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Huntingdon College | Political Science | Courses
Optional: purchase Union Jacks herePSC 321: Anthony King (ed), Britain at the Polls, 2001.
Students' Outlines.
revised 21 Oct. 2003, compiled by Jeremy Lewis .

Ch. 1, Anthony King, "Tony Blair's First Term"
By Negin Ahmadi, 2003.

-Blair’s Labour Administration was the first “Normal” [Labour] administration in British political history.  His administration won in May 1997.

- Ramsey MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan’s Labour administration had to deal with massive economic crises. The fear of the consequences kept Labour out of power for eighteen years between 1979 and 1997.

-Blair’s government had a different view of “classes” from the old Labour.

- Labour was always somewhat exclusive party.  It built walls around itself and communicated with the outside world when needed.

-Old Labour, King says, was a party that kept its distance from the rich, from business, from every non-Labour political party.
- New Labour appealed to the whole nation.

-Blairs government was the first [Labour] government to be openly pro-business.  Blair was even eager to recruit business people into ranks of the government itself, because he believed that they tended to be better managers and more creative than most politicians.

-By wining the 1997 general election, Labour had secured the support of more than 1/3 of the professional, executive and managerial classes, equal to the Conservatives and far more than any previous election.

-The relationship with business was made possible not only by Gordon Brown’s (see page 2-5) economic management but also because Blair’s government was not a socialist government.
-The traditional British socialism had been founded on two pillars, (ideological and organizational).

The Ideological pillar (in clause 4 of the Labour party’s constitution), committed the party to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. In other words, state ownership of large sectors of industry.

- In 1960’s and 1970’s the previous Labour governments, had nationalized the bulk of the steel industry, aircraft production and shipbuilding.  They had also extended state ownership into North Sea oil and computers.

- Blair’s party reversed the involvement of the government with the industries. (The Government was less involved now)

- The other pillar of British socialism was the organizational links between the Labour Party and Britain’s trade unions.  (The unions financed the Labour Party, controlled the majority of votes at the party’s annual policy-making conference)

- Blair and his supporters persuaded the annual conference to limit the unions financial contribution to the party and also reduce their voting strength at the conference.

- Blair believed that it was wrong for the unions or other single interest group to have control of a major political party.  They had to ballot their members before they could take any industrial action.  The Blair government acted in favor of individual employees rather than in the organization itself as a whole.

Ch. 2, Anthony King, "Britain's Constitutional Revolution"

Ch. 3, Philip Norton, "Conservative Party: Anyone Out There?"
by Mindy Bevan, 2003

-The withdrawal from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in Sept. 1992, triggered a collapse in support for the Conservative Party.
-The 20th Century had been characterized as the “Conservative Century,” the Conservative Party had succeeded because it managed to convey that it was an effective party of governance; based on four (4) components: competence in handling the affairs of the nation, unity, strong leadership, and public service.
-These variables were present for much of the 20th Century, but were lost in the 1990s.
-Not only had they lost all four (4) components by 1997, but these components were now features of its opponents.
-Following their loss in 1997, the party was beset with problems that had undermined it in government: it was torn apart by divisions, occasionally scandal, and by a failure to articulate a coherent message.
-Party leader John Major resigned following the defeat and 36 year-old William Hague was elected to take his place.
Hague’s New Strategy
-Hague began by apologizing for past mistakes.
-His second step was organizational and policy renewal.
 -Under the new structure the professional, voluntary, and parliamentary elements were integrated into one.  At the head was a governing board, in addition to the annual party conference, a national convention (meeting twice yearly) was created.
-An ethics and integrity committee was established to investigate cases of misconduct by party members.
-A national party membership was created.
-Hague also sought to portray the party as a party of tolerance.
-In July 1998, he launched “Listening to Britain,” meetings were held around the country and party members and others could feed in their views on public policy.
-Small electoral victories in 1999 showed that the party’s base of support was not being further eroded.
-Party used the slogan “In Europe, Not Run by Europe,” in 1999.  Opposed entry into the Euro.
-Even with these small successes the old problems plagued the party and the overall opinion polls didn’t improve.
-The party put forth new policies, but failed to get popular support.
 -Still showed a lack of direction.
-The single currency continued to divide the party.
-The party also experienced many resignations.
-Hague was put into leadership at an early stage in his life and in the life of the parliament.
-He won because he was the least objectionable candidate.
-He failed to make a mark with the public and antagonized part of his party.
-Long-term thinking usually gave way to short-term, reactive policy initiatives.
-Largest scandal was Lord Archer’s withdrawal from the London Mayoral election due to suspicions about his past, including a libel trial that he won in 1987.
-This incident raised questions about Hague’s judgement.
-By the 2001 general election, the Conservative Party was in no better shape than the 1997 election.
-“The stance of the party was more confused than it was coherent.”
-Immediately following the 2001 election, William Hague resigned the leadership of the party.


Ch. 4, Patrick Seyd, "Labour Government - Party Relationships"


Ch. 5, Colin Seymour-Ure, "New Labour & Media"

Ch. 6, David Denver, "Liberal Democrats in Constructive Opposition"
by Jarret Layson, 2003

     Liberal Democrats(LD) - founded 1988 with merger between Social Democratic Party
     and the old Liberal Party
     main problem: how to position themselves between two major parties
     solution:  "equidistance"- refuse to indicate preference
     Between '92 and '97 he LD's redefined position
     after '92 Paddy Ashdown (party leader) announced: "we will work w/ others to assemble
     idea where nonsocialist alternative to Conservative party
     Emergence of Blair (labour leader) spurred cooperation w/ Blair being receptive to
     cooperation and intune with LD's values
     Blair turned the New Labour party into the "nonsocialist alternative" Ashdown spoke of
     Sept. '95 LD conference: new approach adopted-defeat Conservative party while
     keeping distance from Labour
     Equidistance abandoned which opened long term possibility of realignment of left in
     Britain-this became know as "the project" which was central to Ashdown and Blair
     Blair/Ashdown stated that the previous division of their parties has allowed for
     Conservative domination, if division healed = future of progressive politics secured
     1996-"Cook-Maclennan" talks-joint talks between Labour/LD's with view of potential
     callaboration on constitutional reform (devolution)
     1997 election-paradoxical outcome for LD party: share of vote gained by LD fell by one
     point but number of seats doubled: happened due to 2 reasons:

     "Constructive opposition"-after '97 election-Ashdown defined the new LD approach
     as critical but firm support of every step of Blair.  Will criticize Gov't when they believe
     they are wrong, but support when they're right
     rewards came quickly due to the new position of LD's: gov't immediately began process
     that lead to devolution
     Blair announces Joint Cabinet Committee (JCC) which contains Blair, Senior members,
     Ashdown, and 4 leaders of the LD party-committee put LD at the heart of gov't      1999-Ashdown retires: Charles Kennedy wins leadership with close battle with Hughes
     who was against Ashdown's leadership goals with Labour (tight vote showed that the LD
     party had a lot of resistance towards the new ideals of the party under Ashdown)
     Blair welcomed Kennedy as leader, stating that the cooperation should continue between
     the two parties
     2000-relations between gov't and LD's slacked as the gov't showed that it was unwilling
     to do anything about electoral reform which the LD future greatly depended on
     before the march conference of LD's, Kennedy declared that he saw little reason for
     cont'd cooperation with the Blair and the Labour Party
     Parties continued to drift apart and the JCC met for the last time in 2000 and in 2001
     Kennedy declared "the project" was "in a coma"
     Kennedy stated that if Labour wouldn't shift its stance on proportional representation
     cooperation would cease
     Concluding thoughts: The future of cooperation between the LD's and Blair's new
     Labour party depends on Labour's next election manifesto and whether it contains goals
     that are in accordance with the Liberal Democrat's goals-the reaction within the LD party
     to Kennedy's leadership so far has been favorable due partly to his move away from
     Ashdown's support and cooperation with Blair


Ch. 7, John Bartle, "Why Labour Won -- Again"
Adena Cosby 2003

1) New Labor had triumphed in 1997.  The party was swept to power by the largest swing to any party since 1945, won more seats that ever before, and obtained the largest majority the labor party had ever had.
2) Labor’s second victory was impressive as well, led by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and John Prescott, but their share of the vote only nudged up by 1.2 points and only made a net gain of one seat.
3) Why Labor Won:

a) Sociological approach – both the political behavior and political opinion assumes that the interests of one (employees, tax payers, homeowners) conflicts with the interest of another (employers, welfare beneficiaries, council tenants).  Voters support a particular party to express both their agreement with their values and the disagreement with others.
b) A campaign based approach – in theory the formal campaign is thought to be important, since it provides voters with sufficient information, argument and debate to arrive at a reasonable vote decision.
c) A political approach – “Governments are capable of losing elections but only if there is an Opposition party available that people are willing to vote for.”
4) Was New Labor capable of losing the election?
a) The Economy: Restoring a tarnished reputation
i) Labor was regarded as an incompetent party, they have been thought to involve a great deal of risk.
ii) Tony Blair and Gordon Brown sought to reassure voters by re-writing Clause 4, support the key elements of the 1980’s trade union reform, and take no risks with inflation.
5) The Public Services: Making things better
a) Britons were attached to the public services (the introduction of the NHS and establishing the welfare state, along with expanding higher education and the introduction of state pensions).  Tony Blair made promises to concentrate on improving these things.
b) It forced Gordon Brown to increase taxes on petrol, cigarettes, alcohol, and pension funds.  People felt that Labor introduced hidden taxes.
c) Many voters thought that their inability to complete the fulfillment of the public services was not Labors fault.  People blamed Tony Blair, Frank Dobson, Alan Milburn, and Thatcher.
6) The Labor Party’s Tactics
a) The 2001 campaign concentrated on the issues of tax and spending.  There strategy to save money to for long-term investment into the next parliament laid the foundation for economic growth in voter’s belief in Labor’s competence.
b) Labor replaced a conservative government that was known for sleaze and scandal.
c) Favorable evaluations of Tony Blair contributed to the success of the Labor party, he resulted in an advantage of around six seats.
d) Was there an opposition worth voting for?
 i. Conservatives were known for the party that understood money, but Black Wednesday hung over their head for awhile as their responsibility.
 ii. On handling the issue of the NHS, the Conservatives trailed labor by 28 points
 iii. On education the Conservatives trailed by 26 points.
 iv. The conservatives opposed the EU’s idea of one currency, but everyone though that was odd and didn’t really care since that was not one of the main public issues.
 v. The biggest problem the Conservatives had was that they had misread public opinion.
 vi. William Hague lacked personal appeal as well.
e) The Liberal Democrats (The none of the above party)
 i. Liberal Democrats had success in this election as well, they gained their highest percentage of votes and have the most representation of seats in the house since 1929.
 ii. Voters wanted to protect the Liberal Democrats MPs first elected in 1997.
 iii. Liberal Democrats emphasis on improving the public services, also helped.
 iv. When voters didn’t agree with the Conservative or the Labor party, they chose the Liberal Democrats as the none of the above choice.
f) A Low Turnout Landslide
 i. The reduction in this election was the result of two previous elections that were exceptionally close.
 ii. For four years the national polls beat out a relentless message, that Labor would win the general election by a lot, and the electorate absorbed it.
 iii. Voters tend to feel alienated from the political process.
 iv. Ideological differences between the parties have diminished and performing consensual goals has become more important, the parties have started to spin the information to their advantage which tends to turn off voters.
 v. The overall decline of the parties as mass organizations fell between 1997 and 2001.


Ch. 8, Ivor Crewe, "New Political Hegemony?"