It was clear from Labour’s time in opposition it would not be possible for the Labour party to be re-elected while standing firm against these changes in British society. So, how can Thatcherism be said to have allowed for the resurgence and electoral success of the Labour party in 1997?
From the mid-90s, the Labour party began to reinvent itself under the leadership of Tony Blair. It attempted to rebuild trust with the electorate by moving away from its traditional socialist values. This was first done through the reform of Clause IV; a part of the Labour Party’s constitution which committed the party to its socialist ideology. In 1995, the Clause was amended and instead committed the party to a “dynamic economy,” which can be seen as an abandonment of its socialist goals. Tony Blair, himself, confirmed the strength of Thatcherism when he claimed that “the presumption should be that economic activity is best left to the private sector.”Blair was able to remodel the Labour Party in such a way due to the fact that trade unions had been emasculated and the traditional working class reduced. Blair needed to win back the skilled working class and the aspirational middle, which had been won over to Thatcherism with the Right-to-Buy scheme. Most significantly the Labour Party’s most successful years were during the time of New Labour and Blair’s embracement of Thatcherism and neoliberal economics.
What does this mean for Labour today? Corbyn was elected leader of the Party in 2015 with nearly 60% of the vote. His leadership has seen a rise in leftist rhetoric, talk of nationalisation, and a firm stance against privatisation. The Labour party is still dealing with deep divisions surrounding Corbyn’s policies, and he is not necessarily popular with the wider public either. All of which demonstrates that Blair’s centrist politics and Thatcher’s legacy play an influential role within the British politics, which seem to stand in the way in the full approval of Corbyn and his policies today.
First published November 2019. Volume 15, Issue 1.