Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Labour, New Britain?

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British Government Assessed Essay.

New Labour, New Britain?

In 17 eighteen years of Conservative government was finally ended by the Labour party’s election victory. The new Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had swept to power with an unprecedented majority for a Labour government and was hailed by the British public as some sort of new political messiah. During the eighteen years of Tory rule, the British public had become very disillusioned with the state of the country. People were looking to Tony Blair and his party, dubbed New Labour, to do great things.

It is said that ‘politics does not operate in a vacuum’. Every political party is defined by its ideology, its core beliefs. In other words, what it stands for. For this reason voters normally associate themselves with one particular party. For example, middle and upper class members of the general public living in Chelsea would be per cent Tory voters; whereas working class miners living in a valley in North Wales would be 100 per cent Labour supporters! After major difficulties in the 180’s and after failing to win power again in the 1 election, Labour had to rethink their ideologies. They came up with a new ideology which has been called ‘The Third Way’ by Anthony Downs in his book of the same title.

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Many disillusioned members of the public however, do not believe that Tony Blair has any ideology at all and is simply reacting to public opinion and voters. New Labour has certainly used all of the marketing and spin doctoring techniques available in order to manage public opinion. The idea of permanent campaigning, or fighting an election every day, is very apparent in New Labour’s manipulation of the media. But how does this sort of permanent campaigning affect party ideology? Some critics will argue that permanent campaigning leads to ‘shaky core beliefs’ as parties are constantly being swayed by public opinion. However, it was through reform of their ideologies that New Labour managed to win power in the 17 election. By listening to what the voters actually wanted and acting upon what they heard New Labour managed to convince a ‘majority’ that they were the right party for government. Anthony Downs believes that voters are rational thinkers who have rational politics. Therefore voters will vote for the party that best meets their needs. By listening to the general public and changing their ideology accordingly, New Labour acted in a Downsian way and as a result won the general election of 17!

Labour has the responsibilities of government, as Prime Minister Blair keeps emphasising. New Labour’s major policy might indeed be defined as replacing the Conservatives as the natural party of government. To this end they have tried to conciliate big business � above all multinational firms and financial interests, although at the expense of some sectors of the manufacturing industry. In practical terms this has meant balances budgets and high interest rates to reflect inflation � guaranteed by giving the Bank of England the power to determine them autonomously. Higher regional unemployment has to be tolerated in pursuit of these aims, which are seen as promoting employment in the long run by attracting investment. Unions and traditional manufacturing industry that want immediate expansion are kept at a distance from policy making.

Also promoting an atmosphere of internal stability are strong support for law and order and the war against drugs, combined with restrictions on individual liberties and on access to information that might hinder authoritative government. The support given by Britain to the US-led NATO and its policies in the Persian Gulf (18) and the Balkans (1) could also be seen as part of an overall strategy of reassuring international (mainly US) capital. Now the question is whether Britain will form part of an ‘international alliance’ to combat ‘terrorism’ on the ‘axis of evil’ as defined by President Bush. The answer to that question is probably a resounding ‘yes’.

All these policies ad up to a fairly Thatcherite, neo-liberal stance on which New Labour hardly differs from the present day Conservative Party. Those that say that Blair and his associates have gone over totally to Thatcherite policies have misread the political situation. There is no point in the Labour government selling out all along the line since that would provide the electors with no motive for preferring Labour to the Conservatives. Indeed, voters might well reason that a Conservative government is better at administering purely Conservative policies than a Labour � possibly even a New Labour one. The differences over the British role in the EU could be seen in this way. As most international business is seriously concerned about of the effects of British exclusion from further European integration, Labour pragmatism may have a better chance of electoral success than the current Conservative pessimism. The issue of Europe is so important that it has currently defined a completely new area in British politics.

As well as maintaining the ideological commitments that keep the old Labour happy, it also makes sense for the government to appeal to core Labour voters in terms of traditional goals to which they are clearly attached � goals such as welfare and redistribution. The employment schemes implemented after New Labour’s election victory are a testament to this. New Labour’s motto is ‘work for those who can � welfare for those who can’t’ or a ‘hand up not hand out’ policy. Welfare to work schemes have been introduced in place of benefit rises. For example, the New Deal offers specialised training, intensive personal help and a subsidised job with the aim of getting 50, 000 people back to into work. These schemes were financed by a levy on public utilities. The New Deal exceeded its target of employment by 50, 000 but critics have said that the £4000 spent per job was a waste of money as improvement of the economy meant that these people would have found jobs anyway. New Labour also introduced family credits for the less well off, the costs of which were covered by buoyancy schemes and tax revenues. Stealth taxes service charges have also crept up under New Labour, whereas the Conservatives were committed to cutting them. The Labour and Conservative policies regarding the National Health Service hardly seem to differ, but Labour has spent billions of pounds on it.

Both the Conservative and the New Labour policies seem to similar when it comes to the issue of regulating ‘natural state monopolies’ such as gas, electricity, rail and water transport. New Labour only seems to be disposed to regulate them more vigorously. New Labour also seems to be more concerned about the environment and this seems to be due to a response to popular feeling on the subject.

The intervention of New Labour is even more apparent in education. Concerns about the system have resulted in harsh inspection and centralisation of the curriculum. This certainly builds on previous Conservative policies, although it reflects New Labour concerns to improve the state schools. When Blair first came to power, one of his catchy slogans was ‘education, education, education’. The government of New Labour also seems to be more concerned with the rights of minorities, for example, ethnic and gay minorities. About two years ago, Blair came under severe criticism for his plans to ‘introduce the concept of homosexuality’ into schools by insisting some school plays depict roles traditionally played by two members of the opposite sex, with two members of the same sex, e.g. Mary and Joseph becomes Joseph and John. The European Bill of Human Rights has also become a part of British Law and this, in theory, also makes it more difficult to discriminate against someone because of their minority status.

Devolution has been an area where New Labour has led quite radically, compared to previous administrations. The Conservatives have had to accept it even in the case of London. But, neither party really wants to ‘chop up’ England any further, and both want firm controls over local government.

When it comes to constitutional questions and ‘the machinery of government’ in general both of the major parties seem to be in a separate category from the Liberal Democrats who are in favour of ‘subsidiarity’ and decentralisation. Apart from minor differences in the House of Lord’s they want to retain real power in the House of Commons, so effectively maintaining the ‘elective dictatorship’ that gives parties huge amounts of power in relation to the proportion of their share of the votes. The modernisation of the House of Lords is a question under current debate. There are two main options available in modernising the Lords. The first is to create an upper chamber which is subservient to the government, sustaining the British tradition of a dominant executive. A House of Lords wholly nominated by the Prime Minister would be an extreme example of this. Opponents argue that this would perpetuate the undemocratic imbalance of power in British politics, which makes government an ‘elective dictatorship.’ The second option would be to create a second chamber similar to those in other western democracies a directly elected, independent body, designed to check and scrutinise the power of government, with no overlapping judicial or legislative function. Tony Blair is among those who believe that this would undermine the Commons and introduce a gridlock into politics, threatening the speed and efficiency with which the government can act. The House of Lords Act implement by New Labour in 1 removed all but hereditary peers. A further 10 were immediately granted life peerages by the Prime Minister, allowing them to stay on in the Lords. New Labour, under Tony Blair, were initially seeking the removal of all hereditary peers, but they were forced to compromise before the Lords would approve the legislation. The new house first assembled for the Queen’s speech in 1. The hereditary peers who remained were all elected by their peers. They had to submit 75-word manifestos in support of their retention.

The government has proposed further reform of the House of Lords. However, it has not decided which direction these reforms will follow. By other countries standards, the British House of Lords remains very undemocratic. A royal commission chaired by Lord Wakeham, was established in 1 to consider and make recommendations on the role and function of the second chamber. It was supposed to report by the end the year 1, but disagreements among the academics and politicians who comprised the main body of the commission have delayed publication of the report until just recently.

New Labour has not done much to reform the Civil Service, in spite of the New Labour governments policy of intervention. New Labour policy regarding ‘open government’ and freedom of information seems to be the same as that of the previous Conservative governments. On the other hand, Tony Blair’s attempts to create a ‘joined up’ government by removing traditional departmental boundaries are for the most part unsuccessful. Many critics will argue that underneath everything, it is the old Whitehall system that continues to function as much as it has always done.


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