New Labour swept into office 20 years ago this week. Nick Clark explains how the party is still being punished today for Blair’s attempts to sideline the working class.
Twenty years ago this week the Labour Party won a general election by a landslide.
But under the leadership of Tony Blair it had also shifted drastically to the right. Labour spent its 13 years in government from 1997 attacking workers and launching disastrous wars.
It’s common sense in establishment circles to say that Labour’s election in 1997 showed that most people are right wing.
They say Labour only won in 1997 because it moved right—and that taking the party back to the left is a sure way to lose. They are dead wrong.
The Tories weren’t beaten because workers had huge enthusiasm for Blair or his “pro-business” rebranding of Labour.
The Tories were collapsing. Workers had recently fought big battles against the them over mine closures and the poll tax.
Public sector workers were fighting attacks on their pay—the latest in 18 years of job cuts and pay cuts faced by all workers. Public services had become worse and more expensive after privatisation.
There was anger at the police and racism too.
The Tories passed a bill in 1994 to give more stop and search powers to the police, which were used to target mainly young black people.
The Nazi British National Party had grown in the early 90s, and cops had sometimes violently attacked anti-Nazi marches.
At the same time, polls and surveys didn’t show that people’s opinions in society were moving right. In fact they showed the opposite.
In the 1996 British Social Attitudes Survey, between 59 and 70 percent of people agreed that “ordinary people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth”.
And between 66 and 75 percent of people agreed that “there is one law for the rich and one for the poor”.
And when an ICM poll asked voters what social issues they felt most strongly about, racism, pollution and nuclear weapons were in the top four.
In fact on many issues there was a gaping chasm between what working class people said they wanted from a government and what Blair’s Labour promised.
While Blair promised to cut benefits, 55 percent of people in the social attitudes survey believed that “unemployment benefit is too low and causes hardship”.
Blair told Labour conference in 1996, “There are no longer bosses and workers, them and us.”
But 76 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll that year said they thought there was a class struggle in Britain.
Blair’s followers today shout loudest about how Labour has to adapt to what they think are workers’ right wing views in order to get elected.
In 1997, when most workers’ views were well to the left of Blair’s, he and his supporters ignored them completely.
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