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Tony Blair, British PM

It has become almost impossible to think of Great Britain without thinking of Tony Blair. Yes, good 'ole Tony Blair. For the man who has been the most vocal proponent of the so-called 'international community', there seems to be nothing convincingly communal about his perception of what social democracy is about. The leader of so-called New Labour probably needs a stint at the Writing Center, because he needs to be reminded that there is nothing traditionally Labour about his New Labour.

It was clearly stated in a recent Guardian article that his party - incidentally the ruling party in Great Britain - has broken ranks with the traditional friend of Labour - trade unions. And that's what Labour has always been about : trade unions and social democracy (social security ; benefits for old and young alike, etc…), whereas Conservative, or Tory, has conventionally dealt with private enterprise, business and the least restriction in the economy by the state.

So it follows that between 1979 and 1990 when Margaret Thatcher, the Oxford-educated woman with the handbag and croakey voice, was the person to best exemplify Tory ideology. In class on Friday, I highlighted two main things that characterized this period: considerable attachment to private institutions (multinationals, etc…) and minimum restriction by the state in the economy. This hardline policy of hers totally alienated the quite rich multi-cultural fabric that is part and parcel of British society, consequently culminating in a substantial loss of votes a few years before she resigned in 1990 and passed the torch to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major who became British PM later.

But, if the Tories never seemed to have had it so good after World War Two, their relative popularity has never been that high in the House of Lords. The latter, incidentally, is the chamber that can muse and deliberate over laws, but cannot veto them. This was a result of several political upheavals just before the mid-1830s. Key dates to remember : 1832, 1909, 1910 and 1949.

In 1832, the House of Lords that had enjoyed votes was suddenly thrown into the political wilderness when it decided - under the behest of the House of Commons - to extend the vote to all people in the working class. Apparently, it was the Great Reform Act of that year that secured the demise of the Lord's control over the Commons, as well as remove the Lord's ability to nominate members. (Jones & Kavanagh, British Politics Today). The story, however, does not end there.

Many of you may remember from HIS-112 classes with Dr.Palo (and other similar classes) the guy who significantly transformed British political history overnight (though not quite literally). The Man of The Hour ? Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in 1909 proposed a 'People's Budget' which, incidentally, laid down the basic framework for social welfare and legislation. It was pooh-poohed by the House of Lords who rejected it in the same year with a vote of 350 against 75 votes. Subsequent to this ostensible failure by the Commons, in 1910, the latter came out on top with two elections that showed the true liberal value of the House of Commons. The new King, George V, apparently waved his magic wand and « the diehards caved in ».(p.127, ibid). Thus, the Parliament Act of 1911 reduced the Lord's power over legislation « to one of delay only for a period of up to two years after the second reading of a bill .» (ibid.) In 1949, Labour's Parliament Act halved the period to a year (12 months).

We also have the Liberal Party who, after World War Two, became merely a negligible third party, in the sense that they were neither able to wield as much influence as heretofore, nor gain as much political leverage as the other two parties. Churchill was the one who brought Britain from the brink of a potentially explosive war that Britain participated in - all with his Conservative Party and Thatcher's period also perhaps cast a huge shadow over the Liberal Party. Incidentally, the Liberal Party became the Liberal Democrats in 1987 after two maverick MPs decided to break off - one from the Labour and the second from the generic Liberal Party - to form the SPD, or Social Democratic Party (SPD). Paddy Ashdown, a former United Nations soldier and diplomat, was leader since the late 1980s, managing to bring some degree of credibility to a rather moribund party; the Party, in 1992, received 18 percent of the votes.

It was quite funny - though not that funny if you were the Kennedy's in the States - when in August this year, Charles Kennedy , a Brit, was finally elected as next incumbent leader of the Liberal Democrats (after Paddy Ashdown tendered his resignation a couple of months back) for a broadcaster on BBC Radio Four on his light-entertainment Saturday programme, Loose Ends, joke that the "Kennedy's have suffered another loss - Charles Kennedy was elected as next Liberal leader". If this says nothing, it speaks volumes of the extent to which the Liberal Democrats are quite pooh-poohed upon in Britain for their relatively meagre policies - social justice, low tax.

Furthermore, they are quite disrespected for the way in which they try to squeeze their ideas through the mainstream of a political spectrum mostly dominated by a two-party system -- the Tories (now the Shadow government) and the Labour Party.

That said, is there hope for the Labour Party? Who knows? Paddy Ashdown, when leader, flirted with the idea a couple of months back of a possible coalition between the Labour and Tories. Nothing much ever came of it, but it has highlighted the significant changes that have underpinned British political history since New Labour's election to power in May 1997. Furthermore, it shows that nothing in politics is static. I mean, who would have thought that the Liberal Democrats would ever become almost second place to the Tories, who are currently scoring an abysmal third place. And with a Conservative Party run by a balding 36-year-old man, who thinks wearing baseball caps will improve the image of the party, I am not that surprised the Tories are in the mess they're in.

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©E.K.Bensah, 1999.

British Politics Updates on this site
  • New Labour: Achievements 1997-99 Please check this out to see how much optimism I had for the New Labour government in 1999. To think of Blair now gives me the shivers...for at least 45 seconds!
  • [Posted:Wednesday 14 January,2004]

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