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New Labour Elite Theory

New Labour Elite Theory

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Published by Matt Zarb-Cousin

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Published by: Matt Zarb-Cousin on Jul 09, 2011
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The Labour Party’s movement to the Centre:an explanation using the Wright Mills approach
Matthew Zarb-Cousin
Page Chapter 2 Introduction9 C. Wright Mills’ Elite Theory12 David Sainsbury and the 1983 general election23 Tony Blair and the “Opinion Maker”31 New Labour and the Corporate Elite47 Conclusion49 Bibliography
Using C. Wright Mills’ theoretical approach – a strand of elite theory set out in
The Power Elite
 – this dissertation offers an entirely original explanation as towhy the Labour Party moved to the Centre. It, firstly, demonstrates how theLabour Party mitigated its ideological objectives in gaining the approval andinfluence of the elite, approval that helped the party win successive generalelections. It begins with a critical analysis of existing explanations of theLabour Party’s ‘modernisation’, before outlining what the Wright Millsapproach entails. It then illustrates how the elite in Britain influenced theoutcome of the 1983 general election and altered the electoral landscape,which consequently encouraged Tony Blair to seek the approval of RupertMurdoch. It outlines the way in which members of the corporate elite wereexplicitly co-opted into the party’s policy-making process, when ‘TheCommission on Public Policy and British Business’ was set up by the IPPR. Italso discerns the influence the elite had on the party in government after their landslide general election victory in 1997, citing most notably the connectionbetween New Labour and the Bilderberg Group, the financial sector – inparticular the investment bank Goldman Sachs International – and DavidSainsbury’s influence on the party. It also analyses the connection betweenthe Labour Party and the nuclear lobby, deriving from the use of the WrightMills approach an analysis of how the Labour Party sought to gain theapproval of the influential corporate elite, capitalising on their affiliationthrough favourable media coverage and party funding.
1. Introduction
The Power Elite
is a theory of the state, which argues that those at the top of the institutional hierarchies – an identifiable and stable minority that controlkey financial, communications, industrial and government institutions – hold aconcentration of power and influence (Wight Mills 1956: 19). I will seek toexplain why the Labour Party changed, and my approach will reflect that of Wright Mills’ – which in turn provided evidence of an elite theory – in hisanalysis of the concentration of power in the US that lies outside of thedemocratic process: one might refer to it as ‘power without accountability’.The focus of my research will be concerned with discerning the existence andthe influence of an elite in Britain, and I will argue that because of theinfluence of a power elite, the Labour Party had to mitigate their socialdemocratic principles and adopt a more neo-liberal approach. I will thereforeprovide an elite theory perspective as to why the Labour Party moved to theCentre – in turn, emphasising its relevance as a theory of the state in a morecontemporary context.Analysis of the transformation of the Labour Party under Tony Blair has, todate, centred on the premise of an altered political landscape in the wake of the apparent popularity of Thatcherism. I state that this popularity was onlyapparent, as the Conservative Party did not attain more than 50% of the votebetween 1979 and 1992 (Ramsay 2002). Colin Hay articulated this argument,suggesting that structural constraints were placed upon the Labour Party inthat voters were no longer supporters but consumers, and their traditionalworking class base could no longer be relied upon to vote Labour (Hay 1999).
This dissertation will dispute Hay’s implication that a change in the attitudes of the electorate led to the transformation of the Labour Party, and to theformation of New Labour. Whilst this dissertation finds some consensus withHay regarding the way in which the spectre of globalisation was used to justifythe creation of New Labour and the economic policies that ensued, itcontends Hay’s assertion that Middle England would only elect a ‘modernised’Labour Party. Both the decline in support for the Labour Party throughsuccessive General Elections from 1997 to 2010 post party ‘modernisation’,and the British Social Attitudes Survey have provided a basis for this rebuttal:51% of respondents supported more wealth redistribution in 1989, and 58%believed the state should spend more on benefits in 1991. In 2010, after 13years of a Labour government, 78% believed the income gap between richand poor was too large, and more than half supported an increase in theminimum wage (BSAS 1989; 1991; 2010).Ed Miliband stated in his first speech as leader to Labour Party conference in2010, “The old way of thinking said that economic efficiency would alwayscome at the price of social justice.” However, a publication by the NationalEquality Panel, reported by BBC News at the start of 2010, found that therich-poor divide was wider than 40 years ago (BBC 2010), implying that theLabour government’s policies had not worked, and economic efficiency didindeed come at the price of social justice.In assessing how – using the Wright Mills theoretical framework – the Labour Party changed, I will have the benefit of being able to analyse New Labour ingovernment, as their decisions and actions will provide further evidence tosupport an explanation based on elite theory as an approach. It will also

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