Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1997–2007
First Ministry and Term
Second Ministry and Term
Third Ministry and Term
New Labour refers to a period in the history of the British Labour Party from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s, under leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The name dates from a conference slogan first used by the party in 1994 which was later seen in a draft manifesto published in 1996, called New Labour, New Life for Britain. It was presented as the brand of a newly reformed party that had altered Clause IV and endorsed market economics. The branding was extensively used while the party was in government, between 1997 and 2010. New Labour won landslide election victories in 1997 and 2001, and won again in 2005. In 2007, Blair resigned as the party's leader and was succeeded by Gordon Brown. Labour lost the 2010 general election, which resulted in a hung parliament and led to the creation of a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government; Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister, and as Labour leader shortly thereafter. He was succeeded by Ed Miliband after that year's leadership election.
The "New Labour" brand was developed to regain trust from the electorate and to portray a departure from "Old Labour", which was criticised for its breaking of election promises and its links between trade unions and the state. The "New Labour" brand was used to communicate the party's modernisation to the public. It was coordinated by Alastair Campbell, who centralised the party's communications and used his experience in journalism to achieve positive media relations. In 2002, following criticism from Philip Gould, Blair announced the need to reinvent the brand based on a unified domestic policy and greater assertion in foreign affairs. Following the leadership of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, the party under the New Labour brand attempted to widen its electoral appeal and, by the 1997 general election, had made significant gains in the upper and middle classes. Labour maintained this wider support in the 2001 and 2005 elections. The brand was retired in 2010.
New Labour has been influenced by the political thinking of Anthony Crosland, the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell's media campaigning. The political philosophy of New Labour was influenced by the party's development of Anthony Giddens' "Third Way", which attempted to provide a synthesis between capitalism and socialism. The party emphasised the importance of social justice, rather than equality, emphasising the need for equality of opportunity, and believed in the use of free markets to deliver economic efficiency and social justice. In 2002, Giddens named spin as New Labour's biggest failure, but commended the party's success in certain policy areas and at marginalising the Conservative Party.
First elected to parliament as Member of Parliament for Sedgefield, County Durham, at the 1983 general election, Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party in 1994, after winning 57% of the vote in that year's leadership election, defeating John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. His first shadow cabinet role came in November 1988, when Neil Kinnock appointed him as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy, and in July 1992 he was promoted to the role of Shadow Home Secretary on the election of John Smith as Labour Party leader.
Gordon Brown, who went on to hold senior positions in Blair's Labour government before succeeding him as Prime Minister in June 2007, was not a candidate in the 1994 leadership election because of an agreement between the two made in 1994, in which Brown promised not to run for election. The media has since speculated that Blair agreed to stand down and allow Brown the premiership in the future, though Blair's supporters have contended that such a deal never took place. The term 'New Labour' was coined by Blair in his October 1994 Labour Party Conference speech, as part of the slogan "New Labour, New Britain". During this speech, Blair announced the modification of Clause IV of the party's constitution, which abandoned Labour's attachment to nationalisation and embraced market economics. The new version of the clause committed Labour to a balance of market and public ownership, and to balance creation of wealth with social justice. In 1997, after 18 years of a Conservative government, New Labour won a landslide victory at the general election, winning a total of 418 seats in the House of Commons—the largest victory in the party's history. The party was also victorious in 2001 and 2005, making Blair Labour's longest-serving Prime Minister, and the first to win three consecutive general elections. Indeed, he was the first Labour leader to win a general election since Harold Wilson in 1974.
In the months following Labour's 1997 election victory, referendums were held in Scotland and Wales regarding devolution. There was a clear majority supporting devolution in Scotland and a narrower majority in Wales; Scotland received a stronger degree of devolution than Wales. The Labour government passed laws in 1998 to establish a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, the first elections for these were held in 1999. Blair attempted to continue peace negotiations in Northern Ireland by offering the creation of a regional parliament and government. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was made, which allowed for a 108-member elected assembly and a power-sharing arrangement between nationalists and unionists. Blair was personally involved in these negotiations.
After the US strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Blair released a statement supporting the actions; he lent military support to America's 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. In March 2003, the Labour government, fearing Saddam Hussein's supposed access to weapons of mass destruction, participated in the American-led invasion of Iraq. British intervention in Iraq promoted public protest. Crowds numbering 400,000 and more demonstrated in October 2002, and again the following spring. On 15 February 2003, over 1 million people demonstrated against the war in Iraq, and 60,000 marched in Manchester before the Labour Party Conference, with the demonstrators' issues including British occupation of Afghanistan and the forthcoming invasion of Iraq.
In June 2007, Blair resigned as the leader of the Labour Party and Gordon Brown, previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer, succeeded him after the 2007 party conference. Three years earlier, Blair had announced that he would not be contesting a fourth successive general election as Labour Party leader if he won the 2005 general election. Brown initially had strong public support and plans for a quick general election were widely publicised, though never officially announced. On 18 February 2008, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling announced that the failing bank, Northern Rock, would be nationalised, supporting it with loans and guarantees of £50 billion. The bank had been destabilised by the US subprime mortgage crisis the previous year, and a private buyer of the bank could not be found.
The 2010 general election ended in a hung parliament, in which Labour won 258 seats, 91 fewer than in 2005. Following failures to achieve a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, Gordon Brown announced his intention to resign as the leader of the party on 10 May, and resigned as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom the following day. Shortly thereafter, David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced the formation of a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats; David Cameron became the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister of a cabinet that contained eighteen Conservative ministers and five Liberal Democrat ministers. In announcing his intention to run for the leadership, David Miliband declared that the New Labour era was over, and following the publication of Tony' Blair's memoirs on 1 September 2010, Ed Miliband said "I think it is time to move on from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson and to move on from the New Labour establishment and that is the candidate that I am at this election who can best turn the page. I think frankly most members of the public will want us to turn the page." The leadership election was won by Ed Miliband, who was able to mobilise support from the trade union electorate. In a July 2011 speech, Blair stated that New Labour died when he left office and Gordon Brown assumed the party leadership, claiming that from 2007, the party "lost the driving rhythm".
Once New Labour was established, it was developed as a brand, portrayed as a departure from 'Old Labour', the party of pre-1994, which had been criticised for regularly betraying its election promises and was linked with trade unionism, the state, and benefit claimants. The previous two party leaders, Neil Kinnock and John Smith, had begun efforts to modernise the party as a strategy for electoral success, before Smith died in 1994. However, Smith's approach, which was dubbed (sometimes pejoratively) "one more heave" was perceived as too timid by modernisers like Blair, Brown and Mandelson. They felt that his cautious approach, which sought to avoid controversy and win the next election by capitalising on the unpopularity of the Conservative government, was not sufficient.
New Labour also used the party's brand to continue this modernisation, and it was used to communicate the modernisation of the party to the public; the party also began to use focus groups to test whether their policy ideas were attractive to swing voters. Its purpose was to reassure the public that the party would provide a new kind of governance and mitigate fears that a Labour government would return to the labour unrest that had characterised its past.
While the party was in power, press secretary Alastair Campbell installed a centralised organisation to co-ordinate government communication and impose a united message to be delivered by ministers. Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's press officer, was often in conflict with Campbell because of the former's attempts to brief the press by his own initiatives; this continued until his resignation in 1999. Campbell followed a professional approach to media relations to ensure that a clear message was presented, and the party planned stories in advance to ensure a positive media reaction. Campbell used his own experience in journalism; he was known for his attention to detail and effective use of sound bites. Campbell developed a relationship with News International, providing their newspapers with early information in return for positive media coverage.
In 2002, Philip Gould, a policy advisor to the Labour Party, wrote to the party's leadership that the brand had become contaminated and an object of criticism and ridicule, undermined by an apparent lack of conviction and integrity. The brand was weakened by internal disputes and the apparent failure to deal with issues. This assessment was supported by Tony Blair, who argued that the government needed to spend more time working on domestic affairs, develop a unifying strategy, and create "eye-catching initiatives". Blair also announced the need to be more assertive in foreign affairs.
Under Neil Kinnock, Labour attempted to widen its electoral support from narrow class divisions. After Blair took the leadership, the party made significant gains in higher social classes and won 39% support from managers and administrators in the 1997 election, more than in previous elections that the party had lost. Labour won greater support among younger voters than older, but there was no significant gender difference. During the 1980s, much of Labour's support had retreated into industrial areas of the north; in 1997, Labour performed much better in the south of England.
In the elections of 2001 and 2005, Labour maintained much of the middle-class support that it had won in 1997. In 2005, Labour's support was much lower than in the previous two elections, which David Rubinstein has attributed to anger at the war in Iraq and towards Blair himself.
Professors Geoffrey Evans, John Curtice and Pippa Norris of Strathclyde University published a paper considering the incidence of tactical voting in the 1997 general election. Their studies showed that tactical voting increased in 1997; there was a strong increase in anti-Conservative voting and a decrease in anti-Labour tactical voting. Political commentators Neal Lawson and Joe Cox wrote that tactical voting helped to provide New Labour with its majorities in 1997, 2001 and 2005 and argued that, the party won because of public opposition to the Conservative Party. The Party declared after its victory that it "won as New Labour and would govern as New Labour", but Cox and Lawson challenged this view, suggesting that the party won on account of public opposition to the Conservative Party.
The basic principles of New Labour existed in the post-war socialist revisionism of Anthony Crosland. Crosland emphasised that Labour should not just focus on nationalisation and social welfare, but attempt to reform education, resolve wealth inequality, and pursue better industrial relations. His work The Future of Socialism stressed the idea that socialism is moral and should pursue liberty, fellowship, social justice, and equality. This required the redistribution of wealth through a progressive tax system, rendering public ownership of the means of production, enshrined in Clause IV of Labour's constitution, unnecessary. Crosland also proposed that education reform allow greater egalitarianism, proposing the abolition of the eleven plus exam.
Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party after 1994's leadership election, and coined the term "New Labour" in that October's party conference. Blair pursued a "Third Way" philosophy that sought to use the public and private sectors to stimulate economic growth and abandon Labour's commitment to nationalisation. Blair's approach to government included a greater reliance on the media, using that to set the national policy agenda, rather than Westminster. He spent considerable resources maintaining a good public image, which sometimes took priority over the cabinet. Blair adopted a centrist political agenda in which cabinet ministers took managerial roles in their departments; strategic vision was to be addressed by the Prime Minister. Ideologically, Blair believed that individuals could only flourish in a strong society, and this was not possible in the midst of unemployment.
Gordon Brown was an important figure in Blair's Labour government and played a key role in developing the party's philosophy. Brown served as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1992 to 1997 and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer following Labour's election victory in 1997. He attempted to control public spending and sought to increase the funding for education and healthcare. His economic strategy was market-based, attempting to reform the welfare state through a tax credit scheme for poorer working families, and he assigned the Bank of England to set interest rates.
In 1985, Peter Mandelson was appointed as the Labour Party's director of communication; previously, he had worked in television broadcasting. He helped the party become increasingly effective at communication and more concerned with its media image, especially with non-partisans. Mandelson headed the Campaigns and Communications Directorate, established in 1985, and initiated the Shadow Communications Agency. He oversaw Labour's relationship with the media and believed in the importance of the agenda-setting role of the press. He felt that the agenda of the press (broadsheets in particular) would influence important political broadcasters. In government, Mandelson was appointed minister without portfolio to co-ordinate the various government departments. In 1998, accused of financial impropriety, he resigned as a cabinet minister.
Alastair Campbell was the Labour Party's Press Secretary and led a strategy to neutralise the influence of the press (which had weakened former Labour leader Neil Kinnock) and create allies for the party. While in government, Campbell established a Strategic Communications Unit, a central body whose role was to co-ordinate the party's media relations and ensure that a unified image was presented to the press. Because of his background in tabloid journalism, Campbell understood how different parts of the media would cover stories. He was a valued news source for journalists because he was close to Blair – he was the first press secretary to regularly attend cabinet meetings.
New Labour developed and subscribed to the "Third Way", a centrist platform designed to offer an alternative to both complete capitalism and absolute socialism. The ideology was developed to make the party progressive and attract voters from across the political spectrum. New Labour offered a middle way between the neo-liberal free market economics of the New Right, which it saw as economically efficient, and the ethical reformism of post-1945 Labour, which shared New Labour's concern for social justice. New Labour's ideology departed with its traditional beliefs in achieving social justice on behalf of the working class through mass collectivism; Blair was influenced by ethical and Christian forms of socialism and used these to cast a modern form of socialism.
New Labour tended to emphasise social justice, rather than the equality which was the focus of previous Labour governments, and challenged the view that social justice and economic efficiency are mutually exclusive. The party's traditional attachment to equality was reduced: Minimum standards and equality of opportunity were promoted over the equality of outcome. The Commission on Social Justice, set up by John Smith, reported in 1994 that the values of social justice were: equal worth of citizens, equal rights to be able to meet their basic needs, the requirement to spread opportunities as much as possible, and the need to remove unjustified inequalities. The party viewed social justice primarily as the requirement to give citizens equal political and economic liberty and also as the need for social citizenship. It encompasses the need for equal distribution of opportunity, with the caveat that things should not be taken from successful people to give to the unsuccessful.
New Labour accepted the economic efficiency of free markets and believed that they could be detached from capitalism to achieve the aims of socialism, while maintaining the efficiency of capitalism. Markets were also useful for giving power to consumers and allowing citizens to make their own decisions and act responsibly. New Labour embraced market economics because they believed they could be used for their social aims, as well as economic efficiency. The party did not believe that public ownership was efficient or desirable; ensuring that they were not seen to be ideologically pursuing centralised public ownership was important to the party. In government, the party relied on public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives to raise funds and mitigate fears of a 'tax and spend' policy or excessive borrowing.
Welfare reforms proposed by New Labour in their 2001 manifesto included Working Families Tax Credit, the National Childcare Strategy, and the National Minimum Wage. Writing in Capital & Class, Chris Grover argued that these policies were aimed at promoting work, and that this position dominated New Labour's position on welfare. He considered the view that New Labour's welfare reforms were "workfarist" and argued that, in this context, it must refer to social policy being put in line with free market economic growth. Gower proposed that, under New Labour, this position was consolidated through schemes to encourage work.
Parts of New Labour's political philosophy linked crime with social exclusion and pursued policies to encourage partnerships between social and police authorities to lower crime rates. Other areas of New Labour's policy maintained a traditional approach to crime; the prison population in 2005 rose to over 76,000, mostly owing to the increasing length of sentences. Following the September 11 attacks, the Labour government attempted to emphasise counter-terrorism measures. From 2002, the government followed policies aimed at reducing anti-social behaviour; in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, Labour introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs).
Trade union activist and journalist Jimmy Reid wrote in The Scotsman in 2002 criticising New Labour for failing to promote or deliver equality. He argued that Labour's pursuit of a "dynamic market economy" was a way of continuing the operation of a free market economy, which prevented governments from interfering to achieve social justice. Reid argued that the social agenda of Clement Attlee's government was abandoned by Thatcher and not revived by New Labour. He criticised the party for not preventing inequality from widening, and argued that New Labour's ambition to win elections had moved the party towards the right.
In 2002, sociologist Anthony Giddens, a key figure in the development of the "Third Way", listed problems facing the New Labour government, naming spin as the biggest failure because its damage to the party's image was difficult to rebound from. He also challenged the failure of the Millennium Dome project and Labour's inability to deal with irresponsible businesses. Giddens saw Labour's ability to marginalise the Conservative Party as a success, as well its economic policy, welfare reform and certain aspects of education. Giddens criticised what he called Labour's "half-way houses", including the National Health Service, and environmental and constitutional reform.
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