It has been suggested that New Labour is little more than the ‘friendly face of Thatcherism’. This piece will illustrate how this is a reasonable perception and give reasons as to why this may not be true. Concluding in the justification of Thatcherism as an inevitable part of the political evolution, but why it is not the true identity of the present New Labour.
Previous Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a Conservative once said “The lady is not for turning”1 Later her predecessor PM Tony Blair the father of New Labour declared “I can only go one way; I’ve not got a reverse gear.”2 With these statements they almost echoed one another; Thatcher even went so far as to say her greatest achievement was “…Tony Blair and New Labour”3. Our present Labour party Prime Minister, Gordon Brown claimed in reference to Thatcher “I’m a conviction politician like her…”4 So if one was to believe New Labour was little more than the face of Thatcherism with regards to it ideals and policies, theses statements would not do well to deter such beliefs. Since the 22nd of November 1990 (the day Thatcher resigned) many aspects of the government landscape have gone unchanged. The free market based on the same ‘get rich and then share the wealth afterwards’ attitude has prominence within New Labour who gradually became increasingly disenchanted by their socialist beginnings. Tony Blair resisted renationalisation of the railways even when he received public pressure and pressure from his own deputy to do so. Brown is now doing the same, presently favouring private over state ownership in general (e.g. Utilities). The Labour party that British people once knew was more like the current Norwegian Labour Party whose aspirations are less about individualism and more focused on a national collaboration towards progression, giving higher recognition to Trade Unions and maintaining a relatively low financial divide between citizens. Quite unlike the labour we have today.
The Labour Party may not be adhering to the image they originally portrayed but this does not make them Tory’s. The refusal to nationalise the railways is also held by Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats so they are not alone in their views. Perhaps New Labour continuing to allow private over state ownership was/is considered by some citizens as unfavourable, but Labours stance is not necessarily an ode to Thatcher. With regards to this example it appears Labour simply prioritised capitalism over democracy. Other circumstances it seems there is a continuation of the work of Thatcher but this mainly because some economical decisions, such as mine closers, are near impossible to reverse. Labour is often romanticised as once being an unwavering advocate for the working classes and the underprivileged, but just as it is failing workers presently, is has failed workers pre-Thatcher with decisions that had brutal consequences. For example, freezing wages in 1948 , changing tax rules to benefit the already wealthy and NHS prescription charges were also a Labour suggestion. When one party replaces another it has to be as organic as possible, entirely contradicting previous ways may cause unnecessary disruption and do more harm than good. Some of Thatcher’s policies were unfavourable, but the ones that were already an established success, Blair took the safer option with, and acquired no ambition to improve or potentially worsen his situation by undoing the scars. Knowing that if one was to put forward an unfavourable policy but execute it well then such actions are often commended, whereas a favourable policy that does not come to fruition is greatly frowned upon, much like the ‘first past the post’ elections, whereby winners are rewarded and failures punished. So instead the New Labour of today absorbed much of Thatcherism but softened it where possible. Allowing Scotland its government, Wales its assembly and presently embracing the EU. These acts alone differentiate it greatly from Thatcherism. There is even talk of Browns party imposing a tax increase so that as of ‘…next April anyone earning over 150,000 pounds a year will be paying 51.5 percent on every extra pound’ 5 a considerably left wing thing to suggest.
Considering the factors that have been presented it appears New Labour did take aspects of Thatcherism but only so far as the considerably predetermined route forced them. To find Thatcher the true identity of present politics is to be ostentatious with retrospection. An impractical approach as inevitably political evolution means all governing parties take from the past and eventually influence the future. It is also common to find situations where Thatcherism is reversible (such as the railways), but not retracted, so these should now be attributed to the modern New Labour party who waver their freedom to make change. Labour is not the ‘friendly face of Thatcherism’, more the estranged offspring that at times lacks integrity.
1 Ask oxford, 2009. http://www.askoxford.com/worldofwords/quotations/100quotes/. UK: Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Accessed 06 Nov 09
2 BBC News Channel, 2003. Blair vows no reverse on reform. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3149164.stm) UK: BBC News. Accessed 06 Nov 09
3 Burns, C. 2008. Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement: New Labour.http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/2008/04/making-history.html) Accessed 08 Nov 09 (
4 Grice.A, 2007. Brown: I’m a conviction politician like Thatcher.(http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brown-im-a-conviction-politician-like-thatcher-401404.html) UK: The Independent. Accessed 08 Nov 09
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