A Level Politics

Improving your grade

FAQ: What is Old Labour?

Posted by Matt Walker on October 28, 2009

Labour's NHS In 1945, Labour won the general election with its very first majority and pursued  policies that were a radical departure from the pre-war years. High unemployment in the 1930s as well as a sense of purpose derived from the experience of the Second World War, meant that the notion of “fair shares” and government intervention became a popular one. Although the policies evolved over time, arguably the Labour Party maintained this policy framework until the 1990s. What did Old Labour believe in?

  1. Keynesianism – the use of government spending in an attempt to achieve specified levels of employment and inflation by ‘ironing’ out the ups and downs of the free market.
  2. Mixed economy – state ownership (nationalisation) of major industries such as coal, steel, electricity, and railways  – the so-called ‘commanding heights’ of the economy.
  3. Welfare state – support for extensive universal welfare provision, with benefit levels  linked to private sector income levels.
  4. Redistribution – a belief in greater equality. The more people earned, the more tax they paid, which financed a welfare system to help poorer members of society.
  5. Trade unions – recognition that the workers via their trade unions had an important role, alongside government and business, in determining economic policy.

Labour’s symbolic commitment to socialism was encapsulated in Clause IV of its constitution, committing the party to wide scale nationalisation of the economy.

Andrew Marr’s History of Britain (youtube clip – 3m 7s in)


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