Progress | Centre-left Labour politics


Time to put the last Labour government to bed

Kitty Ussher, Jacqui Smith, Anne Begg, Stephen Twigg and Mike Gapes assess how Labour did

The last Labour government was the Labour party’s greatest electoral success. It transformed our public realm and brought into being a Britain more relaxed with itself. It had a record of improvement and innovation in the public services that no other Labour government can match and rescued and reinvigorated the NHS Aneurin Bevan founded. It built upon the foundations the first Wilson government laid of liberal reforms to gender, race, disability and LGBT legislation that came on leaps and bounds in the late 1990s and early noughties. Under Labour, Britain took a leading role in Europe, the climate change debate, on aid and on the millennium development goals, and established the ‘Chicago doctrine’ on liberal interventionism.

On the pages that follow we try to take stock of the record of the 1997-2010 government. Five pages will never do it justice and everyone will have their favourite policy that we have missed out. The simple fact is there were so many, especially those we take for granted.

But for Labour to move on it must move out of the shadow of the last Labour government. We must, therefore, put the last government – respectfully and resolutely – to bed.

In doing so it should be remembered that just winning was the product of hours of blood, sweat and tears. Neil Kinnock and his team were the start of the turnaround. The long road, continued on by John Smith and the two future prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, seemed to have few quick wins and genuinely involve heavy-lifting. What is more, the act of governing demanded a daily battle with the small ‘c’ conservative bureaucracy, a relentless media, an unchanged and then resurgent Tory party, Liberal Democrats as opportunist as ever, and, all too often, battles too among cabinet colleagues.

Those who served as ministers, members of parliament, special advisers, parliamentary assistants, party staff and organisers, should be thanked. We only see the compromises that they win after internal clashes with a reluctant civil service and entrenched vested interests. Like a swan gliding on a lake, we rarely see the hard work that goes into making such movement. Someone once said to me: every government minister from Blair down is more leftwing than the Labour government, because what you see is the best they could win, not where they started out. This should make us more determined to return to government, not recoil from it. We will be lucky to stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Blair, in his last speech as prime minister, put it in the most simple terms: ‘We won not because we surrendered our values but because we finally had the courage to be true to them.’

Bedtime it might be, but only so the Labour movement – modernised and credible – can awaken as a party of government again.


Richard Angell is director of Progress


To read the rest of the pamphlet online click here or download the full pamphlet here

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Richard Angell

is director of Progress


  • The usual historical revisionism, in the contribution from Mike Gapes and a bizarre statement, in the editorial: “Someone once said to me: every government minister from Blair down is more leftwing than the Labour government, because what you see is the best they could win, not where they started out. This should make us more determined to return to government, not recoil from it. We will be lucky to stand on the shoulders of these giants.”

    Delusion has long been a characteristic feature, in most of the articles appearing in Progress but to claim that Tony Blair and Jacqui Smith were more leftwing, than the Labour governments in which they unfortunately were included, is a stretch too far for anyone retaining a modicum of sanity! Ian Dale (fellow ‘rent a gob’ with Jacqui Smith, on Sky News) is on the record stating that: Jacqui is the most right wing Labour person he has ever met, presumably this includes Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson et al?

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  • Yes. Progress reinventing itself! But then, it’s about their careers, as it always has been!!!
    I have been waiting for the Labour Right to suddenly become “socialists”!!!!
    The damage they did to the Public Sector is unforgivable from student fees to constant re-organisation and demoralisation of the workers – nurses, doctors, consultants, teachers, classroom assistants, etc. – Of course, they are saying that they struggled against the civil servants – perhaps because they knew that what the career politicians [who had no experience of the area they were “in charge of” and knowledge “mugged up” from a book] proposed was destructive. The loss of our civil liberties over the Blair years is also unforgivable. Of course there ARE highlights e.g. free bus
    passes [although there was talk of means testing these], making the South Downs a National Park [Oh that was by the Left winger, the late Michael Meacher, a decent man] which is a bastion against the relentless house building in the SE by Cameron and his property developer mates,
    destroying the rest of the countryside. I have yet to read the full articles, but I guess there will be a great deal of self denial/justification and spin.

  • I never understood what justified the claim of the “triumph of neoliberalism”, to
    be heard from Guardian columnists like Owen Jones and the leftwing of Labour –
    apart from the intention to portray the New Labour period as an aberration and
    an awful mistake.

    When the talk of the “neoliberal period” started, at the end of 2008, I
    pointed out that the share of the state had risen to unprecedented highs under
    Blair and Brown, that NHS spending had doubled, that a minimum wage plus taxcredits and other social benefits had been introduced. If this is
    what “Neoliberalism” produces,
    bring it on, I would say, but i would add that
    some of the Billions of tax money were not spent wisely. Less would have been
    more and would mean less public debt for the UK now; this was and is my
    criticism of especially the last period of New Labour where “prudence” went out
    of the window, a classical mistake of Labour governments, driven by their good,
    sometimes unrealistic intentions.

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