To What Extent has the Labour Party abandoned its socialist routes? The definition of socialism is ‘An economic, social and political doctrine which expresses the struggle for the equal distribution of wealth by eliminating private property and the exploitative ruling class’. In some ways it could be said that New Labour hasn’t abandoned its socialist routes. For example, New Labour’s idea of a minimum wage very much bares a socialist style of view, as this is seen as fair, equal and is a redistribution of income.
The old Labour party very much believed in the redistribution of wealth, as this was seen as helping out the less fortunate people of Britain. In early November 2012, Mr. Miliband stepped forward in support of a rise in the minimum wage, to what he calls the “living wage” New Labour still share many of the same ideas that old Labour once believed. For example, old Labour believed that everyone in the country should work together and should forget about social classes, and new Labour believes that poverty gaps should be smaller, and classes should work together.
The idea of Ed Miliband taking the Disraeli slogan “One Nation” shows a real reversion back to the old ways of typical socialism, and the idea that Britain will be united. It is in conventional terms this is about being more left wing than Tony Blair – keener on taxes and regulation whilst more hostile to the private sector. Also, new and old Labour both believe in public expenditure on a large scale. This is to give the nation equal opportunities and the best possible standards of living, arguing the point of new Labour still sticking to its socialist routes.
Old Labour believed that taxation should be high on the rich people of the country, as they have more money to give to the country to benefit the less affluent citizens of Britain. New Labour believes in less radical taxation, however stealth taxes are used to also benefit the country as well as the rise to the 50% taxation for anyone earning over ? 100,000 introduced in the April 2009 budget. This shows that both eras of the party believed in taxation benefiting the less ‘fortunate’ members of the country.
New Labour is seen to be ‘expanding’ on old Labour’s views and adjusting them to fit in with Britain’s social aspects. For example, old Labour believed in free education from 5-18 years. However New Labour want 3-4 year olds to have free nursery education, something that wasn’t even around when Old Labour was still existent. Old Labour morals disagree with the idea of entrenched privileges toward education, as the state should create conditions that will give maximum opportunity to all sections of society.
Whereas New Labour does not have a problem with public schools and they have the view that if people are prepared to spend more money on giving their children more benefits then so be it. New Labour still have many socialist views such as the idea of the UK being fairer and more prosperous than it was a decade ago, and it having the highest employment rate in the G7, and also that the government lifted 600,000 children out of poverty in 2007. This shows that the New Labour government is still keeping in mind the working class people of Britain, showing us that Labour still share some socialist views.
However, in some ways it can be shown that New Labour has detached itself from its Socialist routes. This can be in the different views on nationalisation. Old Labour believed that big companies, like the railway, the telephone, and electricity firms are owned by the country as a whole instead of privately by businessmen and this worked by the public owning shares in the companies. Whereas new Labour share the view that the idea of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), they welcome private funds into national institutions such as hospitals and schools etc.
However In 2008 New Labour nationalized Northen Rock, and this was met with cries of outrage from its shareholders. The famous joke made by Labour MPs was “At last we’re enacting the 1983 manifesto” and “one down, 249 to go”. It was however embarrassing for the government of the time, who were keen to avoid nationalisation of any kind When old Labour first became a political party, they were to represent the working class people of the country, which were linked to trade unions.
The unions had realized that the liberals and conservatives would not represent them, so they looked to Labour to represent skilled workers. The Labour party established a wide range of trade unions, socialists, Christians, Fabians and Marxists, this provided key amounts of support for the then liberal party. The common old Labour views consisted of, forgetting class, which meant that the country should work together to earn the best way of living for everyone. Old Labour believed that the working class should have their own say, which was to be non-violent.
The idea of collectivism was a view shared by old Labour, which means to work as a group rather than as individuals, which links to the view of forgetting class. The same cannot be said for New Labour. Blair had a big focus on backing a sweeping overhaul of party funding which curbed the influence of the unions over the Labour party. Ed Miliband, who’s close victory for the leadership of the Labour Party over his brother was arguably due to the support of the Trade Unions, decided to back the Conservative government’s pay freeze in the public sector.
This angered Trade Unions greatly, and Miliband did it to show he wasn’t going to be ruled by Trade Unions. Old Labour have the idea that free enterprise (An economic system characterized by private ownership of property and productive resources, the profit motive to stimulate production, competition to ensure efficiency, and the forces of supply and demand to direct the production and distribution of goods and services. ) will do nothing good for the working class. However new Labour believe that free enterprise is a good idea as the workers will benefit massively from this.
New Labour is also broadly pro-Europe, and wants to lead the country to become more involved in the EU. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said in November 2011 “It is still my view that the Labour Government took the right decision on the Lisbon Treaty” However, the old labour view was that the EU doesn’t have the same values as Britain. This is a prime example of how new labour have strayed away from old labour and are becoming less socialist as a result of this, because these views are radically different from each other, showing that new labour may have differed from old labour views.
There is also an argument that says that not only has New Labour abandoned its Socialist routes, but New Labour has been accused of being far too right wing on some policies. For example, in December 1997, 47 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 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.
Another example of Labour appearing too right wing is that the New Labour government has been closer to corporate business interests than any previous Labour government. This idea was opposed by old Labour views, and dramatically shows how different new Labour is now from when the party first started out. Since 1997 Labour’s economic policies have sought to take a middle way between the more centralised socialist approach of past Labour governments and the free market approach of the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997. One of the most popular policies introduced was Britain’s first National Minimum Wage Act.
This act was a massive revelation, and shows us that Labour still shares a socialist way of thinking, even in this modern day and age. In conclusion, it is fair to say that New Labour has abandoned its Socialist routes, but this can be attributed to Politics slipping into much more of a battle for the central spectrum of politics. The core vote now lies between the left and right, and to gain the power of government, the Labour Party has had to juggle appealing to its dye in the wool support as well as the core vote. Jono Davis