent' because he was unwilling to give the public sector workers the wage rises they demanded
In opposition (under Michael Foot), the party turned on its leaders and reverted to the 1973 programme, adding support for unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC. Some party members left to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Suffered a very bad defeat in the 1983 election.
When Neil Kinnock took over the the 1983 defeat, although he had been a staunch leftist, he began adopting the strategies of Gaitskell and Wilson.
Labour members suffer from nostalgia for a time in the past when things were supposedly better, like during the 1950s they looked back on 1930s with fondness and see it as the golden age (Steven Fielding)
Scholars disagree on when the turning point of 'New Labour' is:
● aftermath of the 1987 defeat and the publishing of Policy Review
● 1985 and Mandelson's appointment as Director of Communications
● 1983, the year Kinnock became Labour leader
● Labour left's loss of control of the party's National Executive Committee in the autumn of 1981
● Adam Lent (1997): each should be seen as transition points in a complex process
● Richard Hefferman (1998): New Labour was the climax of the gradual accommodation with the Conservatives' neoliberal agenda.
The novelty of New Labour
● The term 'new' was used 37 times in Blair's speech to the 1994 Labour Party conference and a further 104 times in the Road to the Manifesto document
● New Labour marks it novelty by juxtaposing itself with two historical 'others'
○ Old Labour: overshadowed by the economic recession under the
Wilson and then the Callaghan governments, the bailout by the IMF.
Marked by 'Keynesianism, (quasi) corporatism, collectivism,
egalitarianism, expansive welfarism'.
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○ the more immediate period in opposition, when the Labour Party was associated with 'socialist extremism'
● Definition of the 'third way'
○ Steven Fielding (2003): A third way between individualism and laissezfaire on one hand, and the old style government intervention and corporatism of the 1960s social democracy on the other hand It was a modernised social democracy, reconciled with individual liberty in market economy, with social justice as the main aim.
○ In his Fabian pamphlet on the Third Way, Blair set out four broad policy objectives for his government: (1) a dynamic knowledge-based economy; (2) a strong civil society; (3) a modern government based on partnership and decentralisation; and (4) a foreign policy based on international cooperation.
● Many policies were part of the package to signify a new kind of politics
○ decentralisation of power. The state would seek to enable families, businesses and voluntary associations.
○ freedom of information legislation
○ Constitutional reforms: 'Taken together this was the most radical set of constitutional changes since the advent of universal suffrage.' (Gamble 2010)
■ devotion of powers—'This is the most significant development in British territorial politics since the exit of Ireland from the United Kingdom.'
■ incorporation of the European Convention on human rights into British law
■ return of self-government for London
■ reform of the House of lords
■ elected mayors
■ 'What is undeniable however is that although timid and inconsistent the constitutional reform programme has permanently transformed British politics.' (Gamble 2010)
Colin Hay (1999): his position is that the Thatcher's govt is a radical break from the past. New Labour has adopted a large portion from Thatcher, because the party has accepted the reality of the economy Thatcherism operates under, and the reality of the public acceptance of neoliberalism.
● Cautions against both monocausal structural or monocausal agency approaches. He recognises that New Labour both restrained by global economy and not completely passive at the same time. The latter can also be called economism, ie.. politics is irrelevant and futile in the face of inexorable economic trends.
● New Labour's direction was necessitated by modernisation
○ The 'modernisation thesis' is that New Labour saw Thatcherism as a long overdue opportunity to modernise in order to keep up with the external environment. Hay's position: New Labour accepted somewhat enthusiastically a considerable portion of the Thatcherite legacy (so
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not essentially Thatcherism), which is necessitated by the new stage in the development of capitalism
○ Instead of seeing Thatcher as a crusade against the past, is a response to the distinctive economic pressures of the new time
○ Convergence on neo-liberal terms: globalisation, corporations becoming multinational and footloose, and international competition was Darwinian
○ They've have accepted four things
■ the passing of the Keynesian era
■ the limitations and failings of an abstentionist neo-liberal accumulation strategy
■ the persistent structural weaknesses of the British economy
■ he strategic opportunities as much as the constraints that international economic restructuring and greater regional economic integration present
○ Hay proposes a more nuanced version of that: it was also an electoral decision. Much of the electorate at that time have accepted the necessity of neoliberalism. New Labour has to revise its convictions to satisfy shifted electoral preferences
● However, Blair is keen to highlight the 'enduring values of 1945': 'the process of what is called "modernisation" is in reality…the application of enduring lasting principles for a new generation…it is not destroying the Left's essential ideology: on the contrary, it is retrieving it from an intellectual and political muddle'
Steven Fielding (2003): rejects that Labour has changed utterly since 1994, but acknowledges that Blair promoted some important developments, albeit ones which moved the party in a historically well-established direction. '1995 was not a break with the past but the conclusion of some unfinished business'
● Structure and agency: all European social democratic parties went through a phase of revisionism around the same time. They responded to the demise of
Keynesianism and placed a great stress on the market. Even though Labour was part of a broader pattern of change, New Labour is generally seen to have gone further than most.
○ Some would argue that New Labour wouldn't be possible at all without
Blair and Brown. Some internal critics of the Labour Party claimed to have been victims of a coup d'etat. However, Blair and Brown were obscure party members when Callaghan abandoned Keynesianism,
and junior MPs when Kinnock became party leader.
○ The impact of 1979-1997 must be stressed. That period has made it virtually impossible for any successor to reform capitalism to a great extent.
● Some stats about how different the Britain New Labour inherited is
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○ Labour's loyal voter base greatly reduced in number: in 1979, 32% of workers were employed in manufacturing; by 1997 this figure was only 18%
○ it was a much more unequal society: by 1997, 1 in 6 Britons was on social assistance, the highest proportion in the EU
● Fielding argues that clause four has not been that important as a blueprint for action anyway.
○ During MacDonald's leadership, he just considered common ownership as one of the means to attain a socialist society. He was anxious to fast forward the natural development of capitalism, so clause four did not actually inspire any action.
○ Subscribing to Keynesianism, Gaitskell actually considered that common ownership is less effective than the market. This is fully developed by Anthony
Crosland's in The Future of Socialism (1956).
○ In 1976, Callaghan informed party conference delegates that inflation, not lack of demands, had become the main cause of unemployment. He publicly abandoned
○ Policy Review of 1987 was a rethink of the relationship between market and state. Some like Hay saw it as Labour embracing a watered-down version of
Thatcherism; some, like Martin Smith, suggest that it should be seen as a return to Croslandite revisionism. One example of reconciling with Thatcherism is that now it is considered impractical to renationalised industries that have been privatised. It suggests granting more powers to regulatory bodies to better serve consumer interests.
○ 'while the 1995 clause relegated public ownership to one of a no. of means though necessary to achieve the party's aims, this was where in practice it had always been.'
Matt Beech (2004): 'New Labour is social democratic and is the new right wing of the Labour Party'. It was not merely an election strategy either. There was significant changes in political philosophy within the Labour Party, and the interpretation of social democracy. One must recognise that this is not the position of the whole party nor the Parliamentary Labour Party. Nor was it simply the position of a clique that hijacked the party.
● It was a response to rapid changes in global economy
○ the demise of Keynesianism
○ expanding financial markets
○ increasing international economic interdependence
○ increasingly mobile capital
○ Blair in his book New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country: 'the driving force of economic change today is globalisation.'
● They are comparable to the Gaitskellite revisionists in the mid-1950s, who were reacting to the changes in the nature of capitalism (Crosland's thesis)
and the post-Welfare State society. They are also not exactly the 'Old Right'
of the Labour Party. Figure of the Old Right, Roy Hattersley in a newspaper article: 'it's no longer my party'.
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Dan Corry (2011): 'the Labour record over 13 years was a sound one for social democrats in the modern world'. This is based on that 'an enormous amount was achieved', esp in education, health and child poverty. However, New Labour was constrained by the underlying structural trends in the global economy, e.g. mobile capital. They need businesses behind their backs, which is perhaps why their reluctance to bring in too many policies that businesses would oppose
● Corry argues that the New Labour created a new capitalist model that was a combination of 'stakeholderism' and Clintononics, which is putting resources in skills training and education. It has accepted that price incentives and entrepreneurship promote the economy
● Attempted to change the context in which capitalism operates in
○ Strengthened the competition policy
○ Strengthened the right of workers—national minimum wage, giving more recognition to collective-rights-making unions, bringing in individual rights such as paid holidays, labour rights for part-timers,
rights to time off, right to request working flexibility
○ Protect employees of the companies the public sector outsource to.
TUPE—Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment). Costs no longer the only consideration in outsourcing.
Jim Tomlinson (2007): challenges the idea that Keynesianism has died in the 1970s. It made a comeback after the 1980s. British policy has even been more Keynesian in the 1990s and the 2000s than in the 1950s and 1960s.
● What is Keynesianism? Keynesian is actually highly contingent and pragmatic. Can be defined as 'the use of fiscal policy in a counter-cyclical fashion to pursue the goal of employment maximisation, including, crucially, the generation of fiscal deficits where these are required to offset exogenous deflationary pressures.' The important component of Keynesianism is generating 'confidence' in the economy and economic governance.
● 'With the manifold benefits of fuller employment, the absence of constraints through loss of confidence, and the continuing existence of big government, Keynesianism continues to be an attractive option to governments.' Therefore, with the right conditions i.e. low inflation and stable public finances, Keynesianism is always attractive, to both the
Conservative and the Labour govts.
David Coates (1996): New Labour shares continuities with the Labour Party since 1945, except the period between late 1970s and early 1980s, when the party took a leftist turn. Therefore,
Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan and Blair all 'work with the grain of market forces'
Stephen Driver and Luke Martell: 'post-Thatcherite': it adopts a critical attitude to both Thatcherite policies and Old Labour policies.
Is New Labour social democratic?
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