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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 12:20 GMT
Labour at 100: Still the People's Party?
Over the last 100 years Labour has presided over many ground breaking social reforms including the foundation of the National Health Service and the extension of the welfare state.
But the party, which has only spent 22 of those 100 years in power, has also been associated with economic mismanagement while in office and splits while in opposition.
With Prime Minister Tony Blair presiding over a huge Commons majority and with the party moved squarely into the centre ground of politics, where does Labour's future lie?
Has the party abandoned its roots in the pursuit of power? Or has it merely adapted successfully to changing times?
Power seems pretty popular in the top slot these days and totalitarian control. What has happened to the labour movement and socialism? New Labour has no connection with either and do not belong in the same sentence.
Mary, Ex-pat, NL
The Labour party is still the crusade for justice it was in 1900. Sure it has changed but it had to - it could hardly spend 100 years as a static force while the working class it served had altered so radically.
The Labour Party led by Tony Blair has been responsible for the minimum wage as well as a billion extra for education and schools.
Labour has achieved much in its first hundred years but the lesson it must learn if it is to survive into the 22nd century is that the public hate parties to be divided and that they should spend time attacking the Tories rather than each other. Ken Livingstone take note!
Jason Thomas Williams, UK
Margaret Thatcher did more for many of the so-called 'working classes' than any Labour PM ever did (with the exception of Clement Attlee). People who bought their own council houses at considerably less than market value have seen their investments soar. Did any Labour government ever offer working people £50,000 handouts? I think not...
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
The Labour Party, under the spells and style of Blair, has become another conservative party, looking after the benefits of riches and tyrants. It is not a 'People's Party anymore, but a 'Pinochet Party,' at least for a foreigner like myself.
Ramanitharan Kandiah, USA
I quite agree with Steve Foley. I might add that if here in Paris, if any party had a sure winner like Ken Livingstone they would have left their personal quarrels aside and adopted him.
How is Blair any different than Thatcher? With his penchant for rigging every election and trying to install his lackeys everywhere he is even worse.
Joss Randall, France
As was said of old:
Absolute Power corrupts absolutely. We gave Blair too large a majority. The sad thing is, with the 2 party system we have at present, there isn't much of an alternative.
Steve Blunden, UK
It's good to have a view of the past and we can all look back in nostalgia. Labour have worked admirably to turn round a country which was crippled under the Conservatives. The UK is recognised as a global centre of commerce and resurgence of new ideas. It's just too simple to argue that Labour have abandoned their principles when the world requires a global outlook!
Nick Pickles, UK
Anyone who thinks that the present government is just the same as those which have preceded it probably don't have a balanced view of what's really going on as they are either closet Tories, leftist idealists or not living in this country.
Let's not forget Maggie Thatcher presided over an unemployment figure of THREE MILLION. Quite frankly I feel a whole lot more secure now, with very low unemployment and anyone who's not happier with that simply doesn't know which side their bread is buttered!
John Cahill, UK
As a labour supporter for many years, I feel very let down by our present government. During the last election they promised great things which they have yet to deliver especially regarding the health service.
Alison M, UK
From the day Labour came into power I knew this country was in trouble.. and it seems I was right. In 100 years time labour will be history, history that Britain will be pleased to forget.
In my opinion its less and less a peoples party. Tony Blair sides with the GM scientists, against the opinion of the public, and runs scared from Tory voting fox-hunting folk when they march through London. If anything, the Labour cabinet has never been more distant from the public.
Lawrence Williams, England
Politics, derived from poly = many, tics = blood sucking parasites Phony Tony seems to be going ever more this way. His is the party of the people - as long as the people do what he tells them and don't attempt to have any ideas of their own. Hopefully the assorted crises in the country will bring about his prompt electoral defeat.
To describe the interaction, or dialogue of the main parties in the UK as "politics" is something of a misnomer. Once upon a time we had choice, and such lofty notions of principle and policy. Today we are let with something of a husk.
The Labour party is really no different from the previous government. Their policies, their personalities, their contempt for the common man is entirely reminiscent of the last Tory government. The real danger in the future is that the public will suddenly realise this and just give up. I predict that the voting turn out for the next election will be the lowest ever seen in the UK.
Ieuan Ashman, UK (in USA)
First off, in actual answer to the question. Labour has moved with the times, the basic tenants still reflect core values. Social justice, education for all, health ditto. The belief that everyone deserves the same chance. I don't think that's changed much, just adapted. Good luck to them, after 18 years of no investment they need all the luck they can get.
Sorry James Larkin of Australia all this went with the end of Harold Wilson's Government. Blair and his phoney cronies bear as little relationship to the Real Labour Party of old that you fondly recall as chalk to cheese.
Steve Foley, England
Maggie Thatcher came to power the day I left school in an Ayrshire mining town. All my working life I longed for a Labour government. I was delighted when they won in '97. They started off great, and in many areas of policy their heart is in the right place. I fear however that it's all going to unravel because of their politics of envy attitude to small business (I.T. consultancies in particular). Ironically they are taking power, wealth and opportunity from the many small businesses and handing it to the few large ones. Principles, what principles!!
Labour's support is not only declining amongst traditional core supporters but also amongst modernisers. Most progressive party members thought Blair would revise and update Labour's social democratic values rather than adopt centre right policy prescriptions on health, student finance and home affairs.
Kevin Dalton, Scotland
OK, they may not get it right every time, and may even be overly paranoid about how middle England perceive them, but who can blame them, look what the alternative is. The most worrying thing about Hague's party is not their lack any credible policies, but the image that their ineptitude presents - an eager schoolboy leading a fussy Women's Institute - as opposed to virtually the most right wing conservative party Britain has seen. Labour the "People's Party"? Without doubt!
Paul Steven, Scotland
I am living in the UK for a year and just walking the streets and approaching different neighbourhoods tells me how something isn't working here. It's so obvious that the streets where the poorer people live also are shabbier, more run down and that the people themselves look unhealthier. I do think differences like this exists everywhere to a certain extent, but many people here seem to think it's a lot worse "in Europe" (meaning all countries from Finland to Spain... ) and that simply isn't true.
The Brits are very sweet and helpful mostly, but the Labour government have no idea what they are talking about. Today Gordon Brown said to the nation that there are jobs for basically everybody and that UK people don't have to sit around and collect welfare. Might be true theoretically, but what does the Gucci-dressed, pate-eating Labour government know about the frustration and apathy of the people that they claim to represent?
Popie Hellgren, UK
Labour has lost its touch with the working class and the less well off. The leader Tony Blair has become a control freak, if any one disagrees with him with in his party then he will expel them. Just look at the way he has controlled the selection for Mayor of London. Tony step down, if you are a real labour person. You are damaging the image of labour by having a dictatorial view.
Mike Still, UK
It's been a while since I lived in Britain. The things I remember with pride are free milk for schoolchildren, a free health service, a free dental service, totally free education and a Labour Party and unions that really fought for workers rights. The government even provided new clothing for poor kids at school. It was truly something to be proud of and a glowing example to other countries. I hope that things are still the same and that we still have those beautiful humanist Labour politicians around to look after us.
James Larkin, Australia
I always thought that democracy gave us choice, but with Blair following the same middle-class, middle of the road policies as the Major government where has my choice gone if I want to vote for something different?
The Government was absolutely right to carry out its manifesto pledge to bring about devolution and in setting up the GLA and elections for mayor. But the party leadership should have backed off trying to control who should be candidate for the leader of the Welsh Assembly and the London Mayor. In this respect the Labour Government is in danger of losing touch with its roots.
Alan Madge, UK
Labour no longer represents the working classes, or fights for the unions. Just who exactly are the people that Mr Blair and his watered-down socialists think they represent?
Alex S, UK
What's the point of having principles and policies if you can't act upon them? Blair realises this - Benn, Foot etc don't. Labour need to have access to power, or it might as well fold. Getting elected is thus necessary i.e. casting your net wide enough to get enough votes to win. Labour had to change in order to realise this, and Blair deserves the credit. Has Labour abandoned its roots? Or has it just changed along with society? The latter - emotive ideologues aside, electors recognise this, and that why they rewarded Blair at the last election with such a huge majority.
Labour has moved with the times - though I believe it was a Conservative who, some years ago, said "we are all middle-class now". I don't think Labour represent "the people" - certainly very few of the people I mix with have much to say in favour of the current government, what with their policies of high taxation, authoritarianism, redistribution and Euromania. Indeed, most of my social circles tend to see governments of all flavours as an impediment to life.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
They have been a complete disaster under Blair, Prescott and co. Motoring costs are crippling our finances, we can't afford to buy a house now, asylum seekers have got way out of control like never before, one million homes to be built in the south of England. It wasn't this bleak under the Tories (not that I voted for them either).
Andy MacDonald, UK
Policies should come from the members upwards, not the other way round. Labour can stay in touch, but needs to listen to its activists.
Nick Burke, England
Do people honestly expect 18 years of damage done to Britain by Tory rule to be repaired overnight? Tony Blair is right, Labour needs to win not only the next election, but the one after that. It takes time to build up the Health Service again, and to make our education system world class. To attempt to do so overnight would ruin the economy, and hand power back to the Tories who damaged it so much in the first place.
Change is happening. The fact that it's taking longer than most of us had hoped just goes to show how much damage the Tories did in the first place, and how essential it is that Labour remains electable.
From some of the comments on this page it is evident that there is still a hardcore of recidivists who wish to enslave the entire British population in a working class hell where everyone gets the same - a full measure of mediocrity served by high taxes and enforced by a bossy government.
Labour still wants to force much of this down our throats, although Blair battles daily to paint his party as a more dynamic, forward- thinking entity. What would be achieved over time through the natural prosperity we are gaining labour wants to force through by regulation and hysteria, which will set us back another decade in economic growth. Thank God only 22 of the last 100 years were under Labour's control.
Blair's opinion appears to shift like a weathervane. Jack Straw appears to have no idea about the issues he makes proclamations on. Prescott manages to come across as a bumbling hypocrite on a regular basis. But hopefully people like Livingstone won't dump the party.
If the 'heretics' hold on and balance the soul of movement against the offensive charm (or is that charm offensive) of the present leadership then there's a chance people might still believe in the good intentions of the party. Blair is a great leader, it's a shame he appears to have no idea where to lead the party or the country.
Martin Bentley, UK
Labour has good intentions, but the effect of its policies have always been damaging to the UK and by definition its people. Contrary to popular opinion, I regard Clement Atlee's Government as the worst and most damaging of the 20th Century.
Finally, under Blair, Labour has exchanged socialism for an Islington agenda, where gay rights count for more than the needs of the working class.
Richard Marriott, England
Of course Labour isn't the people's party. But does it matter? They're not the Tories and for that I can forgive them almost anything.
Richey Smith, Wales
The history of the British Labour party is one of fiscal irresponsibility and aimlessly paternalistic social programs. Small wonder that Labour only controls the government five in twenty years: it always takes the conservatives three times as long to clean up the mess you blokes make.
John Huettner, Esq, USA
Only recently has the labour Party broadened into what can be called a real people's party rather than just for the Labour Unions, whose principal aim is power and self preservation.
Eric Sundt, USA
Labour no longer is the people's party! They were, until Tony Blair and his chums came. I think it's a shambles!
David Jones, England
The Labour Party and the TUC were supposed to be interlinked, Labour being seen as their political wing. Now with Labour's growing relationship with big business and the media, the original principle of Labour representing the working man has died along with the rest of Labour's 'fundamentals'
Emily McCauley, Northern Ireland
I voted for Labour in good faith in the last general election but now deeply regret it. Great things were expected, but Blair, Straw and company let us all down, turning the Labour party into something quite unrecognisable to normal supporters. We need to change this state of affairs as soon as possible!
Peter Benjamin, England
As a Young Labour member, my view on Labour's history is very much limited to what I read in books, and second hand stories /reports from more senior members. However, my observation is that Labour has always been right at the time! It has adapted to what is needed for the day. Hard-core socialism was needed between the 40's-70's. Now, it is Democratic Socialism that Mr Blair promotes. Labour will always be the people's party!!!
Dave Hartley, Stourbridge, England
Labor has abandoned the welfare of its workers in many cases. We have seen it in the United States. That was particularly true when the AFL-CIO and Teamsters were supporting Ronald Reagan. And, I cannot understand to this day why any labor leaders would have supported Ronald Reagan. As for Britain, I think the story is much the same. The labor leaders have managed to keep themselves in power but their advocacy for the rights of the members is pathetic. We need a new labor movement with honest leadership. And, it is obvious that the present bunch have not done enough for their members. In the United States, we have 47,000,000 people without health insurance. It is a disgrace and very few industrial powers have such a pathetic level of health care for their people. I blame this on American labor.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Dave Adams, USA
It's still the people's party; Tony's people that is. See you all in the House of Lords!
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland
The Labour Party is the people's party, it always has been and it always will be. When the party was founded it was done so to represent the interests of the working man. Now a 100 years later it still does, as the aspirations of working people have changed so has the party but it still represents the same core values and aspirations that it did 100 years ago of equality, co-operation and an end to poverty.
Peter Smyth, Scotland
By moving towards the centre, Labour has truly become the 'peoples' party.' Today, the Labour party represents the middle class, young professionals, as well as its bedrock constituencies of working people and union members. Until Tony Blair became its leader, the Labour party was the party of the poor, radical trade unions and the militant tendency. It was the party of one class in British society. It could be said that Margaret Thatcher was Labour's biggest Godsend because she forced them to move to the centre of politics and embrace more classes of people in order to win elections.
The tragedy of the Labour Party lies in its abandonment of 100 years of struggle to build a party that represents the majority of the people of Britain, i.e. people who work for a living. In Britain as in the United States, both parties now represent the interests of investors and big corporations, leaving the majority disenfranchised. Tony Blair and the people who support him have managed to make Great Britain entirely safe for inherited wealth and power.
Jeff Cox, USA
I was struck by a remark that by embracing free trade, Labour had effectively abandoned its roots. In fact, Labour was originally a free-trade party, up until the Great Depression (this according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper written by Douglas Irwin). Labour and the Liberal Party both supported free trade because they believed that free trade reduced the price of food imports and thus reduced living expenses for workers. Free trade was also meant to check tendencies towards monopoly in British industry. The Conservatives meanwhile advocated "tariff reform" and attempted to make tariff reform a major issue in the 1923 General Election. During the election, they were trounced, and Ramsey MacDonald and Labour came into power.
Rob O'Reilly, USA
The Labour Party is not a People's Party, it never was and it never will be. A people's party, that is a progressive party must be anti-imperialist. The Labour Party has a truly shocking record in anti-imperialism.
· 1999 Labour government is the most enthusiastic partner in NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.
· 1960s-70s The Labour Party in power gives full support to the US war in Vietnam.
· 1950s-60s The Labour government sends the SAS and British Army to crush the independence movement in Malaya. Later they offer their experience in counter-insurgency war to US forces in Vietnam for Operation Phoenix in which "Free Fire Zones" are created. Milllions die.
How can a party with this appalling record ever have been a progressive party?
Ed Ralph, UK
Once the Labour Party was the party of the (Working Class) People but this died with John Smith. Blair and his type are comfortable middle class and have emasculated the Labour Party to ensure it is no threat to their client group. Policies since 1997 have hurt the most vulnerable but have sheltered those most able to afford to pay higher taxes.
I hope Ken Livingstone does stand as an Independent for London Mayor and takes many Traditionalist Socialists with him when he goes. As for myself, I was a member of the party but resigned in disgust in the autumn of 1998. Ironically as I live in a marginal seat I might even have to vote Tory at the next General Election as I feel only a defeat and a period of opposition will stop Blairism. I don't think we could be that worse off under Hague's Old Tories as under Blair's New Tories.
Steve Foley, England
It is unrealistic to expect a country to change, yet its institutions to remain static. At one time there really were small boys sent up chimneys and most men worked long hours in degrading conditions. At that time it was realistic to have a party that was dedicate to the most basic reforms. But today, with colour televisions in every home, and obesity a bigger problem than malnutrition, a Labour Party that didn't change would be one that remained unelectable. There will always be some people who have nostalgia for the glory days of miners' marches.
Jon Livesey, USA
Sorry to say yes. I do think the labour party has abandoned its roots in the pursuit of power & money. If I did not know better I would think with the way people are treated in England today, we were living in a fascist dictatorship where everyone follows the partyline. All the controls in parliament that we struggled for over the years are slowly but surely being eroded by political apathy and sheer belligerence towards the English nation.
Your Labour party has gone the same way as any other party that got its start as a grass roots movement. As soon as power is achieved the fat cats take over and start looking out for their interests over the interests of the average member.
Successful political parties (those that actually win elections and implement some of their agenda) move with the times. The UK economy is no longer dominated by coal mines, teamsters, and heavy industry. (And that's a good thing.) If Labour is to have any relevance at all, it must address the concerns of different people in a different economy. This is no easy task, but it is incumbent upon all parties, especially those that make the quest for social justice a centrepiece of their appeal. The Democratic Party in the USA has wrestled with these problems and finally succeeded. The British Labour Party has probably not come quite so far, but it is on its way. (Labour has had a more difficult time than the Democrats have because hostility to capitalism is alien to the United States.) The Labour Party has had to look beyond men with coal dust on their faces because there just are not quite so many of those fellow around today.
Rath Andor, USA
New Labour is the closest we'll get to 'a people's party' in power. It's OK having high principles but without power they come to nothing. Firstly you have to be electable. And if that means compromising on ideology its the only way. If, at the last election, Labour had retained clause 4, stayed up with Unions, and proposed tax & spend policies then we'd still have a Tory government. The Tories will drop unpopular principles (like opposing the minimum wage & independence for the Bank of England for starters) in an attempt to regain power.
Kevin Parker, UK
The "People's Party"-- if as you said Labour have only been in power for 22 out of the last 100 years, I guess the British people resoundingly think not.
Peter Kohler, USA
The Labour Party, both here and in the UK, has abandoned its roots. In fact, most political parties have made themselves impotent and irrelevant by acquiescing to free trade and globalisation and free trade. Democracy is in peril, if not already dead. The 'Third Way' is a massive confidence trick.
Bill Wright, New Zealand
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