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Labour Party (Britain)

Labour Party (Britain)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Labour Party currently led by Tony Blair (b. 1953) has formed the governments of Britain since 1997 through its successes at three consecutive general elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005. It is now a party committed to the New Labour ideas of its leader, who maintains a third-way approach that accepts that both the state and public enterprise should jointly contribute to Britains economic recovery. Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle in their book The Blair Revolution (1996) state that New Labour believes that it is possible to combine a free-market economy with social justice: liberty of the individual with wider opportunities for all; One Nation security with efficiency and competitiveness (p. 1).

As part of this strategy Blair forced the party to drop its traditional Clause 4 when he became leader in 1994, replacing it with an amorphous alternative and thus abandoning a commitment to public ownership, playing down the importance of traditional trade-union and working-class demands, and opening up the possibility of the party capturing more white-collar and middle-class support, the middle ground in British politics. He was able to do so largely because of the way in which both Neil Kinnock (b. 1942), leader between 1983 and 1992, and John Smith, leader from 1992 to 1994, had transformed the party after Labours disastrous general election of 1983. Gerald Kaufmann, a Labour MP, had described Labours manifesto of 1983 as the longest suicide note in history, tied as it was to nationalization in the hands of an increasingly left-wing party that was becoming unpopular in the country and that was ultimately out of power from 1979 until 1997.

In the early 1980s the Labour Party was organized into local constituency Labour parties, which were usually dominated by the bloc-vote influence of the trade unions and often could be operated by a small minority of activist members. The trade unions and left-wing activists usually dominated the local parties, and therefore their representatives often held sway in the annual national conference of the party, which often elected a predominantly left-wing National Executive Committee. Fearful that a small extreme minority could easily dominate the party, Kinnock pressed for a number of reforms, including instigating four policy reviews between 1988 and 1991, one of which, Meet the Challenge and Make the Change (1989), challenged Labours shibboleth of nationalization. His policy reviews also ended Labours commitment to full employment and universal provision within Britains welfare state. Kinnock set up committees to be responsible for Labours manifesto commitments and policies, the centralizing authority around the Labour leader. Trade union power at the annual party conference was also reduced to 40 percent of the vote, considerably less than the 1987 bloc vote, and the rest of the vote was based upon an individual ballot of rank-and-file members. The method of electing the party leader was changed, and by the late 1980s the voting in leadership and deputy-leadership elections was established on the basis of One Member One Vote (OMOV). Effectively, then, Kinnock centralized power around the Labour Party leader, neutralized left-wing policies, and reduced the power of the trade unions within their local constituencies and at party conference. It was out of these changes that Blair was able to press forward with his more moderate to right-wing agenda of New Labour.

The present Labour Party is thus a far cry from the organization formed as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which became the Labour Party in 1906. This had been an alliance of trade unions and socialist groups committed to operating as an independent working-class organization within a parliamentary system. Led at various times by James Keir Hardie (18561915), Ramsay MacDonald (18661937), and Arthur Henderson (18631935), it had emerged quickly, was drawn into the wartime coalition of World War I (then referred to as the Great War,) and was able to form its first, albeit minority, Labour government in 1924. By that time the party had become officially socialist as a result of accepting Clause 4 (clause 3d) in its 1918 constitution, which committed it to the public ownership of the means of production. MacDonalds first government was short-lived, but its essential moderation helped to allay the fears of newspapers that announced the first Labour governments formation in January 1924 with the headlines Lenin dead, MacDonald in power. This government was defeated in the 1924 general election, which was dominated by the Zinoviev, or Red Letter, scare, in which what was almost certainly a forged letter was published as evidence that the Soviet Union wished to use the Labour Party to extend the influence of communism in Britain.

MacDonald formed another, minority, Labour government in 1929, but it too was defeated after a brief existence as a result of the mounting economic crisis of 1931, when the Labour cabinet was divided on cutting unemployment benefits by 10 percent. The government resigned but MacDonald continued as prime minister of a national government, and Labour was decimated, cut down from 289 to 52 seats, in the general election of October 1931.

Labour remained in the political wilderness until May 1940, when Clement Attlee (18831967), elected leader in 1935, became a member of Winston Churchills wartime cabinet. Out of office, the party rethought its policies, and partly because of this, and partly because of the leftward shift during World War II, it won the general election of July 1945 with 393 seats and a thumping majority of 146 seats in the House of Commons. As a result, Attlee led his first administration from 1945 to 1950, and narrowly won a second term from 1950 to 1951. These two Attlee governments were immensely talented, with members such as Ernest Bevin (18811951), a foreign secretary who pushed for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, and Aneurin (Nye) Bevan (18971960), who inspired the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948.

Nevertheless, in the early 1950s the Labour government was divided, and it collapsed after Bevan left in 1951 over his opposition to the threatened prescription charges on medicines. The Labour Party was defeated at the 1951 general election and remained out of office for thirteen years, during which it was divided between its left-wing public-ownership groups and its right wing, led by Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell, who wanted to drop public ownership from his policies. Gaitskell died in 1963, but Labour returned to power under the then moderate, but once left-wing, Harold Wilson (19161995) in 1964, and won again in the 1966 general election. However, the Wilson administrations faced serious economic problems, had to devalue the pound, and fell out with the trade unions over how to deal with strikes. Defeated in the 1970 general election, the party brokered a deal with the trade unions in the early 1970s that saw it win two general elections in 1974. Nevertheless, the Wilson and James Callaghan governments of 1976 to 1979 were unable to introduce policies of redistributing income in return for the small wage increases that trade unions were going to accept under the so-called social contract, and as a result the Labour Party lost the generalelection of 1979 following the strike-prone winter of discontent.

The Labour Party came under the influence of left-wing trade unionists in the early 1980s when led by Michael Foot (b. 1913). However, the disastrous general election of 1983 augured the change of leadership and a move to the right that occurred under Neil Kinnock, John Smith (19381994), and Tony Blair. It is now epitomized by the New Labour party of Tony Blair.

SEE ALSO Multiparty Systems

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Laybourn, Keith. 1988. The Rise of the Labour Party, 18901979. London: Edward Arnold.

Laybourn, Keith. 2000. A Century of Labour. London: Sutton.

Mandelson, Peter, and Roger Liddle. 1996. The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? London: Faber and Faber. McKibbin, Ross. 1974. The Evolution of the Labour Party. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Morgan, Kenneth O. 1987. Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Keith Laybourn

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Labour party

Labour party, British political party, one of the two dominant parties in Great Britain since World War I.

Origins

The Labour party was founded in 1900 after several generations of preparatory trade union politics made possible by the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1884, which enfranchised urban workers. Although the Labour Representation League, organized in 1869, elected parliamentary representatives, they were absorbed into the Liberal party. A Marxist organization, the Social Democratic Federation, was founded by H. M. Hyndman in 1881; but more important for the history of the Labour party was the founding of the Fabian Society (1883) and the Independent Labour party (ILP; 1893). With the help of the Fabian Society and the Trades Union Congress, the ILP in 1900 set up the Labour Representation Committee, renamed the Labour party in 1906. The new party elected 29 members to Parliament in 1906; in the two elections of 1910 it elected 40 and 42. Its strength lay in the industrial North and in Welsh mining areas; the evolutionary socialism espoused by the Fabians was the dominant ideology.

1914 to 1945

At the outbreak of World War I, Ramsay MacDonald led a pacifist wing of the party, but the majority of the party supported the war effort, and the party's leader, Arthur Henderson, served in the wartime coalition governments. Until 1918 the party was distinctly a federation of trade unions and socialist groups and had no individual members. After the war economic depression, the growing political consciousness of the working classes, and the split in the Liberal party gave Labour a national following. In 1918, Labour withdrew completely from the coalition, and in 1922 it became the second largest party in the House of Commons and thus the official opposition.

In 1924 the party formed its first ministry, with MacDonald as prime minister. As Labour was a minority in Parliament and depended on Liberal support, the enactment of legislation proved difficult, and the government's domestic program of unemployment relief and housing differed little from that of its Conservative predecessor. Effective primarily in foreign affairs, the ministry recognized the USSR. The party was turned out of office in Oct., 1924, in an election marked by Conservative exploitation of the Zinoviev letter (see under Zinoviev, Grigori).

In 1929, Labour formed another minority ministry. MacDonald and Philip Snowden reacted to the severe depression with conservative economic policies that involved reducing unemployment relief. When the majority of the cabinet refused to accede, MacDonald formed (1931) a coalition government, but he and the Labour leaders who joined him were expelled from the party. Heavily defeated in the election of 1931, the Labour party moved slightly to the left, advocating nationalization of major industries and more progressive taxation. In the next few years Labour found new leaders in Clement Attlee (later Earl Attlee), Herbert Morrison, and Ernest Bevin.

In the early 1930s the party passed antiwar resolutions and advocated collective security through the League of Nations, but it favored aid to the republican government in the Spanish civil war and eventually came to accept rearmament against the threat from Nazi Germany. After the fall of France to German forces in World War II, Labour agreed to join Winston Churchill's coalition government; Bevin as minister of labor and Attlee as deputy prime minister, together with other Labour ministers, took charge of domestic affairs during the war years.

The Postwar Years

In 1945 the party won an overwhelming electoral victory, and Attlee became prime minister in Labour's first majority government. The new government nationalized the Bank of England, the fuel and power industries (coal, electricity, gas, and atomic energy), transportation, and most of the iron and steel industry. It also enacted a comprehensive social security system, which included a national health service. In the areas of colonial and foreign policy, it granted independence to India and Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and allied itself with the United States in a strong anti-Communist posture.

Faced with postwar shortages and the problems of reconstruction, Attlee's government encountered severe financial difficulties, despite American assistance. Rationing continued to be a necessity, economic recovery was slow, and the cost of rearmament increased the strains on the economy. The government barely maintained its majority in the general elections of 1950, and the following year it was defeated by the Conservatives.

During the long period of opposition that followed (the Conservatives were returned to power in 1955 and in 1959), the Labour party argued and almost split on questions of disarmament, aid to developing countries, and furtherance of socialism at home. When Attlee and other elder leaders retired and Hugh Gaitskell became party leader, Aneurin Bevan, leading the left wing of the party, unsuccessfully contested Gaitskell's position. Although Bevan was soon reconciled with the party leadership, his supporters continued to urge a policy of diplomatic neutralism and unilateral disarmament, in addition to a strong socialist program. The party's right-wing, on the other hand, argued that prosperity had diminished the appeal of socialism to the average worker and that the party should adopt a broader, more pragmatic program. Gaitskell consolidated his position as leader in the early 1960s, and the party achieved a new solidarity.

The 1960s to the Present

Harold Wilson, who became leader on Gaitskell's death in 1963, was able to lead the party to victory in 1964. He was prime minister until the Conservative party returned to power in 1970. Wilson's administration was marked by a continued decline in Britain's international political and economic position, which gave little opportunity for social innovation.

After 1970, the Labour party, in opposition, again found it difficult to present a united front. The reversal of the party's position on Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union), after having earlier supported it, and a renewed call for further nationalization of industry were indications of a greater left-wing militancy within the party. The party returned to power as a result of the elections of Feb., 1974, but as a minority government. Wilson's second administration began renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership in the European Community and announced plans for large-scale nationalization. Despite continuing economic difficulties he called new elections in Oct., 1974, and Labour won a small majority. James Callaghan took over as prime minister following Wilson's resignation in 1976.

The party lost power to the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 elections and remained in the opposition until the late 1990s. Michael Foot became party leader in 1980 but was succeeded by Neil Kinnock in 1983. Kinnock led the party to abandon some of its traditional left-wing positions but proved unable to achieve victory at the polls. He resigned in 1992 after the Conservative victory in the general elections and was succeeded by John Smith. After Smith's untimely death in 1994, moderate Tony Blair was chosen to lead the party. Under Blair's leadership, the party formally abandoned traditional socialism in 1995 and subsequently won (1997, 2001) consecutive resounding victories at the polls. The party's narrower victory in 2005 marked the first time Labour had won three consecutive national elections. Blair stepped down as party leader and prime minister in 2007, and was succeeded by Gordon Brown. In the 2010 elections Brown and Labour lost to the Conservatives, who won a plurality. Brown resigned the party leadership, and Ed Miliband was elected party leader. In 2015 Labour did poorly, in part because of the successes of the Scottish National party, and Miliband stepped down.

Bibliography

See H. Wilson, The Labour Government 1964–1970 (1971); B. Jones and M. Keating, Labour and the British State (1985); K. Laybourn, The Rise of Labour (1988).

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Labour Party

Labour Party. Labour has been the principal progressive alternative to the Conservative Party since the 1920s, forming governments in 1924, 1929–31, 1945–51, 1964–70, 1974–9, and from 1997. The Labour Representation Committee was established in 1900 by a conference of trade unionists and socialists orchestrated by Keir Hardie. Although it won only two seats in the 1900 ‘khaki’ election, the secret electoral pact with the Liberal Party negotiated by Ramsay MacDonald in 1903 helped the rechristened Labour Party enjoy a tally of 30 MPs after the 1906 election.

The First World War (despite the divisions it caused) proved to be Labour's turning-point. Arthur Henderson (parliamentary chairman after MacDonald's resignation on the outbreak of war) entered the cabinet on the formation of the wartime coalition in 1915 and from August 1917 worked with Sidney Webb in devising a new constitution. In 1918 Labour became formally committed to the socialist objective of ‘public ownership of the means of production’ (clause 4); although this served to underline Labour's independence from the Liberals, it strengthened the trade union domination of the party's organization.

Under conditions of manhood suffrage, the 1918 ‘Coupon’ election awarded Labour 63 seats for 2.4 million votes. In 1922 Labour gained 4.2 million votes and 142 seats to become the official opposition. Following the inconclusive 1923 election, Labour briefly formed the government with 191 MPs between January and October 1924, which demonstrated Labour's competence. However the second MacDonald government exposed the financial orthodoxy of ministers in the face of mounting unemployment and the financial crisis of 1931. The resignation of the Labour cabinet in August and the subsequent formation of the National (coalition) Government by MacDonald (with the support of only a handful of Labour figures such as Snowden and Thomas) caused lasting bitterness within the Labour Party. After the disastrous 1931 election (which reduced Labour from 288 to 52 seats) and the disaffiliation of the ILP the following year, Labour began a gradual recovery and won 154 seats in 1935 on 38 per cent of the vote. The unassuming Clement Attlee was elected leader before this election. The participation of Labour in Churchill's coalition government from May 1940 rebuilt its image with voters and Bevin, Morrison, and Cripps played highly visible and constructive roles on the ‘home front’, while Attlee's administrative talents found expression as deputy prime minister. The year 1945 heralded an unexpected landslide victory for Labour, which won 393 seats with 48 per cent of the vote. This strong administration, with Bevin at the Foreign Office, Dalton and then Cripps as chancellor, and ‘Nye’ Bevan at Health, was Labour's ‘finest hour’. Despite economic headaches, notably the 1949 devaluation of sterling, by 1950 the ‘Attlee consensus’ of a mixed economy with a welfare state was firmly established.

Despite achieving its highest ever poll (fractionally under 14 million votes) in 1951, Labour began thirteen years of opposition. The period witnessed faction fighting between left-wing ‘Bevanites’ and right-wing followers of Hugh Gaitskell, elected leader in 1955. In response to three successive (and widening) election defeats, Gaitskell unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the conference to abandon ‘clause 4’ in 1959. The following year, Labour's anti-war tradition resurfaced in conference support for unilateral nuclear disarmament (reversed in 1961).

However, a tottering economy together with Harold Wilson's invigorating leadership allowed Labour to squeeze back into office in October 1964 by a four-seat majority. An easy victory in the 1966 ‘follow-up’ election gave Labour a majority of 97. Despite positive achievements in the field of education and liberalizing social legislation in particular, Wilson's government struggled to cope with the legacy of Britain's relative economic decline and was humbled by the 1967 devaluation of sterling and consequent policy U-turns. Relations with the wider Labour movement deteriorated as a result of Barbara Castle's bold attempt at industrial relations reform, ‘In Place of Strife’.

In opposition again after 1970, Labour divided over Britain's entry into the EEC and the left's call for more extensive public ownership. Wilson's two further narrow election victories in 1974 obscured a weakening of Labour's appeal since the 1960s. Left-wing alienation from the government's (under Callaghan from 1976) deflationary response to mounting unemployment and inflation came to a head after Labour began a further lengthy spell in opposition after 1979.

In 1980 and 1981 Tony Benn's supporters won constitutional changes which precipitated the defection of right-wingers to form the Social Democratic Party. Subsequently, Michael Foot led Labour to heavy defeat in the 1983 election. Under Neil Kinnock (1983–92) and John Smith (1992–4) a slow revival of Labour's fortunes occurred as the party shifted back towards the ‘centre’ and purged itself of militant infiltration. Tony Blair's ‘New Labour’ strategy from 1994 accelerated this trend, and, with John Major's Conservative government in disarray, secured a massive win at the 1997 general election. A second triumph at the general election of 2001, when the Conservatives were unable to make any inroads on the huge Labour majority, and a third victory in 2005, though with a reduced majority, had Labour enthusiasts declaring that, at last, their party had become ‘the natural party of government’.

Stuart Carter

Bibliography

Hinton, J. , Labour and Socialism (1983);
Morgan, K. O. , Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants (1987);
Pelling, H. , Short History of the Labour Party (10th edn. 1993).

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Labour Party

Labour Party Social democratic political party, traditionally closely linked with the trade-union movement. There are Labour Parties in many countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand. The first British socialist parties, founded in the 1880s, united in the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1893, whose president was Keir Hardie, the first socialist member of Parliament. The ILP created the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which was renamed the Labour Party in 1906. In 1922, Labour became the second-largest party in Parliament. It formed a brief minority government in 1924 under Ramsay MacDonald and again in 1929–31, but following a coalition with the Liberals in 1931, the party split and was defeated at the polls. Labour joined the wartime coalition of World War II and its leader, Clement Attlee, was deputy prime minister from 1942. After a landslide Labour victory in 1945, the Attlee government introduced a series of social reforms. Labour won the general election of 1964 under Harold Wilson and continued in power until 1970. From 1974 to 1979, it was in power, mostly as a minority administration. Following Wilson's resignation, James Callaghan became prime minister. During the 1980s, led by Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock (1983–92), Labour remained in opposition. After the death of John Smith in 1994, Tony Blair stepped up the party's process of ‘modernization’ under the slogan ‘new Labour’. In 1997, after 18 years in opposition, Labour regained power.

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Labour Party

La·bour Par·ty • n. a major left-of-center British party that arose from the trade union movement at the end of the 19th century.

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