Following John Smith's death in 1994, the leadership of the party was won by Tony Blair. Under Tony Blair, the party dropped much of its socialist ideology. This move was centred on the replacement of Clause IV, which had been adopted in 1918 and committed the party to 'the common ownership of the means of production' (a defining characteristic of socialism and widely interpreted in the past as a policy of nationalisation). A special conference of the party approved the change in March 1995. Under the leadership of Mr Blair the party publicly adopted a Third Way economic policy, which sought to balance the laissez-faire capitalism of the Thatcherite era with measures that would lessen or reverse their negative impact on society. In practice, Labour actually adopted Thatcherism with very few revisions.
These changes completed the transformation that the Labour Party had been under-going since 1983, from a socialist and pro-trade union party, to a party of big business and fiscal conservatism. This move further reduced the party's membership and led to discontent amongst trade unions, with some unions disaffiliating from the Labour Party in recent years. However, it greatly increased the party's appeal to heads of capital and to the media. To christen the transformation of the Labour Party Tony Blair and his associates choose to rebrand the Party as "New Labour". The move designed to finally reassure corporations that they have moved away from their traditional leftist image, and was part of a skilled media campaign.
The changes, and the support of the media and business leaders, greatly increased Labour's appeal to "middle England", particularly the rural and suburban middle-class, and Labour gained a landslide majority in the May 1997 general election. It was helped by public exhaustion with the Conservative Party (which had been in power since 1979). The Tories were also damaged by allegations of sleaze aimed against some middle ranking ministers, and perceived Conservative disunity under John Major, between the more fundamentalist successors of Thatcher and more moderate members. Margaret Thatcher supported Tony Blair over John Major in the 1997 general election, and some saw New Labour as more Thatcherite than the Conservatives under Major, whilst others saw it as a moderate, centre-right alternative to the Conservative Party, particularly on the issue of Europe.
In government, Labour presided over cuts in spending and sweeping privatisations during its first term. The party won a further landslide majority in 2001, the first time ever that the Labour Party has won two successive full terms of office. This election saw a very low turnout. Labour was able to take more votes from the Conservatives, and was aided by the absence of a maintsream left-wing party as an alternative and the tendency of traditional Labour voters to simply stay at home rather than voting against Labour. It has increased public spending during its second term, but tied these increases to part-privatisation in the health and education services that have led some to see it as to the right of the Conservatives.
David Owen, the former leader of the SDP, claims that he and the rest of the gang of four (Roy Jenkins, Bill Rogers and Shirley Williams) in effect invented New Labour, though none of them rejoined the Labour Party. Those modernisers who stayed in the Labour Party in the 1980s reject the claim.
Will Hutton regards Gordon Brown as the first "real" Keynesian Chancellor. Private Eye has started to refer to Labour as "New" Labour, and John Reid (currently Secretary of State for Health), regards it as a natural development of Bevanism.
As well as being in government across the whole UK, the Labour Party is in power (jointly with the Liberal Democrats) in the Scottish Parliament. Until May 2003 Labour shared power with the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly for Wales, and then took power on its own.
The Labour Party is a member of the
Source | Copyright