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EDITIONS
Labour centenary Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 11:16 GMT
Norman Tebbit: Labour's conflict of interest
Norman Tebbit
Lord Tebbit: Labour benefited from "Thatcher's downfall and Major's failure"
Norman Tebbit, now Lord Tebbit, is the former Tory party chairman and Trade and Industry Secretary - and one of Labour's sternest critics.
Writing for BBC News Online he explains what the party means to him.


Efforts to secure the election of representatives of working class men to Parliament began in the mid-19th century and in 1874 the Labour Representation League won two parliamentary seats.

In 1886 the TUC created the Labour Electoral Association and entered an unsatisfactory alliance with the Liberal Party. By 1893 Keir Hardie formed the Independent Labour Party which in 1900 persuaded the TUC to call the conference which gave birth to the Labour Representation Committee soon to be renamed the Labour Party.

Labour was not created as an explicit socialist party, rather it was the political wing of the trades union movement and sought influence by its alliance with the Liberal Party. By the end of the 1914-18 war, however, Labour was strong enough to challenge the Liberals and became the dominant voice of the British radical left.

The conflict between the interests of the trades union leadership and the requirements of a successful economy has wrecked every Labour government.

Unlike many socialist parties overseas, Labour has seldom been led by Marxist intellectuals. For most of its life the unions have acted not only as paymasters but also as ballast maintaining the stability of the party.

Marxism, often promoted by wealthy intellectuals, has had its influence on Labour, but so too has the Christian socialism of the Welsh valleys and the self-help tradition of the Rochdale pioneers and the Co-operative movement.

Coalition with the Conservatives

The policy gap between the Labour and Conservative parties was never so wide in Britain as in many continental countries, a fact which enabled Labour to make wide electoral gains in the early 1920s and briefly to form a minority government in 1924 and by 1929, outnumbering the Conservatives, Labour re-entered government.

Caught in the turbulence of the great depression Labour split and its leader, MacDonald, entered a coalition with the Conservatives.

The rise of National Socialism again split Labour, with pacifists opposing rearmament and the former Labour minister Oswald Mosley leading the British fascists. Then, reunited under Attlee, Labour served in Churchill's wartime coalition.

The polls look favourable but the Blair genius for aligning Labour with popular causes seems to have deserted him.

For most of the post-war era, Labour moved to the left, but maintained its commitment in government to the Atlantic Alliance and the nuclear deterrent despite the efforts of its pro-Soviet left.

Its economic policies, dominated by belief in nationalisation, high tax policies and the centrally directed command economy, brought down Attlee's government despite the huge majority achieved in 1945, as well as the 1964-70 Wilson government and that of Wilson and Callaghan from 1974-79.

The conflict between the interests of the trades union leadership and the requirements of a successful economy has wrecked every Labour government.

Saved by Thatcher's downfall

The crushing Thatcher victories of '79, '83, and '87, the success of privatisation, low tax policies and trades union law reform brought about yet another Labour split as the breakaway SDP was formed.

Labour was saved by Thatcher's downfall and Major's failure and a significant move away from union domination towards rational economies under John Smith and Tony Blair.

Labour now celebrates its 100th anniversary, under its most successful leader. Tony Blair is determined to be the first to win two successive full terms in office.

The polls look favourable, but the Blair genius for aligning Labour with popular causes seems to have deserted him.

As Labour begins its second century, is it swerving away from mainstream Britain back to minority issues and issues such as clause 28 and the euro - and on both of which it has aligned with the minority.

See also:

22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
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