A Level Politics

Improving your grade

Has New Labour abandoned the party’s traditional roots?

Posted by Matt Walker on October 30, 2009

Old and New This is a favourite topic of political pub discussions, but more importantly a favourite of AS examiners. In some respects, the obvious answer is ‘yes’.

Prior to New Labour, the party had a critique of free market capitalism and suggested various ways in which it could be reformed, such as Keynesianism and the mixed economy, the latter encapsulated in Clause IV of the party’s constitution. New Labour  rejected this in favour of support for the free market and deregulation, more akin to Thatcherite conservatism.

They also rejected a redistribution of income from rich to poor  in favour of equality of opportunity.  Furthermore, New Labour have been far more authoritarian than Old Labour, supporting higher prison sentencing, ASBOS, parenting lessons, and the surveillance culture typified by CCTV cameras and ID cards.

However, it is lazy thinking to just accept this at face value. New Labour have increased public spending massively over the last decade. For example, spending on the NHS has trebled since 1999. Policies such as devolution, the minimum wage, the New Deal for the unemployed, as well as a commitment to end child poverty all seem to be policies which are consistent with Labour’s traditional values. Furthermore, the abandonment of Clause IV was largely symbolic – the Labour Party has never aspired to replace capitalism with a nationalised economy.

Hence, in some policy areas New Labour has strayed from its traditional roots, but in others it has not. When writing essays on this, you will need to weigh-up in your own mind where the balance lies.

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