Since its foundation in 1900, the British Labour Party has been in power eleven times, and has had five Prime Ministers. It was founded as a social-democratic party, close to the unions and advocating the rights of the working class. On June 2001, led by Tony Blair, it won its second General Election in a row, securing a second full term in power, something unprecedented for the party. Since he became leader in 1994 after the death of John Smith, Tony Blair has tried to reshape Labour's image and policies. This strategy has proved divisive, even among the party's ranks. Critics have argued that “New” Labour – as Blair branded it – is merely a continuation of Thatcherism and that it has jettisoned its core values. As Ben Pimlott put it, in 1989, Labour was still “known to be against privilege, social hierarchy, capitalism, personal wealth, inequality, unregulated markets, the powerful, the establishment, the upper classes, nationalistic fervour, military might; and in favour of equality, civil rights, state intervention, democracy, the working class, internationalism” .
[...] The leadership's discourse put the emphasis on individual freedom and personal responsibility, underlining the inadequacy of received ideological frameworks and abandoning utopian meta- narratives which had characterized labour movements across Europe. A statement issued in 1999 by Tony Blair and the German Chancellor, Gerhardt Schröder (The Third Way, Der neue Mitte), highlighted some of New Labour core values. It said that essential function of markets must be complemented and improved by political action, not hampered by a statement opposed to the supposed dirigisme of Labour. [...]
[...] 79-92 Raymond Plant, “Blair and Ideology”, in Seldon The Blair effect (Little, Brown, 2001), pp. 555-568 “Gordon's golden fudge”, The Economist, December 13th 2003 “Continental drift”, The Economist, April 20th 2002 Ben Pimlott, future of the in Robert Skidelski Thatcherism (Basil Blackwell, 1989), p Quoted in Steven Fielding, The Labour Party, continuity and change in the making of Labour, (Palgrave, 2003), p.79 Anthony Giddens, Where now for New Labour?, (Polity, 2002) Ben Pimlott, in Robert Skidelski Thatcherism, p Paul Kelly, “Ideas and policy agendas in contemporary politics”, in Developments in British Politics 7 [...]
[...] This essay will try to place New Labour on the ideological spectrum by arguing that it is a centre of the left party that has incorporated elements of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism to a greater extent than other social-democratic parties. Even if Thatcherism and neo-liberalism have had a strong imprint on Labour, its continuity with Labour can still be traced, underlining its centre of the left position in British politics. Labour: the imprint of Thatcherism In 1992, after Labour had lost its fourth election in a row, modernizers such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson thought that the leader, Neil Kinnock had failed to transform the party. [...]
[...] Another continuity with the Conservatives governments of 1979-1981 can be seen in foreign policy: Tony Blair has pursued a close relationship with the United States and particularly with its conservative President George W. Bush and chose to send troops in Iraq, facing dissent in his party's ranks and in public opinion. Here again, New Labour does not want to be seen as weak on foreign policy issues. This new emphasis on the themes of choice, individual freedom and economic liberalism has been seen by many as a great change in Labour's history: New Labour is charged with having abandoned its social-democratic commitments and having converged with Conservative ideas. [...]
[...] We will try to show now how New Labour can still be seen as a centre of the left party. The continuity with Labour: a centre of the left party Students of British politics such as Steven Fielding have argued that Tony Blair wilfully downplayed the continuities that linked New Labour to the party's past and that New Labour was merely a rhetorical device designed to improve its chances of gaining national office and meant to win the support of relatively affluent Conservative-inclined voters who associated the party with extremism, division, economic incompetence, militant trade unions and the poor. [...]
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