Tony Blair is a right wing player



Great Britain - a model for success? : The modernization under Thatcher and New Labor / Hans Kastendiek. - [Electronic ed.]. - Bonn, 1999. - 24 pp. = 80 Kb, text. - (FES analysis)
Electronic ed .: Bonn: FES Library, 2000

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation







  • Great Britain has long been considered a country reluctant to give up traditional behavior and structures. With the Thatcherism and New Labor the picture has changed. Great Britain is being discussed as a model for a successful modernization policy.
  • This model emerged as a reaction to specific problem constellations in economic and social policy. It could only be implemented through a massive change in the socio-political balance of power, and its balance sheet shows great social costs.
  • Great Britain experienced a dramatic loss of economic position after World War II. In the 1950s it still had the strongest economic power in Europe, but then fell behind more and more internationally.
  • The "post-war consensus" was the result of a relatively balanced balance of power between the parties and the trade unions and employers. The Thatcherism explicitly renounced this consensus, although his model of a "social democracy" had previously also been supported by the conservatives. The trade unions lost, not through their own fault, all influence in economic and social policy and were almost marginalized. The Labor Party remained without access to the controls of political power for eighteen years.
  • The modernization was carried out on the backs of large parts of the population. Tax policy favored higher incomes. Conservative politics favored a "de-tariffing" of industrial relations and the increase of "union-free" companies. Social benefits per recipient fell and the proportion of the population made up of the poor rose from 7 percent to 21 percent between 1979 and 1992. Great Britain thus followed the American rather than a European model of capitalism.
  • The long-standing dominance of the Conservatives has Labor even before Tony Blair was elected party chairman, they were already motivated to accept many of the developments they pushed through. It therefore remains to be seen whether New Labor actually finds its own "third way" between market and state, individual and society, freedom and equality. Since the party has so far stuck to the central structural decisions of the Conservatives, there is much to suggest that the "Great Britain model" will continue to differ from European models in the future.



Model Great Britain?

Great Britain has always attracted a great deal of attention from the German political public. The interest was by no means limited to spectacular daily events. It was expressed above all when the possible development directions of German politics were discussed. After 1945, the hope of large sections of the SPD and the trade unions turned to the economic and social policy of the Labor government and the possibility of a "third path" between capitalism and state socialism. In the 1950s and 1960s, when it was not yet certain whether West German democracy would become permanent, Great Britain was seen as a prime example of the stability and efficiency of a parliamentary democracy. In the seventies, when the British model had lost its attractiveness due to the "English disease", that is, due to weak economic growth, conflicting industrial relations and party political polarization, the Social Democrats relied on the "Germany model". As its characteristics, the economic export strength, the social partnership working relationships and a stable political order were emphasized. A few years later that stayed Thatcherism not without influence on the politics of the "Bonn Wende" and the German political public. At that time, however, its sociopolitical goals and effects were only suitable to a limited extent as role models.

Also the current German discussion about New Labor and a "third way" between the state and the market is not explained solely by the general interest in British development. Already the election victory of the Labor Party of May 1, 1997, political commentators had asked whether it could be understood as a signal for a change of direction in German politics. Was there not much to suggest that after sixteen years Helmut Kohl would suffer the same fate as the British Conservatives after their eighteen years in office? And then, after the federal elections in autumn 1998, didn't there much speak for a similar new optimistic mood as was observed in Great Britain after the long phase of conservative dominance?

Although the media coverage often ties in with Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder, the discussions go on New Labor and the new middle far beyond personalization. According to a widespread opinion, Germany is facing challenges which Great Britain has accepted more, more comprehensively and more decisively. Tony Blair and New Labor had the German Social Democrats a few steps ahead of the "Third Way" not least because many of the economic and socio-political reforms that were still pending in Germany had already been tackled in Great Britain by the previous conservative governments. What is remarkable is how the earlier often rather skeptical assessment of the Thatcherism has given way to a rather positive assessment. In the German perception, Great Britain also appears to be a model for success because the Blair government advocates a concept of modernization which, in many respects, ties in with the policies of the previous governments. In this situation it is advisable to examine the conditions in which this policy program was created. However, a short-term analysis is prohibited. The change of Labor Party can be done without the experience of Thatcherism do not understand, and since this was explicitly established as a counter-model to the British post-war development, the analysis must go even further in terms of time.



The "Post War Consensus" of British Social Policy

Up until the 1970s, Great Britain was regarded as a prime example of a country characterized by great continuity. Unlike z. B. Germany, France and Italy, profound system breaks avoided. Many of its basic social and political structures survived not only the First World War, but also the major crises of the interwar period and the Second World War. This was by no means seen as solidification and incrustation. British and foreign commentators have long agreed that the country had succeeded in adapting its traditional forms of political and social organization to new conditions. This was attributed not least to the ability of the "political class" to accept changes in the social and political balance of power. This in turn may explain why the unions and the Labor Party despite their occasionally radical rhetoric, they have long given preference to a reformist orientation.

The post-war arrangement of British social policy is certainly the outstanding example of this constellation. The Postwar Consensus was the result of the domestic political situation during the Second World War and the subsequent development of the social and political balance of power. Its foundations were laid by the war coalition (1940-1945). It wasn't just the bipartisan composition (Conservatives, Labor Party and Liberals)remarkable, but also the involvement of representatives from employers and trade unions and the involvement of academic experts. The cooperation of all "national forces" initially concentrated on warding off external danger. Domestic political planning for the post-war period was added as early as 1942. It was not just about the upcoming conversion from a war economy to a peace economy, but rather a comprehensive planning of the future economic and social order. The decisive factor for this was initially the then still very present experience of the social and political upheavals in Europe immediately after the end of the First World War. Equally important, however, was the question of how to avoid the economic and social hardship that had so deeply shaped the interwar period in the future. In the planning for the post-war period, the crisis experiences described were linked with the overall positive experiences of the state-controlled war economy and the cooperation of all important social groups. The result was a Framework consensus on "social democracy" with the following main features:

  • the commitment to active state responsibility for managing economic and social development on the basis of a full employment policy;
  • creating one mixed economy with a coexistence of private and state company forms, which should give the governments a direct influence on some core sectors of the economy and thus on the overall economic development;
  • the development of a welfare state that should be far more than a social repair company and implement welfare policy as a uniform context, in particular of employment, social, health, housing and education policy;
  • the recognition of the trade unions' economic and social participation rights.

As the Labor Party When the government took over in 1945, "the new consensus fell like a sprig of ripe plums into its lap" (Paul Addison). During the election campaign, she had been the most decisive in favor of the previously agreed basic features of post-war policy and made a name for herself as a party of the welfare state and the mixed economy. At the same time, however, it was confronted with great difficulties in economic policy. The war had completely overwhelmed the efficiency of the British economy. Even after 1945, the country was only able to secure its international solvency with the help of American loans. In addition, with its traditionally very close global economic ties, it suffered from the collapse of world trade. The resulting supply bottlenecks repeatedly stood in the way of an economic recovery. The economic planning components of the post-war consensus thus served more to manage a shortage economy than to develop a state-moderated economic system. In this situation she was LaborGovernment unable to stand up to pressure to re-liberalize economic policies. On the one hand, it was exercised by the United States. They had already tied the 1945 loan and then the Marshall Plan offer to corresponding conditions. On the other hand, the principles of a liberal economic policy also corresponded to the interests of British trade and finance capital. It pushed for the dismantling of foreign trade and monetary policy regulations so that the pound sterling could resume its former role as an international trading and reserve currency.

The re-liberalization of economic policy also had for that mixed economy and the role of the trade unions have decisive consequences. Although there were with the nationalized industries several "command heights of the economy" in public hands, their instrumentalizability for the state policy remained very limited, because after the arm's length approach were organized and were only subject to limited government control. Your managers saw themselves more as part of the business community, because as part of the state apparatus. The second important consequence was that after the change in economic policy, the trade unions and employers to free collective bargaining returned. This reestablished a form of working relationship in which not only the collective bargaining agreements (collective bargaining autonomy), but also the regulations of the industrial relations negotiated statelessly (in contrast to the "legalized system" of German industrial relations, the British system was therefore called a "voluntaristic" one). With this step, the trade unions reacted in particular to the experiences with the austerity policy since 1947, which had shown them the consequences of being closely integrated into state economic policy.

However, the post-war consensus was by no means abandoned in the course of these developments, but rather rewritten with a clear shift in emphasis. With the compromise on the principle of state economic control and thus on the collectivist political approach, a new compromise structure had emerged: Welfare state and mixed economy plus liberalized Economic policy and free collective bargaining. It was acceptable for both "main camps" of British politics (conservatives / entrepreneurs and Labor / trade unions) because it reflected both the basic socio-political mood of the war and the immediate post-war years and the economic policy problem constellation. The compromise structure also makes it clear that neither the Labor Party and the trade unions, the conservatives and the employers were able to unilaterally enforce their goals against the other "camp". The Labor Party saw himself to be considerate of the entrepreneurs and especially of the traditionally very influential finance capital (City of London) forced. Conversely, when the Conservatives came into power again from 1951 to 1964, they had to accept that the trade unions had established themselves as a recognized "social party" and thus as potential opponents of their policies.

This basic pattern of British social policy applies to the entire period from 1945 to 1979. At the level of party politics, this can be seen from the fact that the majority relationships between the Labor Party and the Conservatives have barely moved in thirty years (apart from the exceptional election of 1945). In the nine elections from 1950 to 1974, both parties achieved an average share of the vote of 44 percent each. Only in the election victories of the Conservatives in 1959 and the Labor Party from 1966 their share of the vote was more than 3.5 percentage points apart. The relative balance of power between the two parties is also evident from the fact that they each held government for seventeen years between 1945 and 1979.

There is therefore much to be said for interpreting the post-war consensus, which lasted until the 1970s, as an expression of a specific social and political constellation of forces. At the same time, it explains why the post-war arrangement with its outlined changes was neither clearly socialist nor clearly conservative.



Relative economic decline and socio-political polarization

The post-war consensus, which was rewritten in the second half of the 1940s, was able to consolidate in the 1950s because, from the point of view of all the main actors, it offered a promising orientation for action. The liberalization of economic policy enabled Britain to benefit from the initial spark of the Marshall Plan (the country was one of its main beneficiaries!) And then from the revival of world trade in the wake of the Korean boom. With the economic upswing, doubts as to whether the full employment policy could be implemented and the welfare state financed also disappeared. After all, Great Britain, despite its war strains and post-war problems, still had the strongest economic power in Europe. This also seemed to guarantee that it would be able to continue its economic, political and military role in the world. The insight grew to have to give up the remains of the former colonial empire. But with the pound as the key currency of the Sterling-Blocks the possibility emerged of being able to use the financial and currency political ties to the former or soon to be independent colonial areas to secure these traditionally "protected" export and import markets. Overall, the prevailing view was that the international role of the pound as a trading and reserve currency would be beneficial for British trade relations and thus for all sectors of the economy.

But even during the economic boom of the 1950s it became clear that British economic policy was faced with a permanent dilemma. After the dismantling of economic controls, it had committed itself to a Keynesian-inspired economic control and tried to steer economic development with the means of tax, interest and spending policy.However, the governments were faced with the problem that in every phase of growth imports rose faster than exports - an expression of the weak international competition of British industry. This worsened the balance of payments and payments, which in turn jeopardized the exchange rate. Its stability, however, was the prerequisite for the sterling's role as an international trading and reserve currency. As a result, the government put the brakes on the economy. The "stop" followed a "go", as soon as there was a risk of a recession, and then again "stop" in the next upswing. It is obvious how little these cyclical change baths could be reconciled with a policy of steady economic growth. As a result, the economic policy debate at the end of the 1950s was determined by the question of how governments did this "stop / go" -Circles could evade.

This question was linked to a second main problem: the increasingly obvious loss of international position of the British economy. It could already be read in the 1950s from all relevant indicators of economic development (investment rates, productivity, shares in world exports, etc.). The British economy was indeed on an expansion course. But measured against the significantly higher growth rates of its competitors, it was in one relative Decline. The overall economic performance of the Federal Republic has surpassed that of Great Britain by a steadily larger margin since 1955. France overtook Great Britain in the second half of the 1960s, and Italy was also catching up more and more. This picture is confirmed by the per capita development of the national product. The annual average increase in Great Britain from 1950 to 1979 was 2.25 percent and was thus significantly below the results of the Federal Republic (4.75 percent), Italy (4.4 percent) and France (4.0 percent).

These comparative figures mark a long-term trend. It was already apparent in the 1950s, at a time when a affluent society, an "affluent and affluent society" was proclaimed. It was thus recognizable long before British and foreign observers diagnosed the "English disease". The term achieved its almost proverbial meaning only with the attempts of the sixties and seventies to solve the problem of economic weak growth. They were characterized by permanent and permanently unsuccessful economic and political crisis management by governments of whatever color. This in turn gradually led to a socio-political polarization in which the post-war consensus was ultimately to fall by the wayside.

The conservative Macmillan government attempted to resolve the crisis when it did so in the early 1960s National Council for Economic Development called. In it, government, business owners and unions should work together with the task, the growth problems and that "stop / go" -Overcome dilemma in economic policy. This marked the beginning of a new planning experiment aimed at modernizing the British economy. The "modernization race" of the two big parties should be the Labor Party win in the 1964 general election. After the "thirteen wasted years" She promised a comprehensive policy of reform and economic planning with the aim of achieving a conservative reign in Great Britain "white heat of technological revolution" to kindle. The two National Plan (1964-1966 and 1965-1970) were criticized as overstretching the post-war consensus, but even when they were proclaimed they were little more than paperwork. Not only because the plan dates were obviously unrealistic (so the second promised National Plan economic growth of 25 percent within five years!), but also because the possible control instruments were inadequate or were used. The government initially succeeded in securing the planning data through agreements on wages and prices with the unions and the employers. The targets for the development of exports and imports could only have been achieved with a devaluation of the pound sterling, especially since the exchange rate was already excessive. With consideration for the City of London and entirely within the framework of the rewritten post-war consensus, however, the government ruled out this option. Instead, it tried to tackle the trade balance and currency crisis one more time with an economic policy "stop" to meet. At the same time, she took out a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was linked to conditions for a restrictive policy. So the government had once again postponed the growth target. Nevertheless, after having centered its economic policy on securing the exchange rate for three years, it finally had to accept a devaluation of the pound by 14.3 percent (!) In 1967.

The unsuccessful crisis management had made it clear how narrow the boundaries really were, which were drawn to economic policy as a result of the loss of international position of the British economy. Since the governments were given the conditions for action in terms of foreign trade and monetary policy, they subsequently tried to expand their room for maneuver at the national level by making income policy the central starting point of their economic policy. This paved the way for a development that was marked by violent disputes between governments and trade unions.

In the discussion of the 1960s it was undisputed that the revitalization and modernization of the economy would ultimately depend on a reform of industrial relations. The trade unions did not ignore this insight either. They took an active part in an independent commission of inquiry which, from 1965 to 1968, dealt very thoroughly with the role of trade unions and employers' organizations. The Commission found that the traditional British principle of voluntarism had produced an extremely large differentiation and fragmentation of industrial relations. The forms and results of negotiations differed depending on the economic conditions of the individual sectors, depending on the regional and local circumstances and, in particular, depending on the balance of power in the companies. At the company level, unions had and Management consolidates behavior patterns with which both sides only too often blocked each other. Overall that was missing system of industrial relations all the prerequisites for a calculable wage development, especially since the fragmented and decentralized structures of the negotiation system are found in the entire organizational structure of the unions and Business associations reflected. This also meant that the prerequisites for a state income policy were lacking, which, in the opinion of the Commission, was indispensable.

With its reform proposals, however, it remained largely on the line of the post-war consensus. She accepted the relative balance of power between the "two parties of industry" and viewed the relatively high number of labor disputes as a functional component of a non-legal system of labor relations, in which the balance of power is constantly re-explored. As a result, the Commission avoided recommendations that might have shifted this balance of power in favor of either side. Instead, their reform proposals aimed to formalize and develop relations between trade unions and employers or between workforces and management. The commission issued an urgent warning against state interference in the system of industrial relations that has evolved over time. It has to develop on its own - that is, with the means of free collective bargaining.

Already the LaborThe Harold Wilson administration, which commissioned the report, failed to act on the recommendations. After the unions had pulled out of the voluntarily agreed income policy because they did not want to be committed to the priority of monetary policy, the government first enacted a legally binding income policy and finally even a wage freeze. When these measures did not work, it presented a plan in 1969 to regulate industrial relations by law. The unions registered with bitterness how one-sidedly they would be affected by many of the proposals. So, of all things, push one LaborGovernment the Trade Unions responsibility for the conflictual nature of industrial relations and, moreover, for the country's economic problems. The displeasure of the trade unions and large parts of the lower house faction was so great that the government had to withdraw the plans very quickly. However, they were by no means without consequences because they promoted precisely the politicization of industrial relations against which the Commission had so urgently warned.

This became apparent just a few months later after the Labor Party had lost the 1970 general election. In the Conservative Party, after the electoral defeats of 1964 and 1966, those forces gained influence which, from the failure of the Macmillan and Wilson governments' crisis policy, concluded that the liberal components of the post-war arrangement were to be strengthened and the market principle was given new weight . The Heath government (1970-1974) began with a strict rejection of any income policy that would drag the government into the collective bargaining disputes. But this in no way meant a return to the free collective bargaining. On the contrary: with the Industrial Relations Act From 1971 the government attempted a comprehensive legal reorganization of labor relations. It contained some of the provisions of the previous one LaborPlans (e.g. strike votes and "cooling off periods" before strikes), however, went considerably further. So were z. B. repealed legal provisions which largely precluded criminal prosecution and civil liability of trade unions in the event of strikes and other forms of action; Collective agreements should in future be binding and enforceable; so-called closed shops (Agreements between trade unions and employers on the exclusive employment of trade union members) have been made more difficult, etc. As with LaborSome of the measures may be a matter of course from a German perspective. In the British bargaining system, however, they were clearly at the expense of the unions. However, the law remained largely ineffective because it was simply ignored by the unions and the employers were unwilling to use it for their own purposes. In the face of rising inflation rates during the oil price crisis of 1972 and after a successful miners' strike, the government was forced to offer the unions negotiations on an income policy. But since they mistrusted the sudden change of course and refused to cooperate, the only option left to the government was to set benchmarks for wage developments on its own initiative. The resulting conflicts intensified again when there was another major miners' strike in 1974 and at the same time OPEC cut back oil deliveries. After the government had not succeeded either with its abandonment of the consensus policy or with its return to the policy of cooperation, it announced early general elections. It is now up to the voters to decide on the conflict between the government and the trade unions.

In the February 1974 election, however, they were not quite conclusive as to which of the two most recently unsuccessful governing parties would be preferred. Both suffered severe losses. Their joint share of the vote fell from around 90 percent to around 75 percent. The Conservatives had a small lead, but the mechanisms of British electoral law ensured that the Labor Party came to 301 seats and left the Conservatives behind with 297 seats. However, this also meant that the country was ruled by a minority government for the first time after the Second World War and only a few months later it was called to the polls again. (In the UK, general election must take place at least every 5 years; the Prime Minister however, has the right to call for new elections at any time. Previously there had only been two elections within less than twelve months in the crisis years 1910 and 1923/24!). After the new ballot in October 1974, however, there was only a very narrow majority for Labor. That it came about at all is likely to be explained by the "solidarity" that the Labor Party and the unions had demonstrated between the two rounds of voting.

The one they agreed upon during the Heath administration social contract provided for close mutual cooperation. The unions committed themselves to a restrained wage policy; in return she promised them the Labor Party a say in social and economic policy. For the Conservatives, the actual inclusion of the social contract in the government program a surrender to the trade unions. On the other hand, the Trade Unions kept their income policy commitments and the number of strikes, which had reached record levels in 1972 and 1974, fell rapidly. From 1976, however, the politics of social contract in the problems of British economic policy that have already been described several times. Another currency crisis forced the government to issue a new loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was again linked to conditions for a restrictive financial and social policy. The union leaderships were less and less able to enforce wage policy restraint against their own base. In 1978/79 the pent-up resentment in the workforce and in many individual trade unions resulted in a sharp rise in labor disputes. In the "winter of discontent" all strike records of the post-war period were set. The final proof now seemed to have been provided that the previous basic arrangement of British social policy offered no room for a successful policy of crisis resolution.



The alternative of Thatcherism

The Thatcherist crisis declaration contained all the guiding principles of neoliberal-conservative political programs: the criticism of the nationalization of society, the thesis of the gagging of market forces through state intervention and the power of the large collective organizations (especially the trade unions) as well as the criticism of a welfare state control of the Individuals. In Great Britain, however, this interpretation was particularly effective. In view of the loss of international position of the British economy and the permanently unsuccessful crisis management, the state overload seemed almost palpable here. Even since the "winter of discontent" at the latest, there seemed to be hardly any need for further justifications for the thesis of excessive power of the trade unions.

In contrast to the politicians of the "Bonn Wende" a few years later, who stood up to remove the "inherited burdens" of the social-democratic components of social-liberal government policy from the 1970s, Thatcherism thematized the overall course of British post-war development and thus the overall arrangement of the previous economic and social politics. In doing so, he criticized not only the politics of the Labor governments, but also of his own party. All Governments have committed themselves to a policy of state intervention in economic and social processes over and above the interests of the economy. The model of "social democracy" must finally be recognized as a wrong path and given up. Only a development model that consistently frees the economy from state regulations, the individuals from the guardianship of the welfare state, and the employers from the counter-power of the trade unions, would open up the possibility for Great Britain to regain connection with technological and economic development. One of the prerequisites for this is a comprehensive liberalization policy that allows the economy to assert itself under the conditions of international competition. But it is even more important to lead social policy out of the blockages of the post-war consensus.

After his self-expression, Thatcherism followed a clear line. His policy was divided into three main phases, which corresponded to Mrs. Thatcher's terms of office:

  • From 1979 to 1983 it was initially a matter of breaking the power of the trade unions ("curbing the power of the trade union barons"), because this is the only way to enforce the new economic policy course.
  • From 1983 to 1987 the government was able to concentrate on restructuring and revitalizing the economy ("getting the economy right").
  • The third term of office of Mrs. Thatcher from 1987 should use the new mandate of the voters for a renewal of the society going beyond the immediate area of ​​the economy ("a program of radical reform").

However, the image of a self-contained program and a stringent sequence of political steps does not stand up to scrutiny. Thatcherism was by no means a monolithic project, but a thoroughly flexible political program. The tacit revision of the instruments of a monetarist economic policy was an example of how Thatcherism could quite well part with concepts which it counted among its "basic convictions". Conversely, the prominence of privatization policy since around 1982 was an example of how new "basic convictions" could suddenly emerge. The topic was hardly mentioned in the election manifesto for 1979 and was therefore not perceived as a central concern of conservative politics. The privatization policy, often referred to as the "flagship of Thatcherism", only developed into a privatizationprogram, after the first privatizations went more smoothly than expected.

So there is much to be said for not understanding the "logic" of Thatcherism in the sense of a targeted implementation of a clearly defined model for a new economic, social and political order. Rather, this "logic" seemed to lie in the attempt to break the blockages and circular situations of economic, social and political development from 1945 to 1979:

  • With the explicit termination of the post-war compromise, the possibility arose of unilaterally dissolving the tension between the consensus model of "social democracy" and a liberal economic policy in favor of the latter.
  • Although all previous governments had to serve the interests of internationally oriented British finance capital, they had tried again and again to do justice to the conditions of industrial capital - and consequently found themselves regularly in a contradicting political constellation. Thatcherism, on the other hand, already convinced of the trend towards a post-industrial society, unconditionally exposed British industry to international competition, even at the cost of the decline of entire industrial sectors.
  • Thatcherism left no doubt in the first place that it wanted to eradicate the relative balance of power between employers and unions, or management and company union, in favor of employers so that they could push through the renewal of the British economy against the workforce and their unions.

The trade unions in particular have experienced the decidedly power-political orientation with which Thatcherism reacted to the economic-political problem constellations and the socio-political balance of power in the British post-war development. In this respect, it can be understood more as an attempt to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of a comprehensive and far-reaching economic and social restructuring and a socio-political reorientation. However, this should not obscure the overall pragmatic and cautious approach of Thatcherist politics. The prime example of this is again the policy towards the unions. Unlike her predecessor Edward Heath, who with the Industrial Relations Act From 1971 sought a major reform of the industrial relations system, Mrs. Thatcher chose one step by step approach. With a chain of trade union and labor laws (1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990 - to name the most important ones) on the one hand, and in a series of disputes with various individual trade unions on the other, she succeeded in identifying the unions largely as a power factor in British society turn off.

After Thatcherism's declaration of the crisis, "solving the trade union problem was the key to the recovery of the British economy" (Keith Joseph). Accordingly, the economic development since 1979 should have been a true success story. Contrary to a widespread perception in Germany, the economic policy balance of the conservative governments from 1979 to 1996 was, however, "mixed". On the positive side, Britain appears to have succeeded in halting the long-term trend of relative economic decline. The gross domestic product (GDP) grew, in Great Britain between 1979 and 1990 by approx. 27 and in the Federal Republic by approx. 26 percent. For the period 1991 to 1997, the data, which, however, are only partially comparable due to German unification and the development in East Germany, are 9 and 15 percent respectively. Productivity (GDP per person employed) also increased in the two countries between 1979 and 1990 at roughly the same rate (by around 18 percent). In Great Britain, however, this was not so much the result of the establishment of new, more efficient companies, but of the abandonment of unprofitable businesses. Between 1991 and 1996 - conversely - the higher productivity gains in Germany (13.4 percent compared to 9.1 percent in Great Britain) are at least partly due to deindustrialization in the new federal states. Despite all the success reports in recent years, the British labor market data are by no means as positive as is often assumed in this country. The EU standardized Unemployment rates for the periods 1983-87, 1988-92 and 1993-97 averaged 11.2 / 8.4 / 8.8 percent in Great Britain and 6.8 / 5.1 / 8.7 percent in the Federal Republic. In a similar way, the British success reports "evaporate" when the development of the investment ratios is considered: From 1980 to 1996 their annual average value in the former Federal Republic of Germany was approx. 8.2 and in Great Britain approx. 7.6 percent. It was only from 1994 to 1996 that the British figures slightly exceeded the German figures. The indicators of inflation developments and the trade and current accounts do not reveal why Great Britain should offer itself to Margaret Thatcher and John Majors as a particularly successful model of economic development. Eighteen years of conservative government have not changed the fact that the low-wage country Great Britain occupies only a middle position in the prosperity scale of the Western European countries. (The German gross domestic product in 1995 was more than twice as high as the British; calculated per capita it was more than half higher. The frequent reference to the lower British labor costs, which in 1997 were only 77.6 percent of West Germans, is devalued in the truest sense of the word as soon as we compare macroeconomic labor productivity. In the same year in Great Britain it was 71.6 percent of the result in the former federal territory!).

The current account of conservative governments becomes even more precarious when it is supplemented by the social and socio-political costs of their policies. According to Will Hutton's interpretation, a society has emerged that can be described by the formula 40:30:30. Only about 40 percent of the working-age population have a secure full-time job as employees or self-employed with sufficient income. Thirty percent have insecure jobs or have to be content with part-time or casual work, and the remaining 30 percent are either unemployed or have to work at wages so low that they become the working poor belonged. This development was a consequence of the deep structural breaks. However, it was also favored by the conservative tax, labor market and social policy:

  • In tax policy, people with higher and very high incomes were given preference. The best-known example of the shifting of the tax burden to those on lower incomes was the poll tax, but the less spectacular increases in indirect taxes and social security contributions certainly had more of an impact.
  • With the "deregulation" and "flexibilization" of the labor market, the erosion of the "normal" employment relationship was initiated earlier and more thoroughly than in other European countries. It is to be seen in close connection with the trade union policy of the conservative governments. The decline in the level of union membership from 54 percent in 1979 to 32 percent in 1995, the "removal of tariffs" for employment relationships (from 1980 to 1995 the proportion of employees covered by collective agreements fell from 70 to 47 percent!) as well as the increase in the number of "union-free companies" (from 1984 to 1990 from 27 to 36 percent alone) made the "self-responsible individual" increasingly dependent on themselves in their working life as well. The wage or even job insecurity was caused by the increasingly unrestricted right of entrepreneurship right to manage as well as a rigid dismantling of protection against dismissal. The growing wage inequality was entirely compatible with this, whereby the limit was lowered in 1986 by the restriction of tasks and in 1993 by the dissolution of the wages councils was repealed (they had fixed minimum wages for certain areas of employment, in which there was often no union interest representation).
  • In social policy, there was nothing to be feared rolling back of the welfare state. At least the conservatives were able to counter their critics that the volume of state welfare expenditure actually increased in absolute numbers between 1979 and 1990 and hardly changed in relation to the gross domestic product (and even increased from 1992 to 1996). But it can be countered that the number of those in need of benefits had risen significantly in the 1980s, not only because of increased life expectancy, but above all as a result of high unemployment. The services may have remained the same overall, but they fell significantly per recipient.
  • The results of these developments come most clearly in the Income and poverty statistics to expression. While the sum of all incomes, adjusted for inflation, rose by 40 percent between 1979 and 1995, that of the lowest income fifth remained roughly at the level of 1979. The proportion of the population who had to be content with less than half of the average income and was thus below the poverty line , tripled between 1979 and 1991/92 from about seven to about 21 percent.

The modernization program initiated by Margaret Thatcher was carried out on the backs of large sections of the population. Even if Hutton's formula 40: 30: 30 turned out to be too catchy, there should be little doubt that the socio-political constellation that has emerged in Great Britain since the late 1970s refers to a type of capitalist development which follows the US rather than a European model. The decline of the British trade unions and the new level of social inequality should not only be seen as the "costs" of a crisis resolution model, but rather as features of a specific model of society.



The transformation of the Labor Party

The Labor Party could do little to counter this development, because the electoral successes of the Conservatives in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992 made it eighteen years in the wilderness was banished. In contrast to the federal system of the Federal Republic, in which the opposition parties in some federal states and occasionally even with a majority in the Federal Council remain at the levers of power, in Great Britain they hardly have any possibilities of political shaping. The only thing left for you to do is to distinguish yourself as the potential next ruling party. The problem of Labor Party was that it failed to do just that from 1979 until the 1992 general election. The formation of New Labor cannot be understood without this background of experience.

The party's change had begun long before Tony Blair was elected party chairman and thus opposition leader in 1994. His predecessors, Neil Kinnock and John Smith, had already committed themselves to a comprehensive reform of the party. Their starting point was the election disaster of 1983. It had the Labor Party brought only 27.6 percent of the vote, almost 10 percentage points less than 1979. This was the worst election result since 1918! It was by no means the result of a sweeping election victory for Mrs. Thatcher - the Conservatives had even lost 1.5 percentage points compared to 1979 and came to 42.4 percent. This was enough for a comfortable parliamentary majority, but the real winner was the Liberal and the electoral alliance Social Democratic Party, which changed in 1981 from Labor had split off. With a share of the vote of 25.2 percent, she had Alliance the Labor party was almost relegated to third place (but only for the votes; it is due to the peculiarities of British electoral law that the Labor Party 209 lower house mandates received and the Alliance despite roughly the same percentage of votes, it only got 23 seats). Obviously had Labor lost voter confidence. The only controversial issue was the extent to which this was an after-effect of the government balance sheet from 1974 to 1979, and in particular of the Winter of Discontent was or a reaction to the internal disputes since 1979 (separation of the Social Democrats and the resulting shift to the left in the Labor Party). What both interpretations had in common, however, was that they put the question of how the image of the party could be changed on the agenda.

Initially, the focus was on the demand for an organizational renewal. It was by no means solely a question of the intra-party influence of the trade unions. The corporate membership of trade unions only clearly characterizes the basic structure of a party which can be described as an "association of associations". To this day, their power structure is determined by the constituency organizations, the associated individual trade unions and the parliamentary group in the lower house or its leadership. The disputes between these parts of the party, which are made even more complicated by the wing formation that runs right through this structure, led to several reforms of the party statutes in the first opposition years from 1979 to 1983. They were at the expense of the intra-party supremacy of the lower house parliamentary group and its leadership. Not only has the position of the trade unions been strengthened, but also that of the constituency organizations and their activists in local politics (the only level that the Labor Party to defend against conservative politics). As a result of this development, on the one hand, the image of Labor as a party dominated by the trade unions and their apparatuses. On the other hand, the party appeared as a romping pool for local activists, who often subscribed to radical, participatory political concepts (and as so-called "loony left" the mostly conservative oriented press was a hit). With this inherently contradicting double image, the approaches to party reform were almost predetermined. The position of the trade unions and party activists was gradually reduced, and at the same time a series of procedural and institutional changes considerably strengthened the position of the party leadership.

With the organizational innovations were also important prerequisites for the Implementation of a programmatic transformation of the party created. In the first years of the Kinnock party leadership, it initially limited itself to defusing some of the central program points with which the party had reacted to the policies of the Thatcher government in 1983 (in particular a return to an interventionist economic policy, re-nationalization of privatized companies, Expansion of welfare state benefits and complete withdrawal of conservative labor and trade union laws). With its election statements from 1987, the party continued to commit itself to expanding social benefits, but cautiously distanced itself from the other positions (reduction of unemployment instead of orientation towards a full employment policy; development of new forms of social property instead of simple re-nationalization policy; review instead of withdrawal of the conservative union laws). However, this did not prevent that Labor could still be identified with the forms of politics and developments of the crisis-ridden sixties and seventies. In the 1987 election, the party recovered slightly at the expense of Alliance, but the Conservative vote had hardly decreased. They benefited in particular from the fact that Thatcherism seemed to have proven its worth, since a "British economic miracle" was emerging from 1986 onwards. In this situation the Labor party faced with the possibility of long-term dominance by the Conservative Party.

The following program discussion, which has already been published as a Policy Review in the history of Labor party received, has decisively changed the political profile of the party.By 1991, seven working groups had submitted a total of four reports, followed by a number of other program papers. Her sociopolitical statements signified a far-reaching departure from earlier positions:

  • The Labor Party approached on their traditional assumption of a general tension between the interests of a privately organized economy and the overall interests of society. With this she gave up the idea of ​​a state responsibility for the control of economic and social development. The state only has a compensatory function in that, in coordination with the economy, it performs those tasks that they cannot or can only inadequately perform (e.g. training, promotion of long-term investments and a sufficiently balanced development of the regions).
  • In doing so, the party broke away from the conception of a mixed economy, in which certain economic services are to be provided in the form of public companies. She explicitly accepted the idea that the dynamic of economic development is guaranteed solely by competition between privately organized companies.
  • Though Labor continued to represent as a guarantor of the welfare state, the party currently did not go beyond the promise to increase two of the particularly symbolic benefits (child benefit and state pensions). The increase should, however, be relatively small, just as, on the whole, demands were carefully avoided that could point to a redistribution policy or an increase in state social spending. Rather, what is needed is one Making the welfare state institutions more effective for a more targeted use of the available funds.
  • Labor stepped away from earlier commitments to restore unions to the rights that had been stripped from them by conservative labor and union laws. The 1992 election manifesto clearly stated one LaborGovernment will not revert to previous industrial relations policy. With significant participation from Tony Blair, the party's labor policy spokesman at the time, the statements were limited to a promise to create a fair framework for relations between employers and trade unions.

Although the organizational changes and programmatic reorientations were "communicated" with an extremely professionally conceived and staged campaign strategy, the party did not succeed in presenting itself as a renewed party in the 1992 election. It didn't even help that the "British economic miracle" proclaimed by the Conservatives in 1986/87 only lasted until 1988 and that the 1992 election fell into the fourth year of a long period of recession. Labor gained 3.6 percentage points, but the Conservatives, now led by John Major, lost only marginally this time (0.4 percentage points).

The Labor Party responded to the recent defeat with the election of John Smith as party and opposition leader. He continued the organizational reforms of his predecessor, but did not include the program discussion among his priorities. One of the main reasons for this may have been that the popularity of the newly elected Major government had abruptly declined shortly after taking office (especially as a result of the "Black Wednesday" of September 16, 1992, when the government reacted to a currency crisis with catastrophic mistakes thus provoked a sharp devaluation of the pound). The decline in authority of John Major and the disunity of the party, especially in European politics, gave the Labor Party from autumn 1992 a popularity lead that lasted until 1997 and at times reached 30 percentage points. By the time Tony Blair was elected to succeed the late John Smith in July 1994, the party's chances, which two years earlier had been considered desolate, had already improved dramatically. Nonetheless, Tony Blair was not content with consolidating the reform course. After he had already spoken out in favor of continuing the renewal before his election as party chairman, he announced the project a few months later at the party congress in October 1994 New Labor, New Britain.

If, according to the political author Peter Jenkins, the party lost the 1992 election because it was considered a Labor started, the question arises whether not one new party must arise. Tony Blair did not appear as the founder of a new party, but he left no doubt that he was New Labor fundamental of old Labor must distinguish. Even more: the comparison of old and New Labor was, in addition to the demarcation from the New Right, an integral part of an argument with which Blair's group of reformers advocated a change in economic and socio-political direction for Great Britain. It stood old Labor for the economic decline and the conflictual nature of industrial relations in the sixties and seventies, while Thatcherism with its hitherto most comprehensive strategy for the modernization of Great Britain appeared to be an absolutely necessary reaction to the crisis-ridden development at the time. Thatcherism gave important impulses for a revitalization of the British economy. He asked quite correct questions about the solution of the British problems, and New Labor do not hesitate to acknowledge some of his achievements, for example in industrial relations and privatization policies. Although Mrs. Thatcher removed some key obstacles to economic and social modernization, she limited herself to a destructive role. While the New rights too much on the self-interest of the individual and in doing so sacrificed the principles of social justice New Labor Create a society that is shaped by the basic social values ​​of justice, fairness, responsibility and partnership: New Labor was, according to Tony Blair in 1994, a party of ethical socialism, in contrast to the socialism of Marx and the socialism of state control, a party of the social-ism (with a hyphen!). The task now is to anchor these basic values ​​in the party and to further modernize the party organization and the political program so that they can be translated into real politics.

Tony Blair decided to commit the new core values ​​with an extremely symbolic rejection old Labor to join by calling for the amendment of Section IV of the party statutes. These Clause IV, which postulated the primacy of public property, was part of the party's tradition, which in fact had long since become meaningless. Tony Blair's initiative was also symbolic because Hugh Gaitskell, the party leader of the 1950s, failed because of opposition from the party and especially from the trade unions when he wanted to shed this "historical baggage". The dispute over this question gave Blair the opportunity to establish himself in a strong position in the party and to raise his profile as a reformer in public. More important than the new wording was therefore Blair's decision to address the members directly via the party committees and trade union boards and to organize a ballot. After its successful outcome, the approval of an extraordinary party conference, which had been specially convened to amend the statutes, had only a formal meaning. For the reformers this was at the same time an encouragement to push ahead with the restructuring of the party organization by upgrading individual party membership and to intensify the campaigns to recruit new individual members in order to do so New Labor could develop into a member party on a continental scale. This organizational modernization should not obscure the fact that many of the other changes since 1994 led to a concentration of power on the party leadership. Before the 1997 election, the resulting internal party discipline (ization) could still be justified by referring to the party's earlier appearance. Since then, however, the position of power of the party leadership has been linked to that of the government New Labor for many critics it has become a problem case of intra-party democracy.

The political statements with which the party was preparing for the upcoming election campaign followed, no matter how new New Labor represented, on many points, the statements with which the party had gone into the 1992 election. The campaign and communication strategy of the party leadership, which has meanwhile become even more professional, is now even more geared towards blocking the conservatives' every path, the old image of Labor to instrumentalize for themselves. The experience of how quickly the previous lead in the opinion polls had melted away in 1992 played a particularly important role. Back then they had Tories In their still successful final spurt of the election campaign, they emphasized the uncertain game that voters are playing when they decide for Labor would let in (incompetence in economic policy, party to increasing government spending and thus tax increases, trade union party, etc.). New Labor So now decided to "play it safe". The party demarcated itself more clearly and more strongly from old Labor from the conservatives to the voters, who were dissatisfied with the major government, but still had reservations about it Labor had to take the fear of contact. Only in those policy areas in which the party could feel safe with criticizing conservative politics (e.g. the social consequences of economic restructuring) did it fully address the government. In particular in economic, financial and social policy as well as in the policy of industrial relations, however, the statements were characterized by the effort not to differ too much from the conservatives.New Labor will

  • do not increase the entry rate for income taxation in the next legislative term,
  • Maintain the level of government spending within the framework of the major government's financial planning for the budget years 1997/98 and 1998/99 and finance the prospective improvement in welfare state benefits in social insurance, education and health care through a change in budget priorities,
  • in principle stick to the conservative policy of deregulated and flexible labor markets and limit yourself to correcting a few undesirable developments,
  • "Fairness, no favors" to trade unions, but that will not change the fact that Britain will retain "the most restrictive trade union laws of any Western country," said Tony Blair five weeks before the 1997 general election.

The strategy of the "safety first" (Anderson / Mann) should have won the landslide of Tony Blair and New Labor from May 1, 1997. The Labor Partywhich in 1992 was 7.5 percentage points behind the Conservatives, has now gained a vote lead of 12.5 percentage points. The seating arrangements were reversed even more drastically: the Conservatives lost 171 of their 336 lower house seats while Labor Gained 147 and received 418 of 659 seats. This was the largest parliamentary majority of any party since World War II. In terms of the 43.2 percent share of the vote, however, the election victory was less spectacular. The triumphant election victory is more likely to be explained by the disastrous performance of the conservatives, who reached a historic low of 30.7 percent and on the LaborAs of 1987 fell back.

Although the new government got off to an impressive start and made a name for itself with its new political style, the continuity with the policies of the previous governments cannot be overlooked in economic and social policy. This is most clearly expressed in education policy, which is explicitly based on the motto "standards, not structures" proceeded and thus left untouched the institutional changes implemented by the conservatives in eighteen years. Something similar can be observed in social policy. The government has set some new priorities, such as: B. the fight against youth unemployment, but with their emphasis on personal responsibility, the trend initiated by the conservatives towards greater selectivity in welfare services tends to increase. There is a close connection with the obligation to adhere to the financial planning of the previous governments in terms of government spending. New Labor - according to a recent analysis - is on the way to reduce the share of government spending in gross domestic product to below 40 percent, less than in the Thatcher era. In labor market policy and in the policy of industrial relations, the government has improved the position of employees and the trade unions (extension of protection against dismissal, introduction of a state-set minimum wage, recognition of the trade unions as company negotiating partners if they organize more than 50 percent of the workforce or are themselves say at least 40 percent for the recognition). Although the need for such regulations tends to show how weak the position of workers and trade unions vis-à-vis employers has become as a result of conservative policies, these measures only removed some of the grossest asymmetries.

With the renouncement to reverse the structural decisions of the conservative economic and social policy, stands New Labor Since 1997, however, has faced a problem: The party is confronted with very high expectations despite the cautious election statements, but has bound itself with these election statements in such a way that it can only partially meet these expectations. This feeds the suspicion that New Labor in the end the politics of Thatcherism continues. Since in this situation the attempt of the double negative delimitation of old Labor and New Right If it threatens to become implausible, the Blair project must be justified further and, so to speak, "positively" justified. The "Third Way" promoted by Tony Blair and his advisors since 1998 can certainly be seen in this context. So far, however, it has only been possible to see in outline how the discussion is to affect concrete policy, since the considerations of how market and state, individual and society, as well as freedom and equality can be linked, are still largely at the level of basic values ​​and also often remain very vague. The "Third Way" repeatedly emphasizes the goals of social democracy. Nevertheless, reading the previous statements by Tony Blair et al. the question of Economist on whether "a party can reverse its policy statements and still hold on to its core values".


© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | September 2000