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EDITIONS
Labour centenary Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 10:29 GMT
Tony Wright: An extraordinarily young party
Dr Tony Wright, Labour MP for Cannock Chase and chair of the Commons Public Administration Committee, was a party moderniser before the phrase "New Labour" had even been coined.


Tony Wright: "Always a people's party"
The way the Labour Party was formed was unique, says Dr Tony Wright.

"It was founded as a people's party, and it was the only party that was not founded at Westminster.

"So it then had to go and recruit around the country. It was quite different from any other party."

It had sought from its earliest days to be a coalition of workers "by hand and brain - what we would now call a cross-class coalition".

And its aims, which remain true today, were to be a voice "against those who had vested interests".

The party has also, he says, had any number of hugely significant figures in positions of power.

"You could pick a whole range of figures who have been significant, from those early pioneers like Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald right through to the extraordinary cabinet after the Second World War - people like Attlee, Morrison, Bevan, Bevin and Dalton.

They were significant figures on any test.


Take any test of changing a fundamental part of life and show it can be organised on the basis of socialist principles and the NHS will always stand out

"And then right through to the post-war years where there was Gaitskell, Wilson, Crosland and Crossman and up to the current generation where I think Blair and Brown are the key figures."

The gathering together of the cabinet of the 1945 Labour government was, he says, the result of the way the party had grown intellectually.

"I think it had been building up for years beforehand, and the Labour Party was the place where people of progressive opinions rallied.

"They were an extraordinary collection of practical politicians and intellectuals, working class people and middle class people."

He says they were all determined that Britain would not return to the difficult years of the 1930s: "They found their place in the Labour Party."

New challenges

It was, of course, during this period that the welfare state developed - one of Labour's most significant legacies to the 20th century.

"Take any test of changing a fundamental part of life and show it can be organised on the basis of socialist principles and the NHS will always stand out," says Dr Wright.

So what of the future? Dr Wright stresses that Labour is still a relatively new phenomenon.

"The Labour Party is extraordinarily young party," he says. "It is astonishing that within just over 20 years of being born it was in government, and even now it is a very young party in British terms.

He says the challenge for the party now is "to think how the values that it was founded on are to be related in new worlds".

"There is no question that the 21st century will throw up its own challenges."

See also:

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