New Labour

New Labour
   In the context of opposition to the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1979 and 1997, and particularly after their 1987 election defeat, the Labour Party began to articulate an ideology and rhetoric of ‘new realism’. A modernising ideology, new realism recognized that Thatcherism had changed the agenda of British politics and, as a consequence, proposed that the Labour party rethink its project and objectives. This perspective informed the Policy Review process of the late 1980s and, by the early 1990s, the party was retreating from such policies as unilateral nuclear disarmament and the denationalization of primary industries. The political ascendancy of the modernising tendency was confirmed in 1994 when, following the death of John Smith, Tony Blair assumed party leadership. Blair promoted the centrist social democratic programme of ‘social-ism’ under the slogan New Labour and led the party to its largest Parliamentary majority ever at the General Election of 1st May 1997 with 418 Labour MPs elected. New Labour ‘social-ism’ rejects the socialist currents which helped shape the party’s postwar political agenda, and advances a pragmatic programme of political modernization, constitutional reform, ‘stakeholding’ democracy, social inclusion and community development. Symboli-cally important was the 1995 revision of Clause Four of the Party’s constitution, when the language of social opportunity ‘for the many and not the few’ was substituted for the socialist principle of ‘the common ownership of the means of production’. In practice, New Labour’s ‘Iron Chancellor’ Gordon Brown has insisted on fiscal discipline and reoriented the party’s macroeconomic policy from Keynesian economic management to the neo-liberal strategy of renewal spending on infrastructure, training, education and job creation. New Labour has also articulated a proactive vision of Britain’s role in Europe, but, compromising with the late 1990s mood of Euroscepticism, opted out of the launch of the euro in the year 2000.
   The most significant achievements of the early New Labour government were in constitutional reform. Referendums in September 1997 established the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, and significant progress was made in Northern Ireland with the signing of the multi-party peace declaration in April 1998. However, critics have charged that New Labour’s strict party discipline and soundbite approach to politics has been bought at the cost of the suppression of left-wing dissent.
   See also: Militant
   Further reading
    Shaw, E. (1996) The Labour Party Since 1945, London: Blackwell (an illuminating modern history of the party).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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