Labour Party (UK)

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Labour Party
Image:Labour Party.png
Leader Tony Blair
Founded February 27, 1900
Headquarters 39 Victoria Street
London, SW1H 0HA
Political Ideology social democracy, Third Way (centrism)
Political Position centre-left
International Affiliation Socialist International
European Affiliation Party of European Socialists
European Parliament Group PES
Colours Red
Website www.labour.org.uk
See also Politics of the UK

Political parties
Elections

The Labour Party has been, since its founding in the early 20th century, the principal political party of the left in the United Kingdom. It is currently the party of government in the United Kingdom and in national and regional assemblies in Scotland (in coalition with the Scottish Liberal Democrats), Wales and London. It won a landslide victory in the 1997 general election under the leadership of Tony Blair—its first general election victory since October 1974 and the first general election since 1970 in which it had exceeded 40% of the popular vote. The Labour Party won another large majority in the House of Commons in the 2001 general election and a smaller one (reduced from 403 to 356 seats) in 2005.

The Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement and socialist political parties of the 19th century; thus it officially espouses democratic socialism.<ref>[1]</ref> Under Tony Blair's leadership, however, the party has adopted a number of market-oriented policies following its failures in the general elections of 1983 and 1987, most notably. This has led many observers to style the Labour Party as social democratic or centrist rather than democratic socialist.

Contents

[edit] Party constitution and structure

The Labour Party is a membership organisation consisting of Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions, socialist societies, and the Co-operative Party, with which it has an electoral agreement. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions take part in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP). The party's decision-making bodies, on a national level, formally include the National Executive Committee (NEC), Labour Party Conference, and National Policy Forum (NPF) — although in practice the Parliamentary leadership has the final say. Questions of internal party democracy have frequently provoked disputes in the party.

For many years, Labour has had a policy of reuniting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by consent, and had not allowed residents of Northern Ireland to apply for membership, instead supporting the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Labour has a unionist element in its ranks, many of whom assisted in the foundation in 1995 of the United Kingdom Unionist Party lead by Robert McCartney. McCartney was Member of Parliament (MP) for Down North from 1995 until 2001, and remains an Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the party's leader. The 2003 Labour Party Conference accepted legal advice that the party could not continue to prohibit residents of the province joining, but the National Executive has decided not to organise or contest elections there.

The party had 201,374 members on 31 December, 2004 according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission. In that year it had an income of about £29,000,000 (of which £3,500,000 from membership fees) and expenditure of about £32,000,000. [2]

Party electoral manifestos have not contained the term socialism since 1992 although when Clause 4 was abolished the words "the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party" were added to the party's constitution.

[edit] History

[edit] Early years

The Labour Party's origins lie in the late 19th century numeric increase of the urban proletariat and the extension of the franchise to working-class males, when it became apparent that there was a need for a political party to represent the interests and needs of those groups [see, for instance, the 1899 Lyons vs. Wilkins judgement, which limited certain types of picketing]. Some members of the trade union movement became interested in moving into the political field, and after the extensions of the franchise in 1867 and 1885, the Liberal Party endorsed some trade-union sponsored candidates. In addition, several small socialist groups had formed around this time with the intention of linking the movement to actual political policies. Among these were the Independent Labour Party, the intellectual and largely middle-class Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation and the Scottish Labour Party.

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James Keir Hardie, one of Labour's first MPs
In 1899 a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all the left-wing organisations and form them into a single body which would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and this special conference was held at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London on February 27-28, 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations; trade unions representing about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.

The Conference created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to coordinate attempts to support MPs, MPs sponsored by trade unions and representing the working-class population. It had no single leader. In the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 'Khaki election' came too soon for the new party to effectively campaign. Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful: Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.

Support for the LRC was boosted by the 1901 Taff Vale Case, a dispute between strikers and a railway company that ended with the union ordered to pay £23,000 damages for a strike. The judgement effectively made strikes illegal since employers could recoup the cost of lost business from the unions. The apparent acquiescence of the Conservative government of Arthur Balfour to industrial and business interests (traditionally the allies of the Liberal Party in opposition to the Conservative's landed interests) intensified support for the LRC against a government that appeared to have little concern for the industrial proletariat and its problems. The LRC won two by-elections in 1902–1903.

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Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House 8 Farringdon Street (demolished 2004)

In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats — helped by the secret 1903 pact between Ramsay Macdonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone, which aimed at avoiding Labour/Liberal contests in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.

In their first meeting after the election, the group's Members of Parliament decided adopt the name "The Labour Party" (February 15, 1906). James Keir Hardie, who had taken a leading role in getting the party established, was elected as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (in effect, the Leader), although only by one vote over David Shackleton after several ballots. In the party's early years, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) provided much of its activist base as the party did not have an individual membership until 1918 and operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies until that date. The Fabian Society provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the party. One of the first acts of the new Liberal government was to reverse the Taff Vale judgement.

The recession of 1908-09 and subsequent rise in unemployment led to increased industrial unrest and desire for radical change among the working class led to increasing support for syndicalism and for change through parliament. In the two 1910 elections, Labour gained 40 and then 42 seats. Support grew further for Labour during the 1910–1914 period along with an unprecedented level of industrial action with Seamen, rail workers, cotton workers, coal miners, dockers and many other groups all organising strikes and with many sympathy strikes also occurring. This was no doubt helped by the sometimes heavy-handed measures of the Liberal government (e.g., Winston Churchill's sending troops to the Rhondda valley in 1910 against coal miners, with some fatalities resulting).

[edit] The lead up to the first Labour government (1923)

During the First World War the Labour Party split between supporters and opponents of the conflict and opposition within the party to the war grew as time went on. Ramsay MacDonald, a notable anti-war campaigner, resigned as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Arthur Henderson became the main figure of authority within the Party and was soon accepted into H. H. Asquith's War Cabinet.

Despite mainstream Labour Party's support for the Coalition, the Independent Labour Party was instrumental in opposing mobilisation through organisations such as the Non-Conscription Fellowship and a Labour Party affiliate, the British Socialist Party organised a number of unofficial strikes.

Arthur Henderson resigned from the Cabinet in 1917 amidst calls for Party unity. The growth in Labour's local activist base and organisation was reflected in the elections following the War, with the co-operative movement now providing its own resources to the Co-operative Party after the armistice. The Co-operative Party later reached an electoral agreement with the Labour Party.

The Liberal Party split — between supporters of leader David Lloyd George and former leader H. H. Asquith allowed the Labour Party to co-opt some of the Liberals' support, and by the 1922 general election Labour had supplanted the Liberal Party as the second party in the United Kingdom and as the official opposition to the Conservatives.

Labour's main electoral bases resided in the industrial areas of Northern England, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales. Because of the concentrated geographical nature of Labour's support, industrial downturns tended to hit Labour voters directly. Anecdotal evidence suggests that party membership was often working-class but also included many middle-class radicals, former liberals and socialists. Accordingly, the more middle-class branches in London and the South of England tended to be more left-wing and radical than those in the primary industrial areas.

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Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, 1924, 1929–35 (National from 1931-35)

[edit] The first Labour government (1924)

Labour formed its first government with Liberal support in January 1924, with Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister; the government collapsed after only nine months when the Liberals voted for a Select Committee inquiry, which MacDonald had declared to be a vote of confidence. The ensuing general election saw the publication, four days before polling day, of the notorious Zinoviev letter, which implicated Labour in a plot for a Communist revolution in Britain, and the Conservatives were returned to power. The Zinoviev letter is now generally believed to have been a forgery.

[edit] The split under MacDonald

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the original 'liberty' logo, in use until 1983

The election of May 1929 left the Labour Party for the first time as the largest grouping in the House of Commons with 37.1% of the popular vote (actually slightly less than the Conservatives) and 287 seats, although still reliant on Liberal support to form a minority government.

Soon after the election there was a worldwide collapse in share values that was the forerunner of the Great Depression. After consultation with King George V, Ramsey MacDonald and other Labour MP's including most cabinet ministers entered into a coalition with most of the Conservatives and Liberals in what was known as the National Government. Ramsey MacDonald remained Prime Minister but was expelled from the Labour Party along with many others who joined in the new government. Ramsey MacDonald sought re-election in 1931 and created a new National Labour party, made up of those Labour ministers and other Labour MP's who accepted the coalition.

[edit] Opposition during the time of the National Government

Arthur Henderson was elected in 1931 as Labour leader succeeding Ramsey MacDonald but lost his seat in the 1931 General Election (in which Labour got 30.8% of the popular vote and 52 seats) and was succeeded as leader in 1932 by pacifist George Lansbury, disagreements over Foreign Policy notably in relation to George Lansbury's opposition to any notion of applying sanctions against Italy, George Lansbury resigned during the 1935 Labour Party Conference and was succeeded by Clement Attlee who achieved a major revival in Labour's fortunes in the 1935 General Election winning a similar number of votes to those Labour attained in 1929 and actually at 38% of the popular vote the highest percentage of those turning out to vote that Labour had ever achieved and with 154 seats a major step in its recovery with the National Government increasingly being in effect a government of the Conservative Party and allies lead by Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin and the main three party structure beginning to re-emerge after a period of fragmentation.

Labour achieved a number of remarkable by-election upsets in the later part of the 1930's despite the world depression having come to an end and unemployment falling.

[edit] Wartime Coalition

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Clement Attlee at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 - seated on the front left facing

When Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister after the defeat at Dunkirk in 1940, incoming Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided that it was important to bring the other main parties into the government and have a Wartime Coalition similar to that in the First World War, Clement Attlee became Deputy Prime Minister for the remainder of the duration of the War in Europe although the Coalition broke up after Nazi Germany was defeated while the Allies were still fighting the Japanese.

[edit] Post-War victory to the 1960s

With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Labour resolved not to repeat the Liberals' error of 1918, and withdrew from the government to contest the subsequent general election (July 5) in opposition to Churchill's Conservatives. Surprising many observers (especially overseas), Labour won a landslide majority, reflecting voters' perception of it as the party most able to guide the country through the early years of peace.

Clement Attlee's government was one of the most radical British governments of the 20th century. It presided over a policy of selective nationalisation (the Bank of England, coal, electricity, gas, the railways and iron & steel). It developed the "cradle to grave" welfare state under health minister Aneurin Bevan. And to this day the party still considers the creation in 1948 of Britain's tax-funded National Health Service its proudest achievement.

With the Cold War under way, Attlee's government secretly decided to proceed with the development of Britain's nuclear deterrent, in opposition to the pacifist and anti-nuclear stances of a large element inside the Labour Party. Defence became one of the divisive issues for Labour itself, especially defence spending (which reached 10% of GDP in 1950 during the Korean War). Aneurin Bevan eventually left the government over this issue and the introduction of prescription charges which Harold Wilson (President of the Board of Trade) also resigned over. The government also faced a fuel crisis and a balance of payments crisis in 1947. Labour narrowly lost the October 1951 election to the Conservatives (in a coalition with the National Liberals, despite their receiving a larger share of the popular vote and, in fact, their highest vote ever numerically.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the party was split between moderate modernisers led by Hugh Gaitskell (associated with the main trade unions), and the more radical socialist elements within the party. This split, and the popularity of the Conservative governments of the period (which themselves had felt obliged to preserve most of the changes made by the Attlee government and build on many of these), kept the party out of power for thirteen years although they still got a substantial vote in 1955 comparable to their 1950 vote but the 1959 General Election saw Labour returning almost to their lower levels of support of the 1930's.

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Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister 1964–1970 and 1974-1976

A downturn in the economy, along with a series of scandals in the early 1960s (the most notorious being the Profumo affair), engulfed the Conservative government by 1963. The Labour party returned to government with a wafer-thin 4 seat majority under Harold Wilson in the 1964 election, and increased their majority to 98 in 1966 election remaining in power until the 1970 election which contrary to expectations during the campaign they lost.

The 1960s Labour government had a different emphasis from its 1940s predecessor. Harold Wilson famously referred to the "white heat of technology", referring to the modernisation of British industry. This was to be achieved through the swift adoption of new technology, aided by government-funded infrastructure improvements and the creation of large high-tech public sector corporations guided by a Ministry of Technology. Economic planning through the new Department for Economic Affairs was to improve the trade balance, whilst Labour carefully targeted taxation aimed at "luxury" goods and services.

Labour had difficulty managing the economy under the "Keynesian consensus" and the international markets instinctively mistrusted the party. Events derailed much of the initial optimism, especially a currency crisis which mounted until 1967 when the government was forced into devaluation of the pound and pressure on sterling was intensified by disagreements over US foreign policy. Harold Wilson publicly supported America's engagement in Vietnam but refused to provide British assistance. This infuriated President Johnson who in response felt little obligation to support the pound. For much of the remaining Parliament the government followed stricter controls in public spending and the necessary austerity measures caused consternation amongst the Party membership and the trade unions, unions which by this time were gaining ever greater political power.

Labour in the 1960s made major steps in introducing the permissive society notably the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, and the abolition of the death penalty (except for a small number of offences - notably High Treason) and various legislation addressing race relations and racial discrimination. Another significant achievement was the creation of the Open University. In Wilson's defence, his supporters also emphasise the easing of means testing for non-contributory welfare benefits, the linking of pensions to earnings, and the provision of industrial-injury benefits.

[edit] The 1970s

In the 1970 general election, Edward Heath's Conservatives narrowly defeated Harold Wilson's government reflecting some disillusionment amongst many who had voted Labour in 1966. The Conservatives quickly ran into difficulties, alienating Ulster Unionists and many Unionists in their own party by imposing direct rule on Ulster. Enoch Powell resigned the Conservative whip and joined the Ulster Unionist Party, switching from his Wolverhampton South West seat to South Down, and advising those on the British mainland to vote Labour because of the issues of EEC entry and immigration (Edward Heath had decided to admit entry to Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin).

Labour returned to power again a few weeks after the February 1974 general election forming a minority government with Ulster Unionist support. The Conservatives were unable to form a government as they had fewer seats, even though they had received more votes. It was the first General Election since 1924 in which both main parties received less than 40% of the popular vote, and was the first of six successive General Elections in which Labour failed to reach 40% of the popular vote. In a bid for Labour to gain a majority, a second election was soon called for October 1974 in which Labour, still with Harold Wilson as leader, scraped a majority of 5, gaining just 18 seats and taking their total to 319.

The 1970s proved to be a very difficult time for the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan administrations. Faced with a mishandled oil crisis, a consequent world-wide economic downturn, and a badly suffering British economy, governments took an interventionist approach, and companies such as British Leyland were nationalised. Pressure on sterling compounded these problems, and by the middle of the decade 1½ million people were unemployed in the United Kingdom — a previously unthinkable figure.

Britain had entered the EEC in 1973 while Edward Heath was Prime Minister. Although Harold Wilson and the Labour party had opposed this, in government Wilson switched to backing membership, but was defeated in a special one day Labour conference on the issue<ref>http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/26/newsid_2503000/2503155.stm</ref> leading to a national referendum on which the yes and no campaigns were both cross-party - the referendum voted in 1975 to continue Britain's membership by two thirds to one third. This issue later caused catastrophic splits in the Labour Party in the 1980's, leading to the formation of the SDP. In the initial legislation during the Heath Government, the Bill affirming Britain's entry was only passed because of a rebellion of 72 Labour MP's led by Roy Jenkins and including future leader John Smith, who voted against the Labour whip and along with Liberal MP's more than countered the effects of Conservative rebels who had voted against the Conservative Whip.<ref>http://www.ampltd.co.uk/digital_guides/cabinet_papers_series_3_part_7/Brief-Chronology-1970-to-1974.aspx</ref>

The Labour Party itself had adopted a left-wing agenda, 'Labour's Programme 1973', a document which pledged to bring about a 'fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.' This programme referred to a 'far reaching Social Contract between workers and the Government.' Wilson publicly accepted many of the policies of the Programme but the condition of the economy allowed little room for manoeuvre. However, the Government did succeed in replacing the Family Allowance with the more generous child benefit, and introduced redundancy pay.

In 1976, faced with declining health and citing his desire to retire on his sixtieth birthday, Wilson surprisingly stood down as Labour Party leader and Prime Minister, and was replaced by James Callaghan. The latter immediately removed a number of left-wingers (such as Barbara Castle) from the cabinet. The autumn of 1976 saw the Labour Government being forced ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan to ease the economy through its financial troubles. Conditions attached to the loan required the adoption of a more free-market economic programme and a move away from the party's traditional policies. In the end, the Labour Government did not take out the IMF loan, causing some to question if it was actually needed in the first place.

In the same year as Callaghan became leader, the party in Scotland suffered the breakaway of two MPs into the Scottish Labour Party (SLP). Whilst ultimately the SLP proved no real threat to the Labour Party's strong Scottish electoral base it did show that the issue of Scottish devolution was becoming increasingly contentious, especially after the discovery of North Sea Oil.

Ultimately the Labour government of 1974-79 fell victim to a small majority eroded by by-election losses, economic problems, industrial unrest and the political difficulties of Scottish and Welsh devolution, although an arrangement negotiated in 1977 with the Liberals known as the Lib-Lab pact and a succession of deals with nationalist parties did help to prolong the government's life.

In 1979, the country faced the disastrous "Winter of Discontent" that reflected badly upon public opinion of the government's ability to run the country, and in the 1979 general election, Labour suffered electoral defeat to the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher. The numbers voting Labour hardly changed between February 1974 and 1979, but in 1979 the Conservative Party achieved big increases in support in the Midlands and South of England, mainly from the ailing Liberals, and benefited from a surge in turnout.

[edit] The Thatcher years

The aftermath of the 1979 election defeat saw a period of bitter internal rivalry in the Labour Party which had become increasingly divided between the ever more dominant left wingers under Michael Foot and Tony Benn (whose supporters dominated the party organisation at the grassroots level), and the right under Denis Healey.

The Thatcher government was determined not to be deflected from its agenda as the Heath government had been. A deflationary budget in 1980 led to substantial cuts in welfare spending and an initial short-term sharp rise in unemployment. The Conservatives reduced or eliminated state assistance for struggling private industries, leading to large redundancies in many regions of the country, notably in Labour's heartlands. However, Conservative legislation extending the right for residents to buy council houses from the state proved very attractive to many Labour voters. (Labour had previously suggested this idea in their 1970 election manifesto, but had never acted on it.)

The election of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) veteran Michael Foot to the leadership disturbed many Atlanticists in the Party. Other changes increased their concern; the constituencies were given the ability to easily deselect sitting MPs, and a new voting system in leadership elections was introduced that gave party activists and affiliated trade unions a vote in different parts of an electoral college. It led to the decision by the Gang of Four (former Labour cabinet ministers) on January 26, 1981, to issue the 'Limehouse Declaration', and to form the Social Democratic Party. The departure of even more members from the centre and right further swung the party to the left, but not quite enough to allow Tony Benn to be elected as Deputy Leader when he challenged for the job at the September 1981 party conference.

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Logo introduced in 1983 after Labour's disastrous election campaign

Led by an increasingly unpopular Michael Foot, the party went into the 1983 general election with a manifesto dominated by the politics of the party's far-left wing. The manifesto contained pledges for abolition of the House of Lords, unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the European Community, withdrawal from NATO and the most radical and extensive nationalisation agenda that Labour had ever stood on including nationalisation of industry and banks. The Bennites were in the ascendency and there was very little that moderates could do to resist or moderate the manifesto, many also hoped that a landslide defeat would discredit Michael Foot and the hard left of the party. Labour MP and former minister Gerald Kaufman famously described the 1983 election manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history". The Conservatives considered the 1983 Labour manifesto as being so unpopular that they actually printed a number of copies of it to distribute it for free and indeed Labour was possibly only saved from far more substantial collapse by tactical voting by Alliance supporters and Conservative supporters worried by the effects of the possible scale of the Conservative majority in removing checks on the Government, notably Conservative cabinet minister Francis Pym's statements during the campaign that big majorities caused bad government.

Much of the press attacked both the Labour party's manifesto and its style of campaigning, which tended to rely upon public meetings and canvassing rather than media (although given that Michael Foot was so unpopular a low profile probably lessened Labour's collapse). By contrast, the Conservatives ran a professional campaign which played on the voters' fears of a repeat of the Winter of Discontent. To add to this, the Thatcher government's popularity rose sharply on a wave of patriotic feeling following victory in the Falklands War.

After a landslide defeat at the 1983 election, Michael Foot immediately resigned and was replaced by Neil Kinnock, initially considered a firebrand left-winger, he proved to be more pragmatic than Foot and progressively moved the party to the centre; banning left-wing groups such as the Militant Tendency and reversing party policy on EEC membership and withdrawal from NATO, bringing in Peter Mandelson as Director of Communications to modernise the party's image, and embarking on a policy review which reported back in 1985.

At the 1987 general election, the party was again defeated in a landslide, but had at least re-established itself as the clear challengers to the Conservatives and gained 20 seats reducing the Conservative majority to 102 from 143 in 1983, despite a sharp rise in turnout. Challenged for the leadership by Tony Benn in 1988, Neil Kinnock easily retained the leadership claiming a mandate for his reforms of the party. Re-organisation resulted in the dissolution of the Labour Party Young Socialists, which was thought to be harbouring entryist Militant groups. It also resulted in a more centralised communication structure, enabling a greater degree of flexibility for the leadership to determine policy, react to events, and direct resources.

During this time the Labour Party emphasised the abandonment of its links to high taxation and old-style nationalisation, which aimed to show that the party was moving away from the left of the political spectrum and towards the centre. It also became actively pro-European, supporting further moves to European integration.


[edit] John Major and a fourth successive defeat

By the time of the 1992 general election, the party had reformed to such an extent that it was perceived as a credible government-in-waiting. Most opinion polls showed the party to have a slight lead over the Conservatives, although rarely sufficient for a majority. However, the party ended up 8% behind the Conservatives in the popular vote in one of the biggest surprises in British electoral history. Although Labour's support was comparable to the February and October 1974 and May 1979 General Elections, the overall turnout was much larger.

In the party's post mortem on why it had lost, it was considered that the 'Shadow Budget' announced by John Smith had opened the way for Conservatives to attack the party for wanting to raise taxes. In addition, a triumphalist party rally held in Sheffield eight days before the election, was generally considered to have backfired. Kinnock resigned after the defeat, blaming Conservative-supporting newspapers for Labour's failure and John Smith, despite his involvement with the Shadow Budget, was elected to succeed him.

Smith's leadership once again saw the re-emergence of tension between those on the party's left and those identified as 'modernisers', both of whom advocated radical revisions of the party's stance albeit in different ways. At the 1993 conference, Smith successfully changed the party rules and lessened the influence of the trade unions on the selection of candidates to stand for Parliament by introducing a one member, one vote system called OMOV — but only barely, after a barnstorming speech by John Prescott which required Smith to compromise on other individual negotiations. John Smith died suddenly in May 1994 from a heart attack.

[edit] New Labour

[edit] Origins

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The infamous "New Labour, New Danger" poster, which backfired on the Conservatives

"New Labour" is an alternative branding for the Labour Party dating from a conference slogan first used by the Labour Party in 1994 which was later seen in a draft manifesto published by the party in 1996, called New Labour, New Life For Britain and presented by Labour as being the brand of the new reformed party that had in 1995 ditched Clause IV and reduced the Trade Union vote in the electoral college used to elect the leader and deputy leader to have equal weighting with individual other parts of the electoral college.

Peter Mandelson was a senior figure in this process, and exercised a great deal of authority in the party following the death of John Smith and the subsequent election of Tony Blair as party leader.

The name is primarily used by the party itself in its literature but is also sometimes used by political commentators and the wider media; it was also the basis of a Conservative Party poster campaign of 1997, headlined "New Labour, New Danger". The rise of the name coincided with a rightwards shift of the British political spectrum; for Labour, this was a continuation of the trend that had begun under the leadership of Neil Kinnock. "Old Labour" is sometimes used by commentators to describe the older, more left-wing members of the party, or those with strong Trade Union connections.

Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell are most commonly cited as the creators and architects of "New Labour". They were among the most prominent advocates of the shift in European social democracy during the 1990s, known as the "Third Way". The use of "New" echoes slogans in American politics, particularly those of the Democratic Party, such as Roosevelt's New Deal (which indeed Labour has used as the name for its Welfare to Work programmes since 1997), Kennedy's New Frontier and Clinton's New Covenant and in Canada with the founding of the left-leaning New Democratic Party in 1961.

The "modernisation" of Labour party policy and the unpopularity of John Major's Conservative government greatly increased Labour's appeal to "middle England". The party was concerned not to put off potential voters who had previously supported the Conservatives, and pledged to keep to the spending plans of the previous government, and not to increase the basic rate of income tax. After being unexpectedly defeated for a fourth consecutive time in the 1992 election, the party won the 1997 election with a landslide majority of 179. Following a second and third election victory in the 2001 election and the 2005 election, the name has diminished in significance. "New Labour" as a name has no official status but remains in common use to distinguish modernisers from those holding to more traditional positions who normally are referred to as "Old Labour".

[edit] In government

One of the first acts of the 1997 Labour government was to give the Bank of England operational independence in its setting of interest rates, a move mentioned neither in the manifesto nor during the election campaign. Labour held to its pledges to keep to the spending plans set by the Conservatives, causing strain with those members of the party who had hoped that the landslide would lead to more radical and increased spending.

Since 1997 Labour's economic policies have sought to take a middle way between the more centralised statist approach of past Labour governments and the free market approach of the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997. Consequently one of the most popular policies introduced was Britain's first National Minimum Wage Act, a policy negotiated by Labour's affiliated trade unions in return for accepting the change to Clause IV of the party constitution. There have also been various programmes targeted at specific sections of the population; the target for reducing homelessness was achieved by 2000. Chancellor Gordon Brown oversaw the SureStart scheme intended for young families, a new system of tax credits for those working with below-average incomes and an energy allowance provided to pensioners during the winter. By most statistical measures, unemployment has fallen from just over 1.5 million in 1997 to around the one million mark.

Other moves appear to contradict the above. For example in December 1997, 47 left-wing Labour MPs rebelled when the government carried through the previous administration's plans to cut the benefits paid to new single-parents. Tuition fees for university students were also introduced with no a debate within the Labour Party itself. The government also promoted wider use of Public Private Partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative, which were opposed particularly by trade unions as a form of privatisation.

The New Labour government has been closer to corporate business interests than any previous Labour government. Several Policy Taskforces in 1997 and 1998 included industrialists and business leaders such as Lord Simon, a former chairman of BP, Lord Sainsbury of the supermarket dynasty, and Alec Reed of Reed Employment. There have been various reports regarding the effect of such close links, in policies such as the Public-Private Partnerships, the deregulation of utilities, privatisation, and the tendency to outsource government services.

Labour's second term saw substantial increases in public spending, especially on the National Health Service, which the government insisted must be linked to the reforms it was proposing. Spending on education was likewise increased, with schools encouraged to adopt "specialisms". Teachers and their trade unions strongly criticized the Prime Minister's spokesman Alastair Campbell when he stated that this policy meant the end of "the bog-standard comprehensive".

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The New Labour rose

In terms of foreign policy Labour aspired to put Britain "at the heart of Europe" whilst attempting to maintain military and diplomatic links to the United States. Initially, Robin Cook, as Foreign Secretary of the first Blair Cabinet, attempted to instigate an "ethical foreign policy". Whilst the next Foreign Secretary Jack Straw somewhat downplayed this, the Party has sought to put the promotion of human rights and democracy, and latterly the war against terrorism, at the core of British foreign policy. This has led to a new emphasis on the Department for International Development, with ministers Clare Short and Hilary Benn holding some influence within the administration. Tony Blair managed to persuade Bill Clinton to take a more active role in Kosovo in 1999, and British forces took part in the international coalition which attacked the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 after the regime refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and expel Al Qaeda from the country in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The decision of the UK to fight alongside the United States and a number of forces in smaller numbers from around the world (a majority of UN member governments opposed the war but a large minority supported it) in the 2003 invasion of Iraq succeeded in removing Saddam Hussein and the ruthless Ba'athist regime in Iraq. However, the Government's involvement in the invasion caused much public disapproval in the UK, with many calling Tony Blair's credibility into question when questions were raised as to the veracity of intelligence concerning Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. This loss of support contributed to the substantial reduction of Labour's majority in the 2005 general election. The Blair government has also attempted to crack down on the perceived threat of terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, eliciting claims that they are undermining civil liberties and the rule of law.

[edit] New Labour in the media

New Labour (as a series of values) is often characterised as a belief in 'no rights without responsibilities' -- that a citizen should recognise that one possesses responsibilities linked with any legal rights they hold. The concept of a 'stakeholder society' is quite prominent in New Labour thinking. As noted above, New Labour thought also embraces the notion of the "Third Way", although critics point to the lack of any concise statement of its meaning. The term "Third Way" has since fallen from use.

The name "New Labour" has also been widely satirised. Critics associate the new name with an unprecedented use of 'spin doctoring' in the party's relationship with media. The Conservative Party attempted to tarnish the new Labour tag during the 1997 election campaign using the slogan 'New Labour, New Danger'. After Gordon Brown's budgets became more and more Keynesian, Private Eye magazine began to call the party 'New' Labour. Oddly, it continues to do so even when discussing privatisation or pro free-market Labour initiatives (a frequent theme, especially in "Doing the Rounds", the medical column, and "In the Back", the investigative section). Private Eye also uses the term when mentioning the more authoritarian aspects of Labour policy; in this context the ironic inverted commas would normally be more appropriate around Labour rather than New.

In left-wing circles, the name "New Labour" or Neo Labour is used pejoratively to refer to the perceived domination of the Labour Party by its right-wing. Indeed, some socialists argue that Labour has become so fond of neo-liberal policies that it is Thatcherite rather than democratic socialist. Whilst in theory the Labour Party has remained a social democratic organisation, there remain unresolved questions regarding the centralised and highly personalised style of Tony Blair's leadership. Some critics see this as a sign of creeping presidentialism.[citation needed] There also appears to be a tendency to create policy "on the hoof", to coincide with opinions expressed in the media and newspapers. Former Shadow Cabinet member Bryan Gould characterised the resulting policy confusion as a "soufflé of good intentions."

[edit] Labour's third successive term from 2005

Image:LabourCampaignPoster20050115 CopyrightKaihsuTai.jpg
Labour, the incumbent party displayed campaign posters, even prior to the 2005 election being called. This one is seen in Brighton in mid-January 2005.

The party's popularity and membership have steadily declined since 2001 [3]. Labour won the 2005 general election with only 35.3% of the total vote and a majority of 66. Their majority is now 64 following a by-election loss to the Liberal Democrats.

Tony Blair's third term has been dominated even more than the second by dealing with terrorism. Shortly after the General Election, in incidents in July 2005 referred to as 7-7, a number of bombs were detonated on buses and tube trains in London. A fortnight later, further attempts were made by terrorists to launch bombings, although these were thwarted. As a result, relations between Labour and Muslims have become more important.

The Labour government recently faced defeat in the House of Commons over the length of time suspected terrorists could be detained without trial although most of the Terrorism Bill passed into law and a compromise measure on the length of detention without trial did get passed.

The introduction of identity cards presents political and logistical difficulties as civil liberties groups increasingly oppose the creation of a biometric identity database. Despite opposition from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs, the Bill has passed through all of its readings in the Commons so far. However, recent leaked Home Office memos have condemned the scheme as originally devised.

The government faces continued controversy over the Education Reform Bill. This provides for greater financial autonomy for state schools, whilst reducing local government control, and has provoked a large parliamentary rebellion, forcing the leadership to depend on support from the opposition Conservative Party. The Bill has also resulted in outspoken criticism from those formerly in the mainstream of the Party, such as former leader Neil Kinnock.

[edit] Party finances

The party has suffered from the recent peerages for cash scandal involving a number of people from a number of parties, where donors could lend large sums of money for undefined periods (effectively giving money). Scotland Yard began investigating allegations in April 2006, and continues to do so as of October 2006. There were suggestions that major donors had been encouraged to describe the money they were giving as loans rather than donations. As a consequence, the Labour Party has run up large debts (some sources out this as much as £40 million), and is having difficulty raising further money. Some of their creditors are calling in their loans, leaving the trade unions in a far more powerful position than before as a vital source of revenue for the party.

This is not exclusively a problem of the Labour Party and other parliamentary parties are facing similar difficulties. Private individuals are less willing to provide donations, and party memberships are falling, leaving all the major parties more heavily reliant on a few rich donors. Both the Labour and Conservative frontbenches are openly considering extending state funding of political parties in the UK, although their rank and file members are dubious, as are the general public.

[edit] The May 2006 council elections

In the 4 May 2006 local elections, the Labour Party lost over 300 councillors across England. The gains went largely to the Conservative Party, who saw their best results since 1992. Elsewhere, the British National Party and the Green Party increased their numbers of councillors by 33 and 20 respectively.[4] The election followed the release by the Home Office of 1,043 foreign prisoners who had been slated for deportation, nurses being made redundant due to deficits within the National Health Service resulting in the Health Secretary being heckled at the annual conference of the Royal College of Nursing, and revelations about the two year extra-marital affair of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and his assistant private secretary Tracey Temple.

Following the poor election results, Tony Blair was forced into a planned cabinet reshuffle. Speculation about the date of his departure as leader and Prime Minister continued and intensified up. He announced that the 2006 TUC and Labour Party Conferences would be his last as leader and Prime Minister.

[edit] Tony Blair's and John Prescott's retirement from the leadership

Tony Blair announced in 2004 that he planned to stand down as leader. He stated that he would serve a full third term, implying that he would not retire until the last possible date before the General Election after the end of the third term. More recently, under pressure, he has announced that the 2006 TUC and Labour conferences were to be his last as leader and Prime Minister: he would stand down in time for a new leader to be welcomed in by the 2007 conferences. It is not clear when he decided that this was to be his timetable, or if he intended his last act as Prime Minister to be asking the Queen for a dissolution. This may have simply been a poor choice of words. He has since said that it was a mistake to announce it then, and he was simply giving an honest answer to a straight question. Following the alleged Granita agreement, Gordon Brown, the long serving Chancellor of the Exchequer, has long been widely expected to succeed Blair and become Labour Leader and Prime Minister.

Ex-Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has said recently he expects there to be a leadership contest when Tony Blair steps down. Potential competitors to Gordon Brown include:

  • current Home Secretary John Reid -- he has announced he is not planning to run for any other job than Home Secretary;
  • Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton -- he has announced that there should be a serious contender;
  • John McDonnell -- he is so far the only declared contender other than Gordon Brown, although he may not be able to get the signatures of the 12.5% of Labour MPs required to proceed as a candidate and has no government experience.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs David Miliband ruled himself out of both the leadership and deputy leadership contests and backed Gordon Brown for the leadership. Tony Blair is refusing to say who he will back in either contest.

The media is increasingly focussing on leadership issues within the Party. John Prescott faced pressure over marital affairs and friendship with Phillip Anschust. Tony Blair was under increasing pressure to name the date of his departure, although since the announcement that the 2006 TUC and Labour conferences would be his last as Prime Minister the demands for him to go imminently seem to have subsided. John Prescott confirmed that he would stand down as deputy leader at the same time as Tony Blair left Downing Street. This still leaves Prescott open to possible demands to bring it forward so that it would be on the same day as Tony Blair stands down as leader. Doing so would avoid having elections for leader and deputy leader on separate days which would increase costs. If they are on the same day, the voting forms and literature can go out to members in the same envelopes.

[edit] Response to foreign policy issues

It is thought that the Israeli incursions into the Lebanon in August 2006 were carried out with the tacit support of Tony Blair, as the government did not call for an immediate ceasefire. This has intensified calls for Blair's resignation and caused further internal disillusionment over the Party's direction.

As of October 2006, The Guardian has reported that many British citizens are unhappy with the Labour government's policies regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, the pensions crisis, treatment of public-sector workers, and government spending on education and health] to such little effect. However, the British economy has remained steady and this may mean that Labour seems likely to cling on to power, with or without Liberal Democrats support.[5]

[edit] The bid for a fourth successive Labour victory

If the pattern of recent elections is followed, the next election will be held around June 2009, probably on European Elections Day, with the Local Elections most likely moved to be on the same day.

[edit] Leaders of the Labour Party since 1906

17th February 1906 James Keir Hardie, b. 15th August 1856, d. 26th September 1915

22nd January 1908 Arthur Henderson, b. 13th September 1863, d. 20th October 1935

14th February 1910 George Nicoll Barnes, b. 2nd January 1859, d. 21st April 1940

6th February 1911 James Ramsay Macdonald, b. 12th October 1866, d. 9th November 1937

5th August 1914 Arthur Henderson,(see above)

24th October 1917 William Adamson, b. 2nd April 1863, d. 23rd February 1936

14th February 1921 John Robert Clynes,b. 27th March 1869, d. 23rd October 1949

21st November 1922 James Ramsay Macdonald, (see above)

1st September 1931 Arthur Henderson, (see above)

25th October 1932 George Lansbury, b. 21st February 1859, d. 7th May 1940

8th October 1935 Clement Richard Attlee, b. 3rd January 1883, d. 8th October 1967

14th December 1955 Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell, b. 9th April 1906, d. 18th January 1963

14th February 1963 James Harold Wilson, b. 11th March 1916, d. 24th May 1995

5th April 1976 Leonard James Callaghan, b. 27th March 1912

3rd November 1980 Michael Mackintosh Foot, b. 23rd July 1913

2nd October 1983 Neil Gordon Kinnock, b. 28th March 1942

18th July 1992 John Smith, b. 13th September 1938, d. 12th May 1994

21st July 1994 Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, b. 6th May 1953


[edit] Deputy leaders of the Labour Party since 1922

[edit] See also

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

[edit] Other British political parties

Political parties in the United Kingdom
Represented in the House of Commons (646) :

Labour (354) | Conservatives (198) | Liberal Democrats (63) | DUP (9) | SNP (6) | Sinn Féin (0#) | Plaid Cymru (3) | SDLP (3) | Ind KHHC (1) | Independent (1) | Independent Labour (1) | Respect (1) | UUP (1)

Represented in the House of Lords (741) :

Labour (213) | Conservatives (210) | Cross-bencher (196) | Liberal Democrats (79) | Greens (E&W) (1) | Bishops (26) | Non affiliated (13) | Conservative Independent (1) | Independent Labour (1) | Independent (1)

Represented in the Scottish Parliament (129):

Labour (50) | SNP (27) | Conservative and Unionists (17) | Liberal Democrats (17) | Scottish Greens (7) | SSP (4) | Solidarity (2) | SSCUP (1) | Independent (5)

Represented in the National Assembly for Wales (60):

Labour (29) | Plaid Cymru (12) | Conservatives (11) | Liberal Democrats (6) | Forward Wales (1) | Independent (1)

Represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly (108) [Suspended]

DUP (32) | UUP (24) | Sinn Féin (24) | SDLP (18) | Alliance (6) | PUP (1) | UKUP (1) | Independent (2)

Represented in the London Assembly (25):

Conservatives (9) | Labour (7) | Liberal Democrats (5) | Greens (E&W) (2) | One London (2)

Represented in the European Parliament (72 out of 732):

Conservatives (ED, 26) | Labour (PES, 19) | Liberal Democrats (ELDR, 12) | UKIP (ID, 10) | Greens (E&W) (EGP, 2) | SNP (EFA, 2) | DUP (ED, 1) | Plaid Cymru (EFA, 1) | Sinn Féin (EUL, 2) | UUP (ED, 1) | Independent (NA, 2)

Notes #Sinn Féin have six elected members, but as abstentionist have no representation
Sinn Féin's second seat is held in the Republic of Ireland
Minor parties:

BNP | Socialist Labour | Liberal | English Democrats

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Labour Party (UK)

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