New Labour: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Liam Bateman writes.

Following Ed Miliband’s resignation and the commencement of finding a replacement leader, I short sightedly endorsed Ben Bradshaw for the leadership, not realising he was a supporter of New Labour. I have decided to withdraw my endorsement and will instead be looking for a replacement within those who have put up their hands. After discussion with a friend this weekend and some research, I’ve been asking myself, “What went wrong with New Labour?” It’s a good question. In 1997, New Labour was a beacon of hope for the British people, torn apart and abused by Thatcherism and Major’s bumbling antics. Today, for many British voters, New Labour are words that would make many spit in the streets in resentment and most likely pushed some former voters to UKIP.

We need to look back to the 80s. After Neil Kinnock became leader following the crash of 83, he saw the need for Labour to modernise. And I can agree that there was need for modernisation, but I believe that with it, the party cannot abandon the very principles it was founded upon. Kinnock knew that, to his credit, and despite moves to the right criticised by Tony Benn, there was showing Labour was doing well. The reconstruction efforts went well, bringing back Tony Benn into the Commons in 1984. While Kinnock lost in 87 and 92, there were signs that Labour’s modernisation was enough. I feel that if Kinnock had won in 1992, UK Labour today would be more like our Labour Party.

Sadly, John Major won by merely 21 seats and Kinnock resigned. Following a brief tenure under John Smith, Labour soon introduced Tony Blair as their leader. Mr Blair became MP for Sedgefield in 1983 and had served as Shadow Home Secretary under Smith. His charisma and charm, mixed with promises of changing the country, saving the NHS and putting an end to Tory extremism had huge swings to Labour in the polls, some suggesting 60% for New Labour. When 1997 came, the result was clear. New Labour was victorious and Tony Blair walked into Number 10.

The first 100 days of New Labour seemed to show a bright future for a nation that for years had been held back by Thatcher’s chains, keeping many of the pledges they had made to the British public:

The picture this video paints is not too different from what I think New Zealanders reaction to the first 100 days of Labour rule after fifteen years of neoliberal extremism. However, it appears even at the very beginning, the first 100 days showed a rightward stride, with the Bank of England essentially being privatised.

2001 showed New Labour had still worked its magic, with the Tories making a net gain of only one seat while the Liberal Democrats took Chesterfield following Tony Benn’s resignation. However, it did little and Blair returned for a second term.

And thus, began what I think was the downward spiral in public opinion. Following the 9/11 attacks, George W Bush and Blair sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, in the hopes they could find Bin Laden (and bring up their oil reserves). At home, more controversial policies like tertiary top-up fees were being actively protested, and with Gordon Brown’s loyalists threatening his political career, he was quickly becoming unpopular, his unpopularity being second only to Mrs Thatcher.

2005 saw a massive swing to Michael Howard’s Tories, but Blair remained in power, which many believe was due to support for the Iraqi conflict. Tony Blair had led Labour to three election victories, but it was very clear. New Labour was in its death throes. His final years were spent trying to campaign for the hosting of the London Olympics as well as trying to keep his image up, following his humiliating invasions in the Middle East. Two years, later, he resigned as Prime Minister and Gordon Brown took up his place.

Sadly the damage was done. Tony Blair had taken a beacon of hope for the people torn apart by Thatcherism and tarnished it, turning it into a shadow of its former self. It may take years for the people to welcome Labour back, because of one man who went too far.


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