Prior to the 1997 election, Labour had lost the last four by some distance. The party had obtained a reputation of being a high tax, high borrowing, and irresponsible spending party; utterly incompetent economically. Gordon Brown, the party’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, knew that the key to turn around Labour’s unsuccessful past was to get rid of this reputation. Hence, in the run up to the election, Labour portrayed themselves as being prudent; that through shrewd management of the economy they would deliver improved public services without raising taxes.
On the 2nd of May 1997, Tony Blair’s Labour stormed to a landslide victory, obtaining 418 seats, the largest in the party’s history, as well as the most for any party in the post-war era. After 18 years of a Conservative government, Labour was now in power. Tony Blair and his party now had to act on the faith the country had bestowed in them, and it would remain this way until 2010. Many recall this day as being one of the greatest days of their lives; the 18 years of harsh, brutal, and damaging Tory rule had come to an end and the country was finally in the hands of a party that truly represented the people. Hope had returned.
Up until 2007, the party had an incredibly successful economic record. A decade of constant economic growth, something almost unheard of in British history, on top of falling unemployment and price stability, as well as lower levels of inequality and better-quality public services.
However, following the mortgage crisis in America catalysing a global financial crisis beginning in 2007, the UK economy was severely hit. Unemployment shot up, the country entered a deep recession and inequality soared. This led to a debate between the Conservatives and the Labour party centred around whether the crisis was the fault of the government.
The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, launched a campaign attacking Gordan Brown, claiming his dramatic increases in public expenditure were the cause of the crisis, highlighting his incompetence and showing that he and his party are unfit for government. Labour responded to this by putting forward the fact that the crisis was caused by a large variety of very complex issues that weren’t at the fault of the government.
The debate was won by the Conservatives, who went on to head into government in 2010 in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Following the crisis, David Cameron was very successful in putting the old label of Labour being an economically irresponsible party back onto them.
What followed was a very unsuccessful period for the Labour party. That is until Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s saviour came along. Needing a large change in policy and rhetoric to distance themselves from the New Labour era that was now tarnished due to the Tories being victorious in the post financial crash debate. Corbyn came with a set of left-wing policies, returning Labour back to the grassroots party it traditionally was.
In the 2017 election, Labour performed admirably, stripping the Tories of their majority in Parliament. Clearly, Corbyn’s movement of the party more to the left had captivated the public and achieved the goal of distancing the party from its image of New Labour. It is clear that Corbyn took a party on the brink of survival, to one with the potential of being a political powerhouse.
That being said, this impressive performance has come alongside several issues. The right-wing media launched a vicious assault on Corbyn now that they had seen how successful he was with the British people, spreading many false claims.
The future of Labour is uncertain, as is everything in the world of British politics, with Brexit leaving us in a state of limbo. However, what is certain is that the way Jeremy Corbyn transformed the Labour party and enthralled the entire country in the run up to the election with a flawless manifesto is something that will likely never be achieved again.
Original image by Izzy Bly.