A Level Politics

Improving your grade

FAQ: What is the Labour Party?

Posted by Matt Walker on October 27, 2009

Labour poster The Labour Party was created by the trade union movement in 1900 but it was only in the 1920s that they became the main challengers to the Conservative Party.

In 1924 and 1929-31 they formed their first but minority governments. It was only in the 1945 election that they were able to win a significant majority and pursued Keynesianism, nationalisation, and welfare policies.  This approach later became known as Old Labour.

Labour spent most of the 20th century trying to appeal to working class voters. This was natural given their trade union origins and subsequent reliance on their funding. It was also tactically sensible at a time when the working classes comprised the majority of society.

During the 1990s, however, Labour shifted its position on many policy areas, pulling the party to the centre ground.  In 1992, they lost their 4th consecutive election and it became apparent to many in the party – including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – that a coalition of working class and middle class voters was required to win a general election. Hence in 1994, after Tony Blair became leader, the party changed Clause IV of its constitution, abandoning its largely symbolic commitment to socialism.

In 1997, 2001 and 2005 New Labour maintained sufficient middle class support in southern England to win three consecutive elections for the first time in its history. However, the war in Iraq and the current recession have undermined its electoral coalition, which may see a large number of its southern, middle class voters decamping back to the Tories.

Profile: the Labour Party


5 Responses to “FAQ: What is the Labour Party?”

  1. filthy sweaty boi said

    hmmmm…………………………i would argue the fact that although the recession may create a blanket of illusion, that could lead the electorate to see Gordon Brown as incompetent.

    It is far more relevant to argue that a general dislike of Gordon Brown rather than that of Labour party policy is deciding the Tory lead in opinion polls.

    Furthermore, it would be fairer to say that the majority of individuals who are anti the Iraq war would be more likely to vote for the Lib Dems due to their anti Iraq war stance.

  2. Matt Walker said

    I think Labour’s problems are more fundamental and longer-term than simply Gordon Brown:
    1) They scored only a little above 35% at the last general election, 7% down on 1997.
    2) At the last election, they lost 31 seats to the Tories, the majority in the south and midlands.
    3) Opinion polls of southern marginals suggest that Labour will take a further hit in 2010.
    4) Polls also suggest a Tory lead on most policy areas, irrespective of leader.

    I would agree that Labour are finding it hard to get their message across because of Brown, but Labour’s decline predates him. Your point about Iraq is but one explanation for why the Tories level of polling is not high, but its position relative to Labour is strong.

    Anyway, the point I was making does not relate to blame, nor suggest that the Tories are terrifically popular. The point I was making is that Blair’s New Labour electoral coalition has collapsed – whether this is due to policy or personality will no doubt be dissected ad nauseum after the 2010 election.

  3. jb said

    very helpful article for my as course, but i’m confused by ‘and subsequent financing’ in the third paragraph; what do you mean by this?



  4. Matt Walker said

    Hi JB,

    Glad this is of some use to you. By “subsequent financing” I meant that the trade union movement provide a substantial amount of funding for the Labour Party. Hence trade unionists would expect Labour to offer policies that would help members of their own trade unions.

    I’ll be putting some more stuff soon on how the credit crunch has affected all party policy, which will hopefully be of use for your AS course.

    Best wishes.

  5. jb said

    Ahh, I see. Thanks, I find this blog so useful!


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