This essay will explore how politics has changed in Britain over the last 25 years by analysing the elections in 1979, 1983 and 1997 and the way the Labour party has moved towards the right wing. The policies of the two main parties in that period will be examined in order to give an idea of how things have changed over the time. In 1974 Labour came into power but during its time in office could not fight the inflation and unemployment that were increasing rapidly, nearly beating the records of post-war. Economics was to play one of the main roles in the following elections.
In April 1976 the Labour Prime Minister resigned and handed over the Seals of Office to James Callaghan. The labour party had lost two bi-elections failing to get seats in Parliament. James Callaghan delayed the general elections from 1978 to 1979 hoping that the economy would improve but things just got worse when workers carried out strikes across the country. Labour, then, lost another bi-election and with this, their majority. "Mrs. Thatcher felt sufficiently strong now to call a motion of No Confidence in Her Majesty's Government, a debate that, on the 28th March, James Callaghan lost.
" (Thatcher's web site) The general elections were called for the 3rd of May. The media played an important role in the election campaign and Mrs. Thatcher manipulated it to her advantage and maximised her exposure at every available opportunity. The main problem she focused on was inflation, which had become uncontrolled in Labour's hands. Mrs. Thatcher had as well to convince the country that a woman could lead the Government. She did, the Tories won the elections getting 13,697,923 votes and 339 seats, while Labour just got 269. The Conservatives were in power until 1997 when Labour regained government.
Margaret Thatcher was one of the most characteristic personalities in the government and her influence was that great that the term "thatcherism" describes the policies of the Conservative Party while in power with her. She defended the free market saying that it was more efficient than state planning and it gave the British the opportunity of taking their own chances. Some of her other policies included the cut on government spending and she also thought that reducing the economic role of the state by enforcing privatisation would benefit the population and the economy.
"The first Thatcher government was something unique in modern British history: a party led by a clique of intellectuals with a strong commitment to a radical ideology" (ed. Nick Tiratsoo, From Blitz to Blair, 1997, pg. 193) After the Tories got into power, inflation had been brought down to less than 4%, Mrs. Thatcher won the Falklands War, and that increased her popularity. Meanwhile, the Labour party had Michael Food as its leader, he introduced a radical swing to the left and his policies led to a party split.
The campaign prior to the 1983 elections was characterised by the triumphs the Tories had achieved with the privatisation policies such as British Aerospace and the National Freight Consortium, in their manifesto they assured a radical reform in Trade Unions, to introduce policies to reduce unemployment and tax and to focus on defence and economic prosperity. On the other hand, the labour manifesto included a promise for the total abolition of the House of Lords, and the end of the Common Market for England among other socialist policies. "From the first day of the campaign to the last, the Tories remained at the top of the opinion polls.
" (Thatcher's web). In 1983 the conservatives won the elections again with a vast majority, they got 397 seats to the 209 that Labour got. "Margaret Thatcher's second victory in 1983 was one of the most decisive in the post-war Britain" (BBC website). Now, Mrs. Thacher had the support to introduce her radical economic agenda. The Thatcher's government was "committed to shift the balance from the state and collectivism values to market forces and individualism. Although it took a decade to reduce state spending as a share of GNP from the 1979 level. " (Kavanagh, British Politics, 2000, pg. 169).
The Prime Minister also believed in reducing government spending and taxation, social authoritarianism that included respect for authority and a firm stand in law and order as well as in strong defence. She increased the number of police officers and their pay and she had an assertive foreign policy, she was more in favour to attach to the United States than she was to join the European Community. From 1983 to 1990 the Conservative Party continued its "thacherist" policies after wining the elections again in 1987. The end of thatcherism arrived when "Mrs Thatcher had failed to roll back the state.
Public expenditure remained stubbornly resistant, because cuts were swamped by rising costs from unemployment" (ed. Nick Tiratsoo, From Blitz to Blair, 1997, pg. 198), and when surveys found that the British public did not trust the Conservatives as they had before, and that the voters suspected that public services of health and education were going to be privatised. As a consequence, in 1989, Peter Lilley, the deputy leader of the party declared that the Conservatives did not have any intention of privatising the public services and that they would be safe in their hands, trying to assure the voters.
For the following elections in 1992, John Major was the leader of the party and the one that became Prime Minister. At the same time, Smith was elected as leader of the Labour party until he died two years afterwards. Tony Blair took his place. Following this, when Tony Blair had got into the leadership of what he called New Labour, the party was gaining popularity with the voters because of the reforms done to the ideologies of the party.
Tony Blair believed "that the party had not adapted sufficiently rapidly or wholeheartedly to new social, and economic realities" (ed. Murphy, D. Britain 1914-2000, pg. 305). The growing acceptance of the ideas of social and economic equality which were one of the party's ideologies; championing the working class, minorities and underprivileged, state provision of health, housing and education; or state ownership and nationalisation of key industries, were giving the party more acceptance within the voters.
The New Labour, that as Tony Blair says is "in favour of what works and that includes policies of Thatcher and Major" (Kavanagh, British Politics, 2000 pg. 148) had performed a radical change in its policies, it had modernised rapidly with Tony Blair. The Clause Four of the party's constitution was rewritten in order "to demonstrate economic competence and gain the confidence of business if it was to win a general election.
Blair calls this a Third Way (Giddens 2000) because it combines the best of the left and the right into a new synthesis. " (Kavanagh, British Politics, 2000, pg. 148). The party was not promising a radical change in the economy and in the New Labour, New Britain manifesto in 1997, they included that the party was not going to increase taxes, it was stressed that "we are pledged not to raise the basic or top rates of income tax throughout the next Parliament" (ed. Murphy, D. , Britain 1914-2000, pg. 306).