New Labour

From Academic Kids

New Labour is an alternative name of the British political Labour Party. The name is primarily used by the party itself in its literature but is also sometimes used by political commentators and the wider media. The rise of the name coincided with a shift towards the right (from the left) of the British political spectrum (albeit a trend to more centrist policies first commenced under the leadership of Neil Kinnock).

The name originates from a conference slogan first used by the Labour Party in 1994 and was later seen in a draft manifesto, published by the party in 1996, called New Labour, New Life For Britain. However the term was intended to incorporate a wider rebranding of the party in the eyes of the electorate. The new name coincided with the re-writing of Clause IV of the party's constitution in 1995. Peter Mandelson was a senior figure in this process who exercised a great deal of authority in the party following the death of John Smith and subsequent election of Tony Blair as party leader.

New Labour (as a series of values) is often characterised as a belief in 'rights and duties', i.e. that a citizen should recognise that s/he possesses responsiblities linked with any legal rights they hold. The concept of a 'stakeholder society' is quite prominent in New Labour thinking. New Labour thought also embraces the notion of the 'Third Way'.

The name change coincided with a dramatic revival of the party's fortunes. Unexpectedly defeated for a fourth consecutive time in the 1992 election, the party won the 1997 election with a majority of 179. Following a period of government and in particular after a second election victory in 2001, the name has diminished in significance in British political life. (The Labour Party generally being referred to in the media as 'the Government' rather than 'new Labour'.) However, the name is still used in party literature.

The name has been widely satirised. Critics associate the new name with an unprecedented use of 'spin doctoring' in the party's relationship with media. The Conservative Party attempted to tarnish the new Labour tag during the 1997 election campaign using the slogan 'New Labour, New Danger'.

Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell are most commonly cited as the creators and architects of the New Labour ethos but its intellectual underpinings were originally developed by Marxism Today under the editorships of Martin Jacques.

After Gordon Brown's budgets became more and more Keynesian, Private Eye began to call the party 'New' Labour. Oddly, it continues to do so even in articles relating an example of privatisation or free-market initiatives by Labour (a frequent theme, especially in Doing the Rounds, the medical column, and In the Back, the investigative section), or other right-wing or illiberal policies, in which context the ironic inverted commas would be more appropriate around "Labour" than around "New".

The choice of name echoes slogans in American politics, particularly those of the Democratic Party, such as Roosevelt's New Deal, Kennedy's New Frontier and Clinton's New Covenant.

One of the challenges to that part of the Party which does not wish to be tagged as 'New Labour' is to avoid being tagged as 'Old Labour' - one of the more successful efforts was that of the then Leader of Nottingham City Council welcoming, the 1997 Labour Local Government Conference to the City - he coined the term 'Classic Labour' for his administration.


See also Nick Cohen


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