Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

10 Years of Labour Achievements

Progress supporters give their views on the best of 1997-2007

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If a week is a long time in politics, casting your mind back over the last 10 years of the Labour Government might require some memory exercises. But in advance of Progress’ debate on 10 years of New Labour with the likes of Neil Kinnock, Ed Miliband and Stephen Twigg, in just a few weeks, we thought it would be opportune to ask Progress supporters for their top Labour achievements. Read some of their contributions below, and post your own in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Further details of the event on May 9th can be found here >

Luke Akehurst, Councillor in the London LB Hackney

I think that we don’t make enough of our Government’s investment in social housing. The Decent Homes programme is investing a huge total – nearly £40 billion by 2010, in making sure all social housing is warm, dry and has modern kitchens and bathrooms. Since 2001 Labour has reduced the number of non-decent homes in the social sector by over 50 per cent. This follows a long period of under-investment and neglect by the Tories. There have also been huge programmes of investment by housing associations where estates have been transferred to them – often completely transforming very deprived communities. I represent an inner-city ward where poor housing is a major contributor to deprivation and this investment is making a huge difference to the lives of my constituents.

Ann Black, National Executive Committee Member

I think that a prosperous economy and record numbers in work, bringing unemployment down from the appalling levels of the Thatcher/Major years can be considered among the best of the Labour Government’s achievements. I am particularly proud of my local MP Andrew Smith, who implemented the New Deal for young people after Labour’s 1997 victory.

There have also been many achievements in the field of equalities: civil partnerships, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, new rights for disabled people and other groups facing discrimination, positive action to bring more women into government, better maternity and paternity leave, childcare support, and encouraging family-friendly workplaces, freedom of information, and the right to roam.

More broadly, Labour has changed the political landscape so that public services, and increasingly the environment, are central to debate, replacing the old Tory tax cuts at all costs. Other parties are following Labour’s agenda, and the challenge now is to keep finding the best solutions.

And Tony Blair’s personal high point must be the Northern Ireland peace process, culminating in Ian Paisley sitting side by side with Gerry Adams and saying “We have agreed with Sinn Fein …” – an achievement beyond any manifesto commitment, and beyond what anyone would have believed possible ten years ago.

Stephen Burke, Chief Executive of Counsel and Care and former Director of Daycare Trust

The world for working families – for parents and for their children – has been transformed since 1997.

All children have access to quality early years and childcare services and their parents can work knowing that their children have a Sure Start. It’s easier for parents to balance work and childcare thanks to the following:

• parents with young children and carers can work flexibly
• maternity leave and pay has been increased
• paid paternity and parental leave have been introduced
• the number of registered childcare places has doubled
• free nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds
• 3,500 children’s centres offering a range of support by 2010
• development of extended schools and after school clubs
• tax exemptions on childcare vouchers
• tax credits to boost income and help pay for childcare
• minimum wage which has particularly helped working women

There’s still more to do but compared to 1997, life for working families has been made much better. Don’t forget that the Tories voted against most of these measures.

With our ageing population, will we now see extra help for the older members of families who need care and support?

Jo Coles, Project Manager, Life’s Too Short – NEET Care Leavers Project

The Labour movement expects our Government to provide support to the most vulnerable in society. Children and young people in care are one of those groups. These children and young people have had such an unfair start in life that the state deems that they themselves need to take over their care. Yet at start of the 21st century, when most young people were staying on in the family home until well into their 20s, young people from care were being moved out of care age 16 and made to support themselves.

The Children Leaving Care Act (2000) placed new obligations on local authorities to take more responsibility for young people brought up in their care after the age of 16. Since then the numbers leaving care at 16 to live independently have fallen and the support they receive from local authorities has increased. Things still haven’t reached the benchmark laid down by Frank Dobson in 1998, ‘would this be good enough for my child?’ but the new law did lay the foundations for change. Since the new law came into force, some local authorities have embraced their responsibilities, though others still fall well short of what any decent parent would consider acceptable.

David Floyd, Managing Director of Social Spider

One of New Labour’s greatest achievements over the last 10 years was the abolition of Grant Maintained Schools in 1998.

Many younger Labour supporters now would struggle to remember the ten year period when over 1000 state schools were funded directly by central government with no democratic accountability to local people.

Grant-maintained schools enabled middle class parents to enjoy greater levels of choice and exercise disproportionate influence when compared to parents from working families.

The fact that schools were allowed to develop their own interview criteria meant young people often received school places on the basis of a wide range of criteria ranging from aptitude to their parents’ social status.

Grant-maintained schools received higher levels of funding than those schools remaining in the local authority sector, leaving children from working families to survive as best they could in schools funded by under-funded and over-stretched Local Educational Authorities.

It is testament to New Labour’s commitment to equality of opportunity and high class education for all young people that they did not allow this system to remain in place and have since gone on to deliver a vastly improved non-selective system of secondary education, providing choice and opportunity for all.

Mike Ion,

One of the core values that unites all Labour party members is the belief that it is wrong that an individual’s chances in life depend not on their talents or ambitions, but on where they are born. That is why, as a movement, we committed ourselves to increasing the international aid budget when we came to power in 1997.

I am proud that over the past 10 years Labour has more than doubled the aid budget – particularly to some of the world’s poorest countries and regions. We have written off up to 100% of bilateral debt owed to the UK and announced that we will fund our share of debt owed by the poorest countries to the World Bank and African Development Bank. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair led the way in establishing the Africa Commission and as a nation we have increased bilateral aid to Africa to £1 billion per year.

So when people say that politics doesn’t achieve anything, or that it doesn’t matter which party you vote for, I say look at what a Labour government has done for people in the developing world. Politics really can change things for the better – but only when we have the will and the courage to do so.

Mike Katz, National Policy Forum

This will probably be an obvious one for most Labour supporters, but the introduction of a National Minimum Wage stands out for me. In 1995, I worked on Labour’s campaign to expose the blight of low pay Britain, exposing the fact that under the Tories, more than 300,000 workers earned less than £1.50 an hour. We were sent Job Centre adverts for jobs paying as little as 80p an hour! Labour’s minimum wage put an end to this shameful poverty pay and made sure that the welfare system really benefited working people, rather than subsidising bad employers. Remember the mantra of Government making work pay, rather than footing the bill of economic failure? The minimum wage was key to this.

Like many of Labour’s landmark policies, what underlines the success of the minimum wage is that the Tories are now forced to accept it. Prior to 1997, they said it would lead to mass unemployment. Now they wouldn’t dream of dropping it. It has made a real difference to those who need Labour’s help the most and changed the terms of economic debate – the National Minimum Wage is an achievement of which we can all be rightly proud.

Nick Laitner, TackleAfrica

Labour’s best achievement has been leading the G8 nations in securing a massive political and financial commitment to Africa, including major increases in aid, debt write-offs, and a promise of universal access to Aids treatment. This required both a passionate moral drive and real political and diplomatic skill to carry through, and showcased the Blair-Brown double act at its very best.

It has been estimated that the results of the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles will lead to over 600,000 African lives being saved, and hugely improve the lives of millions throughout the continent. However, two years on, while Britain is doggedly sticking to its side of the bargain other countries’ commitments to meeting their pledges are increasingly in doubt. A major challenge for the new administration will be to ensure that the G8 sees its commitments through, and successfully build on the progress the Government has made in tackling poverty, and particularly HIV/AIDS, in Africa.

Denis MacShane MP

People have forgotten how isolated and without voice or influence in Europe and the world Britain was in 1997. The Tories had fallen out with the United States following their clumsy political intervention against Bill Clinton in the American election of 1992. Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s policy of appeasement of Milosevic’s politics of ethnic cleansing and murder of his opponents in the Balkans reached an apogee when the Conservatives refused to lift a finger to intervene when 8,000 Europeans were killed in cold blood at Srebrenica.

In the EU, after the glory years of Margaret Thatcher creating the Single European Market and agreeing to double the EU budget, the Tories reverted to a crude, vulgar hostility to Europe. It culminated in the weird beef “war” with the Tories refusing to take part in EU meetings. All these dark periods for UK foreign policy changed dramatically after 1997. Britain became engaged in Europe. Blair turned UK policy around to support a European Defence and Security policy. Blair led Europe on enlargement and on Turkish accession. Blair persuaded Clinton to intervene in Kosovo. Britain set up the International Criminal Court and arrested Pinochet. Troops were sent to Sierra Leone and East Timor. Overseas aid was doubled. Britain led the way on debt relief for Africa and on making the environment into a global policy issue. Following military intervention, millions in Iraq and Afghanistan were able to vote to elect government.

The intra-Islamic killings in Iraq and the policy failure of the Rumsfeld-controlled occupation of Iraq are a disaster. But UK European and international policy under Blair, Cook and Brown has been one of engagement and trying to promote a fairer world in contrast to Tory isolationism and cynical disengagement.

Kirsty McNeill, Councillor for Elephant & Castle, London Borough of Southwark

Labour exists to bring hope to the people facing the toughest circumstances, so I’m proudest of the way that we’ve put the poorest first at home and abroad. The government’s 2010 target for all council houses to be decent, along with the reduction of rough sleeping by two thirds, has made a big difference to areas like mine.

In international terms, our Labour government secured G8 commitments on debt, aid, health and education that, if kept, will save millions of lives. This government is the first to set a timetable to spend 0.7% of national income on aid: that means that there will be people we will never meet, whose names we will never know, but who will live to see their children grow up because Britain returned a Labour government. In 2002, only 50,000 Africans had access to anti-AIDS drugs. Today, thanks to aid, that figure stands at 1.3 million. Debt cancellation and increased aid helped put 20 million more African children into school between 2000 and 2004. British taxpayers, development campaigners and our Labour government helped to do that, in the best tradition of international solidarity. It should make us very proud.

Tom Miller,

The introduction of the Human Rights Act has marked a highpoint of this government, despite the fact that it passed into effect back in the heady days of 1998.

The Human Rights Act is an ingenious piece of legislation which has cut significantly the time and cost involved in pursuing human rights cases, both from the point of view of the government, and individual companies. Where claims had previously to be appealed to the European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg, they now claim in the UK.

My favourite aspect of the legislation is the innovative way in which it is put into effect; the fact that it obliges judges to consider rights infringement in all decisions; the way that it brings the European convention into our own decisions here. Even the idea of declarations of incompatibility and interim measure powers for ministers is brand new and hitherto untried.

Yet, despite the threats of David Cameron and our own John Reid to revoke some of the most important parts (in a legally futile way, in Cameron’s case: he can’t wipe out those treaties we signed in the 1950’s!), it works, despite what some of the more ignorant of reporters say, beautifully. Just ask Charlie Falconer.

Labour has truly brought rights home. Whether it will attempt to give them away via further incarceration sans trial is however a poignant speculative point.

Meg Munn MP

It’s tempting to write about my constituency, more jobs, new schools and improved housing. There’s also Civil Partnerships, a law that brought much joy. But my choice reflects my days in children’s social work.

Back then children in care were bottom of the pile. Usually the reason they were in care was connected with their parents rather than them, but getting the right kind of help and support they needed was often impossible. They were treated as, and felt, second best.

In 1998 the Labour Government wrote to local councils, and all councillors, telling them that children in care were their children and they should treat them as such; that they needed more help and support than other children. With this exhortation came money.

After years of cuts, this investment changed the lives of some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children. 10 years on, children are leaving care when they’re older; more have qualifications with extra support beyond care. They still do less well than other children, but the recognition the Government gave then, and continues to do now, gives these kids the possibility of a better future than before.

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  • In the 25 years prior to 1997 we had not had a new hospital in Co Durham – in 10 years since 1997 we have had 6 new hospitals and several more major refurbishments. In 1997 you could wait more than 2years for a heart bypass now it is less than 20weeks. In 1997 you waited months for a first consultant appointment for suspected breast cancer, now you are referred within 24hrs and seen within 2 weeks.

  • Leeds scrutiny committee for health is an example to all political parties what can be achieved with support from central goverment overseeing the work put in by a strong chairperson who has the skill and knowledge to guide her committee through the vast ammounts of paperwork. Alan Johnson’s support on issues regarding the dedicated childrens hospital will come to Leeds in the future all party support is in the council minutes over five years ago.

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