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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Elections For Dummies Part Five: Labour

May 6, 2015
In this instalment of Elections for Dummies our Political Sub-Editor, Shaun Balderson, explains the labour party's history, ideological factions and current manifesto commitments.

The frustration of working people at the turn of the 20th century brought about the creation of the Labour party. However, the party has undergone many ideological changes since its formation. Despite this, its fundamental principles of paternalism, links with trade unions and an the provision of public services run in the interest of the people have remained.

 A key point in labour’s history is in 1918, when the party constituted itself as a socialist party with underlying democratic principles. Under its program, “Labour and the New Social Order,” there was the lasting commitment to a fair minimum wage, maximum working weeks, the democratic control of key industries along with progressive taxation and the expansion of educational and social services.

However, Labours landmark victory did not occur until the general election of 1945, when Labour won a 146 seat majority in the House of Commons. It’s been long argued that this historic victory is due to the people’s determination for decent social reform and the avoidance of mass unemployment. The leader of The Labour Party during this election and one of Labour’s most influential figures is Clement Attlee. Under Attlee’s government a construction of a ‘postwar political consensus’ formed a lasting legacy in the United Kingdom. A legacy of a mixed economy, a free at the point of use, publicly owned National Health Service along with many other extensive social welfare reforms.

Over the next few decades the party faced inner turmoil between two warring ideological factions. First there was The Bevanites, who looked for the Labour party to return to its more socialist routes and provide a more left wing approach to economic policy. On the other side of things, there were the ‘Revisionists’ who wished to adapt the parties traditional approach to a more modern economic architecture – in particular dropping its pledges of the nationalization of industry.

The tension between these two warring factions remains, after a series of electoral defeats the ‘Bevanites’ Labour was out for the count. They were deemed unelectable and out of date. The more revisionist wings within the party took over and, under Kinnock, the gradual transformation into New Labour slowly established the party once again as a credible electoral force. This process involved an overhaul of the party policies and some founding principles, along with the removing of extremists, such as the Trotskyist wing. The modernisation of Labour occurred not only within Kinnock’s leadership but also his successors John Smith and Tony Blair. Key policy changes as a part of this movement within the Labour party where; the dropping of unilateral nuclear disarmament, the abandonment of labour’s historic socialist Clause IV, and a greater focus towards providing progressive constitutional reforms, including most importantly the devolution of powers away from Westminster and the reform of the House Of Lords.

New Labour also invigorated a new aim for parliament – an aim to bring about a greater representation of women. Through the parties ground-breaking use of All Women Shortlists the Labour Party dramatically increased the number of women in Parliament. However, evidently, it is still far behind anything to be considered equal representation.

During Blair’s Labour government’s there was many reforms; the creation of devolved legislative assemblies in Scotland and Wales, an agreement made between Republicans and Unionist in Northern Ireland, the banning of hereditary peers from the House Of Lords along with the bettering of working conditions, an advancement of workers’ rights and workplace health standards, tax credits and an expansion of the welfare state and publicly provided education. One of the most significant achievements of the New Labour’s three terms in government was the party’s success in bringing around one million children and young people out of poverty.

The Labour Party revelled in consecutive years of rising public opinion, until the party faced a public backlash along with fierce internal dissent over the leadership’s support for military confrontation within Iraq in 2003.

What’s in Labour’s 2015 manifesto? Have they gone back to more Bevanite promises or resiliently sticking to New Labours paradigms? Below are the most divisive and crucial manifesto commitments that could dramatically transform – for better or for worse – the country that we live in.

In terms of service provisions, this is just a few of the Labour party manifesto commitments; £2.5billion extra funding for the NHS, which will go towards paying for 20,000 more nurses, 3,000 more midwives and 8,000 more GPs. The protection of the education budget, a cut to tuition fees to 6,000 a year, the building 200,000 new homes every year by 2020 and a radical promise of providing a guaranteed job for under 25’s who have been unemployed for over a year and adults unemployed over two years.

However, the Labour party also wish to provide a balanced plan and cut the deficit every year with the aims for a surplus on the current budget in the next Parliament. They wish to do this by introducing a 50% top rate of income tax for people earning over £150,000, introduce a Mansion Tax on houses worth over £2 million and by abolishing the tax evasion loophole that is the non-dom status law.

The Labour party also wish to target the growing poverty and inequality in Britain; they have committed to scrapping the bedroom tax, raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour, banning zero hours contracts, freezing rail fares, freezing energy bills and with a promise to make it illegal to undercut British workers by exploiting migrants. The Labour Party are not just focusing this election on economic disparities but also the growing environmental inequalities. The Labour Party has committed to reduce carbon emissions deriving from electricity production to zero by 2030 and have the ambitious aim of net zero global emissions by the second half of this century.

In terms of more international policy The Labour Party wish to have a ‘minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent’, the creation of an international Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights envoy, along with cast iron guarantee that no transfers of powers will occur from Britain to the European Union without an in-out referendum.

The party also has historic aims for both democracy and the United Kingdom’s constitution; possible the most radical reforms to occur in the UK since the signing of the Magna Carter; They have committed to install a ‘people led constitutional convention’ to determine the future of how the UK is governed along with the replacement the House of lords, (currently appointed), with an elected senate and the extension of voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds.

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This has been a short introduction to the Labour Party; for more information the Labour party’s manifesto is here; http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/BritainCanBeBetter-TheLabourPartyManifesto2015.pdf

Or watch

Ed Miliband in the race for number 10 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoMFz7qaR0