The origin of the Labour Party can be traced back to the late 19th century when it became obvious that there was a pressing need to come up with a new political party that would stand for the interests as well as the needs of the urban working class, a population group that had grown in numbers and which had lately been given franchise.
According to the Labour News (2010), its formation was therefore a result of long period of hard effort by trade unionists, the working class and socialists whose main objective was to change the British parliament so as to accommodate the interests of everyone. This was after generations of elementary trade union politics that were brought about by the 1867 and 1884 Reform Bills. However, what was more important in its history was the origin of the Fabian Society in 1883 as well as the Independent Labour party (ILP) in 1893 In 1900 various representatives of trade unions, the Independent Labour Party, Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society settled on forming the Labour party with support from the unions alongside its own whips.
With the Fabian Society and the Trades Unions’ assistance, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) established the Labour Representation Committee which was later on renamed the Labour party in the year 1906.A number of members of the trade union movement acquired some interest in joining the political field, and after an extended period of the voting authorization during the year 1867 and 1885, the Labour Party was able to back some of the trade-union sponsored aspirants. In addition, a number of socialist groups had arisen during this period, having a target of linking their movement to various political policies.
Among the small socialist parties were the Social Democratic Federation, the Scottish Labour Party, Independent Labour Party, Fabian Society and the Scottish Labour party. Throughout the history of the labour Party, it has more often than not been perceived as a left wing or a centre-left in the way it has been carrying out its politics. On the record, for instance, it has been able to maintain the position portraying itself as a socialist party since its origin, presently portraying itself as a democratic socialist party. On the other hand, and since its inception, it has more often than not been condemned by some leftist analysts and historians claiming it is not strictly socialist as seen through its policies, in its place backing anti-socialist stands for instance capitalism (Thompson,2006).
However, the Labour Party has been traditionally known to favour socialism as specified in Clause Four of its original constitution of the party, and in this case campaigned for socialist policies for instance public ownership of major industries, wealth distribution, government involvement, increased workers’ rights, publicly-sponsored healthcare and education. The formation of the Labour Party was therefore as a result of a long period of hard efforts coming from various working individuals, trade unionists and socialists who were united to challenge the British Parliament to stand for the interests of everyone.
Uncared for by the Tories and disappointed by the Liberals, various interest groups joined together to call for change during a convection on labour Representation in London in1900.For a long time now the new organization has put a lot of effort to become established within the British political system. The labour Party has therefore been a major progressive option to the Conservative Party ever since 1920s creating the governments of 1924,1929-1931,1945-1951,1964-1970,1974-1979 as well as 1997.Minority governments were initially formed in 1924 and carried on through the years. They re-emerged in 1929 up to1931.The Labour Party was only able to form a majority government for the very first time in the 1940-1945.As years went on from the year 2000-2010, the Labour party held on to power within the House of Commons, though this gradually went down from 176 to 66 seats, turning out to be the second largest party within the House of Commons making it the official opposition (Wordpress, 2010).
Influences and Impacts of the Labour Party
As a major centre-left party in contemporary British politics, the labour party was set up as a Labour Representation Committee in 1900 becoming the Labour party in 1906.Until then; the Labour party has developed into a mass party, with its beginnings in the late 20th working class protests. Its strategies since its creation were electoral, steering clear direct actions as course to political power. Its structure therefore placed quality on internal party democracy. A major part of the Labour Party’s beginning, though, rested on the trade union movement’s desire to seek out for political representation and since its origin the trade union have been its major funder (Thompson, 2006).
Until 1933, the Labour party’s constitution offered a distinctive role to the trade unions, through the block voting power took control of major decisions at the party conference. They therefore played a significant role in selecting the parliamentary candidates, and had as well the largest share in terms of votes during the party’s leader and the deputy leader’s election. In actual fact, parliamentary leadership, particularly when the labour party is in government, has more often than not enjoyed significant autonomy as regards policy issues from the party and the trade unions. The Labour party had a great influence on the politics of England since its beginning in the 19th century.
The Labour party for instance played a key role towards ending the reign of the Liberals. According to Word Press (2010), Ramsay MacDonald’s defeat in the 1924 elections which he lost in favour of the Labour party marked the of the Liberals (the predecessors of today’s Liberal Democrats). The Labour party was during the 1920s determined to put down the Liberals and turn into the only party of the left. Ramsay MacDonald forced into an unexpected election during the 1924 in which he lost, achieved his aim of almost wiping out the Liberals as majority radical votes went to the labour party even as middle-class Liberal voters worried about socialism moved to join the Conservatives. The Liberals were therefore reduced to only 40 seats in parliament. The party appeared finished and during this time some of the Liberal members for instance Churchill joined the Conservative, while others joined the Labour party. A number of Labour party ministers for instance Tonny Benn and Michael Foot were sons of the Liberal party members of parliament (Rakoczy, 2010).
The labour governments had also made significant domestic achievements that largely helped the poor. Apparent examples could be seen through the Wheatley’s Housing Act in addition to the Hadow report on the first Labour party governments. The first was through the provision of £9 million per annum in paying the local councils so that they are able to build homes. This resulted into about 500,000 houses being constructed by 1933.The Hadow report on the other hand initiated the principles of breakdown primary and high schools at the age of11 and came up as well with a principle that ensured high school education for all. Other remarkable achievements that were made by the labour government included the restoration of university scholarships; bringing to an end the gap between the 2, 16 week durations of unemployment gains in addition to pensions (Wordpress, 2010).
The second Labour party government had also ensured limited success for instance the Coal Mines Act of the 1930 reducing the miners working time from 8 to 7 and half hours in a day. The other remarkable success is seen through the Greenwood’s Housing Act of the 1930.The Act led to the renewal of the closed down subsidies for the council house construction and organized slum clearance. These policies provided evidence of their significance for a nation that suffered recession providing much needed houses as well as improving the living standards of the poorest people in England.
And with higher education opportunities available universally, even those who could not afford university, could now acquire skills required within the labour market. More over, the Labour party was able to succeed in its foreign policies. Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald for instance proved to be without doubt to be among the most successful Foreign Ministers in the history of England, as he managed on several occasions to make talks with the isolated Communist USSR resolving tensions within the mainland Europe involving France and Germany (Wordpress, 2010).
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Other significant impacts can also be observed through the early actions of Prime Minister Tony Blair through his introduction of the smallest amount wage, power devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the restitution of the government body of London having its own elected mayor. Combined with the Conservative party opposition that had to effectively organize themselves under the leadership of William Hague and Blair’s continuing popularity of Blair, the Labour party had an advantage winning the 200l general elections with a majority, christened “the quiet landslide” by various media.
The Developments the Party had that began with Socialist Policies such as Unemployment and Health care, their influence of Marxism and how they altered their Ideologies
Creation of Economic Prosperity and Provision of Social services
The Labour party whose origin had links with trade unions has played a significant role enhancing an active role for England through its creation of economic prosperity as well as enhancing the provision of various social services. Opposing the Conservative Party, the Labour Party has been Britain’s main democratic socialist party from the 20th century. During the 1900, the Trades Union Congress along with the Independent Party (founded in 1893) established a Labour Representative Committee that changed its name to the Labour party in the 1906.It turned out to be a socialist party having a democratic constitution in 1918, and in the 1922 it had succeeded the Liberal Party to be the official opposition party (Tanner, 2003).
In 1924, the first Labour government was created by James Ramsay having the Liberal support. The party was later on out of power from the year 1935 until after a massive resurgence that was brought in during the reign of Clement Attlee’s that came up with the social welfare system which included the national health care in addition to the extensive nationalization of industry.
The labour Party regained power led by Harold Wilson (1964-70) and later on James Callaghan (1974-79), though it failed through due to economic issues as well as worsening relations brought out by its trade union allies. In 1983 radical programs initiated by Michael Foot led to a massive defeat of the labour defeat. Neil Kinnock took over and moved the party towards the centre, but only until the year 1997 when Tony Blair and his new Labour Party agendas managed to return the Labour party into power. It thereafter ruled for 13 years with Tony Blair as the Prime Minister until the year 2007 when Gordon Brown succeeded him before losing during the 2010 elections.
Speeding up of Reforms
The coming on of Britain Prime Minister Blair as the leader of the Labour party speeded up various reforms of the party keeping it away from union control in addition to the pressure from the left. Blair also re-branded the labour party to New Labour in order to stress its dissertation doctrine policies of state involvement. In a symbolic gesture, Blair ensured a reform of the Clause IV of the constitution that committed the Labour party towards public ownership. Significant developments were thereafter achieved as a result of replacements by a commitment towards social justice (Wordpress, 2010).
Through this basis, the Labour party presented themselves unmistakably as a more efficient centre-left party by coming up with policies that incorporated mixed state as well as market solutions to various policy problems that are free from any forms of ideological baggage. According to Brown (2003), Blair’s talks as the leader of the labour party dwelt mainly on politics involving the community and realistic evidence based advances that are geared towards managing the economy in addition to the welfare state. According to Thompson (2006), under Blair, the Labour party grew to become the most pro-business as well as pro-European Union it has never been during the past reigns. Brown (2003) claims that Blair’s New Labour party established itself a place in history as compared to the reign of Attlee as observed through its significant reforms on the constitution that included the House of Lords reforms and decentralization.
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The 2001 manifesto settled on the task of modernizing public services, which possibly provided the most substantive proof compared to the past traditions of the labour party history. However, despite the fact that supporters imply that Blair and a number of modernizers from Kinnock and beyond have competently adapted the democratic socialist ideologies for current times, opponents propose that they in general represent betrayal within the party as compared to Ramsey MacDonald’s during the 1931 as well as that of SDP’s Gang of Four in 1981.
Blair however described his political ideologies as being third way. His opponents on the other hand pointed out lack of concise meaning. Labour party wanted to balance capitalism practised during Thatcherite era coming up with measures that were meant to lessen or turn around its negative impact on the society. The modernization of the party policy after Blair took over the party leadership as well as the unpopularity of Conservative government increased the appeal of the Labour party in England (Lawton, 2005).
Blair’s second term also saw a rise in public spending that was mainly observed in the public health service. The government maintained that this was mainly linked to the various reforms that they were proposing. Spending on education for instance was similarly increased, with many schools encouraged to accept” specialisms”. This was however disapproved of by education professions and teachers’ union claiming that the policy implied the closing end of the “bog-standard comprehensive” (Thompson, 2006).
During the 1997, Tony Blair came up with a tradition terming education as an important priority for a general election manifesto. Past leaders of the Labour party were known to offer education a lower priority. Regardless of this, Blair has more often than not been condemned for his educational programme of the 1997-2001 as this was viewed as taking education far away from the traditional labour values that embraced fairness and equity (Lawton, 2005).
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Establishment of a Welfare State
After the 1918, the Labour party by tradition outlined its policies as “socialist” stressing the significance of a state-controlled sector of the economy, all-inclusive state-arranged welfare provision as well as reasonably high taxation levels. The 1945-1950 government by Clement Attlee for instance is widely accredited with radical reforms that were successful and which characterized much of labour party’s progressive agendas.
The government of Attlee was therefore able to come up with a mixed economy through its nationalization of various strategic industries and public services, in addition to Keynesian economic management ideas’. As a result, a welfare state was set up that now involved a commitment towards full employment, general social security, free state-sponsored health care as well as state-sponsored social housing. Attlee also set up a foreign as well as a defence policy based on NATO, mutual cooperation with the U.S, and nuclear weapons development. These approaches laid down a framework for the government in the next 20-30 years (Phythian, 2007).
Blair had also pledged to maintain the spending plans of the other government when he took over, and not to make high the income tax rate. When the Labour party won majority votes by a landslide during the May 1997 elections, one of its initial acts was to provide the Bank of England with operational independence with regards to coming up with interest rates, a shift that was not indicated in the party policy during their election campaign. The labour party clinged to their pledges to maintain their spending plans as was set by the Conservative, a factor that caused a lot of tension with party members who had thought the landslide would result in more radical policies. Left-wing members of parliament fought back when the government moved to reduce the benefits to single parents. The government also encouraged the wider use of the public private partnerships as well as the private finance initiative that were contested mostly by trade unions as way of privatization (Rakoczy, 2010).
The general view was however different as the Labour party governments were perceived to be preoccupied by caution and failure. They lacked the political power and were more often than not influenced by their desire to prove that they were well-suited to govern. Opponents of the Attlee government of 1945 claim that it ought to have done much better as far as nationalization is concerned and in setting up greater industrial freedom. The labour governments were therefore not able to come up with state interventions as they were weighed down by economic crises. Both the 1945-1950 as well the 1966-1970 Labour governments were therefore forced to undervalue the pound.
Moreover, the labour governments of the 1974-1979 took over during the period when there were shock-waves as a result of the oil crisis brought out by the Arab-Israeli war as well as the industrial relation issues. During this period the inflation rate rose to more than 25% and the unemployment rate to more than one million. As a result the Labour party was forced to borrow from the International Monetary Fund during the 1976 leaving the government’s image in 1979 tarnished due to discontent of the 1978-79 when Britain was hit by a number of strikes. In actual sense, the Labour party’s experience was to take power having big plans as well as great expectations, only to draw back some years later plagued by various events.
On the whole, the welfare state introduction during the 1947 by the Labour party revealed the Marxist influence. This instituted education free education, free health service as well as social security gains. Much of all these concepts were actually accredited indirectly to Karl Marx’s theories. Putting much emphasis on the industrial society, there was a clear revelation of an effective decentralized authority centred on the wellbeing of all the individuals as well as the domestic flow of productivity. Social control seems unprejudiced as regards basic rights as well as freedoms that allows for flexibility to improve its militancy in line with security threats. This centralized power, increased social control as well as increasing authoritarianism. The distributive along with the operative systems ensured contribution of resources centrally to external threats, a situation that is evident with the United States of America at present subsequent to the attacks that were initiated by terrorists during the September 2001 attacks. (Feedburner, 2010).
The Labour Party Today
Even though Labour party is frequently termed as the most popular party in Britain, its popularity has been dwindling since the year 2001.According to the opinion polls conducted on the day the 2004 local elections were conducted, Labour in the local government came out to be less popular as compared to Labour in the national government. The membership of the Labour government has also gone down to 214 952 as revealed by the latest figure available as at 31st December, 2003.It has participated in six by-elections since the year 2001 retaining four seats ( in most cases narrowly) and at the same time losing in favour of the Liberal Democrats.
A number of these seats lost had a large population of Muslim voters who were thought to be dissatisfied by Blair’s government support of the attack of Iraq. The European parliamentary elections of the year 2004 also observed poor show by the Labour party, though the performance of the Conservative as the main opposition party was still uninspiring and many thought out that it was still not in a position to convincingly challenge the government in the coming elections. The labour party has last been in the government in the years falling between 1997-2001 under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, starting with the majority 179, getting reduced to 167 during the year 2001 and eventually 66 in the year 2005.Having acquired 258 seats during the general elections held in 2010, the labour party is the main opposition party. The party is currently headed by Ed Miliband who took over after Gordon Brown’s resignation as the party leader.
There is no doubt; the history of the Labour party celebrates a lot of success since its inception in the 1900 as a mere parliamentary pressure group. It is even more correct to consider as historic various achievements by the Labour party including the introduction of National Health Service, the enshrining into law of equality for everybody as well as the creation of an empower welfare state. The labour party has also grown from a mere political organization to fully recognized political party that achieved significant social as well as political reforms in the 20th century (Labour News, 2010).
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Labour party’s accomplishments have indeed revolutionized the lives of many British people with the values it has been standing for being the guidelines throughout its existence. However, not all the lessons drawn from the history of the Labour party are positive. The Labour party has been in the government for 23 years and on several occasions been accused of division in addition to disunity which is even thought to cost it dearly during electoral times allowing the Tories to win undermining the labour party’s achievements. However, all these challenges have not hindered it from achieving its mission. This is because it also had strong support and has also been in existence for quite a long time. Being in government for 23 years was enough time for it to achieve the stability it required for that time.