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Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction: What is ‘New’ Labour?

Abstract
On 7 June 2001 ‘New’ Labour, led by Tony Blair, achieved its second General Election victory in a row. This was an unprecedented achievement: hitherto, in all its 101 years of existence, Labour had failed to secure two back-to-back full terms in government. Such was the scale of the 2001 result, some commentators even believed the party was guaranteed at least one further period in office. Yet, despite Labour’s sustained electoral success and over four years in power, the character of Blair’s party remained uncertain. What exactly was ‘New’ Labour: was it basically the same as the historical Labour Party, albeit updated to meet present-day needs, or was it a genuinely distinct political phenomenon?
Steven Fielding

1. Historicizing ‘New’ Labour

Abstract
This chapter moves on from current debates about ‘New’ Labour to the wider historical context, starting with a brief overview and chronology of the key landmarks in Labour’s hundred-year history. It will then consider how the study of the party’s past can illuminate an understanding of its present. An acquaintance with historical ‘facts’ can however only be a start, albeit an essential one, towards getting to grips with ‘New’ Labour. This is primarily because there is no single universally accepted version of the party’s history with which to compare its contemporary development; indeed there are as many arguments about Labour’s earlier trajectory as there are about its present course. The final section of this chapter contrasts the three major competing frameworks that dominate the study of Labour Party history. As will become clear, these different interpretations of Labour’s past in many ways mirror those analyses of ‘New’ Labour discussed in the Introduction.
Steven Fielding

2. The Liberal Connection

Abstract
The feature many commentators initially considered most novel about ‘New’ Labour was Tony Blair’s desire to build a new relationship between his party and the Liberal Democrats (LibDems). Blair certainly went out of his way to highlight the Liberals’ contribution to Labour history and claimed that even the Attlee government — so beloved by adherents of ‘Old’ Labour — owed much to the work of Liberals such as John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge. With that in mind, Blair suggested his members should in future ‘welcome the radical left-of-centre tradition outside our own party’. He went so far as to express regret that Labour’s Edwardian association with the Liberal Party had given way to full independence after the First World War as it had obscured an ‘intellectual bridgehead’ that linked these two ‘progressive’ forces. The split was not only politically unnecessary but, Blair believed, had also allowed the Conservatives to hold on to national office for too long. The Labour leader consequently claimed he wanted to re-establish this lost ‘radical centre’ and so lay the electoral foundations for a ‘progressive century’ (Blair, 1996, 7–12).
Steven Fielding

3. From Clause Four to Third Way: Labour’s Ideological Journey

Abstract
Despite the scepticism of the previous chapter’s concluding remarks, those wishing to understand ‘New’ Labour should still carefully attend to the words of its leading exponents. Indeed, according to those who believe Tony Blair’s leadership marks a decisive break with Labour’s past, its defining moment occurred in 1995, when members voted to revise clause four of the party’s constitution. Since 1918 this had committed Labour to advancing the ‘common ownership’ of the ‘means of production, distribution and exchange’. In so far as these words demonstrated a principled desire to reduce the scope of the free market, many viewed them as denoting the party’s commitment to socialism. By modifying the clause, ‘New’ Labour was seen, by enthusiast and detractor alike, as announcing the party’s full acceptance of capitalism. This supposed change of direction was entrenched by Blair’s elaboration of what he termed the Third Way. There is, however, another view that needs to be considered: namely that, despite changes in emphasis, the principled basis of Labour ideology has remained remarkably constant. From that perspective, 1995 was not a break with the past but the conclusion of some unfinished business.
Steven Fielding

4. Accommodating or Shaping? Labour’s Electoral Dilemma

Abstract
‘New’ Labour won the 1997 and 2001 General Elections by landslides, giving it Commons majorities of 179 and 167 seats respectively. This was a remarkable transformation: after losing its fourth election in a row in 1992, commentators speculated that Labour would remain in permanent Opposition (King, 1993, viii). Some analysts considered ‘New’ Labour regained power through following a ‘preference-accommodating’ strategy. By this they meant Blair had simply echoed the Thatcherite sensibilities of middle-class voters (those referred to as ‘Middle England’). To achieve this, he had ditched policies favoured by the party’s established manual working-class supporters (those designated ‘heartlands’ voters). Not everybody in the party saw merit in this alleged strategy. Some advocated a ‘preference-shaping’ approach, arguing that instead of pandering to Middle England’s views Blair should have challenged them so they eventually accorded with the party’s own beliefs. Labour would have won in 1997 on this basis and, such critics believe (given the dire state of the Conservatives), Prime Minister Blair could have been more radical in office and still gained re-election in 2001.
Steven Fielding

5. Becoming Blair’s Party? Labour Organization

Abstract
Critics invariably argue that ‘New’ Labour is uniquely obsessed with what they term ‘control freakery’. Echoing this charge, Peter Mair has asserted that the Labour leader seeks ‘a degree of control within his own party without precedent in modern British political history’. According to Mair, Blair wants to create a party which articulates only one voice: his own (Mair, 2000, 21). Thus, where once power was dispersed between members, trade unions and the Westminster leadership, it now only resides in the leader’s hands. In effect ‘New’ Labour is run by a handful of professionals based in London who owe loyalty to Blair rather than the party. Labour cannot now claim with any degree of seriousness to be a democratic organization: it is quite literally Blair’s party.
Steven Fielding

6. Managing the Economy

Abstract
Many observers consider the critical difference between ‘New’ Labour and the party in the past to be their respective attitudes towards capitalism. Labour historically has been viewed as antagonistic to capitalism since it was based on private ownership and therefore thought to work against the collective interest. This disposition led the party to extend common ownership in the belief that only when the economy was run by government could it operate to the advantage of the working-class majority. In contrast, ‘New’ Labour is thought to consider that in a modern, globalized economy no government can do no more than make the labour force fit to do capitalism’s bidding. Thus, from being a constraint on the exploitative and at times destructive forces unleashed by capitalism, Labour under Blair has become its champion. In particular, although established largely to defend the interests of trade unionists against those of their employers, since 1994 Labour has been accused of privileging the welfare of business over that of the workers.
Steven Fielding

7. Advancing Equality?

Abstract
One of the most frequent charges made against ‘New’ Labour is that it abandoned the pursuit of equality. In contrast even to revisionist predecessors such as Hugh Gaitskell, Blair is said to want to create a society in which the reduction of inequality plays no obvious part (Brivati, 1996, 442–3). If the accusation were true this would mean ‘New’ Labour had turned its back not only on the party’s past, but also on contemporary European social democracy. Historically, Labour has aspired to advance the cause of equality: indeed, many commentators believe this has been the party’s pre-eminent purpose (Ellison, 1994). Moreover, according to the political philosopher Norberto Bobbio, the commitment to promote equality remains the principal distinguishing feature of all parties on the left (Bobbio, 1996).
Steven Fielding

Conclusion: The Death of ‘New’ Labour?

Abstract
The purpose of this conclusion is threefold. First, it will draw together the most significant points raised in the preceeding chapters and thereby make more explicit some of the key underlying assumptions that formed the basis of this attempt to place Labour’s recent progress into historical perspective. The chapter will next analyse the result of the 2001 campaign and consider what it tells us about the nature of ‘New’ Labour’s achievement. It will draw to a close by critically assessing the claim (made by numerous commentators) that some time after 2000 ‘New’ Labour shuffled off this mortal coil.
Steven Fielding

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