What Are the Main Characteristics of New Labour?

Topics: Labour Party, Scottish Parliament, Tony Blair Pages: 7 (2859 words) Published: March 24, 2007
In answering this question it is first necessary to define what is meant by the term ‘New Labour.' With respect to the history of politics, ‘New Labour' is a fairly recent description of a change or shift in the Labour party ideology occurring within the last 12 years. It refers to a gradual shift of Labour from political left to a more conservative right wing approach to various issues and in terms of the political spectrum, Labour now occupy the middle-to-right area, rather than the middle-to-left of the previous Old Labour.

The phrase was first coined in a 1994 Labour Party conference and later used as the heading for Labour's new manifesto entitled: New Labour, New Life For Britain. It is used to evoke a sense of change within the party and to show that it is moving forward and improving. A step towards the reform was taken in the rejection of Clause IV, something which had long been at the root of Labour ideology. It was previously believed that Clause IV was confusingly worded and didn't clearly set out the aims of the party. Tony Blair, therefore, created a new statement of aims and values that would underpin the workings of New Labour. It was defined thereafter as a ‘democratic socialist' party although New Labours adoption of various market policies lead some to believe it is a social democratic party at the centre of politics, rather than its left. This view is something I will concentrate on later however.

The redevelopment of Clause IV in 1995 also contained a set of principles and beliefs that were the beginnings of New Labour. It mentions that Labour want to achieve a dynamic economy and wish for the private sector to begin thriving, something which is quite Conservative in nature. They also outline the pursuit of a just society in which people are guarded from fear and can enjoy justice in the work place. It advocates an open democracy in which it is simple to hold people to account and promotes a healthy environment, something which is relatively new in politics since the advent of climate change.

The beliefs and values of New Labour can more accurately display at which point in the political spectrum Labour now stand. They advocate social justice, meaning they believe people in society should all share the same benefits and be fairly treated, which is a fairly liberal point of view. Labour also believes in a strong community which is linked somewhat to the above. All people within the community have a part to play and each is as valued as the last. As well as this, Labour also promotes a meritocratic society in which people are rewarded for their work. This ensures that each member of society is striving to better themselves and this ‘carrot and stick' policy encourages people to do so. Finally, one of the Labour beliefs is that a person's right should reflect their responsibilities and the more responsibilities you command, the more rights you are entitled to. This is also linked to the previous belief as it shows reward for hard work and is in line with Labour's meritocratic ideals.

The aims of New Labour and the Labour party also help to determine their characteristics. The appointment of Tony Blair as head of the party following the death of John Smith saw the Labour party begin to take new direction as Blair sought to redefine their beliefs, values and aims in an effort to defeat the Conservatives in the 1997 elections. According to the 1997 manifesto, what made New Labour new was the fact that it had a distinctively different approach to policies than the old left and the Conservative party. Blair sought a party for the future and the new millennium and changed the Labour party in order to appeal to a public that had been failed under the Conservatives following their brake of a promise not to raise taxes. One of the questions surrounding the dramatic change in Labour policy was why it was now that it was done and the reasons for this. Panebianco cites the major change of...

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• Coates, D and Lawler, P, New Labour in Power, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)
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• Fielding, S, Thompson, P and Tiratsoo, N, "England Arise!" The Labour Party and popular politics in 1940s Britain, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995)
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