The second in my occasional series of Idiot’s Politics, yes the apostrophe is intentional. Today I will attempt to give a brief overview of British politics as I see it, I stress the ‘as I see it’ because I shall be biased, so sue me!


British political history is long-winded and full of pompous arses I shall gloss over them and just start post civil war. In the 18th and 19th Centuries you had principally 2 political parties namely the Whigs and the Tories and this was the case right up until the early 20th century. You must bear in mind that at this point the actual political process was open to comparatively few enfranchised people. These were the landowners and industrial middle class there was no talk of votes for women or for the proles. Britain did not at any time in its history have a popular revolution and therefore missed out on the sort of political reform that say France had in the late 18th century. Thus even to this day the British constitution is no more than a loose interpretation of the Magna Carta which is dated 1215, 1215 is hardly a period in time known for its emancipation or universal suffrage of the masses.

In the 20th century after the Industrial Revolution had fully taken hold and transformed urban and rural life in Britain, mass movement ideas had been circulating for some time including most famously The Communist Party Manifesto of 1848 written in London by Marx and Engels. It is worthy of note that a document of such historical importance as this that was written here had by comparison little impact in England as it did across the rest of the world. The Labour Party in Britain was founded in London’s Faringdon district on the 27th Feb. 1900, whilst it was founded out of the Trade Union movement and the work of socialists such as Keir Hardie who believed it was necessary to unite the movement to achieve socialist success the initial founding was something of a mess, 2/3 of the Trade Union movement didn’t send delegates to Faringdon which undermined somewhat the claim to be a mass movement furthermore other socialist intellectual groups did not take part including the Fabians who believed in attempting to push a socialist agenda within the Liberal party. It wasn’t until 1906 when on the back of a Liberal landslide Labour actually gained any substantial electoral success returning 29 Mps. The Labour party stood for ideals such as nationalisation, emancipation, universal suffrage, human rights etc.

Since that point there have been 3 major political parties in Britain, and since the 1930s only 2 have really been able to call on the sort of support that enables the forming of a government. Between the 1930s and 1970s the 2 main parties stood pretty much either side of the political spectrum with the Labour party representing the Left-wing and the inner city populations, the working class and the philanthropic middle-class intelligentsia whilst the Conservatives represented the aristocracy, the upper middle-classes and the industrialists –the business vote. The Liberals mopped up the rest, the protest votes, the middle ground etc. etc. In the 1980s Labour started to change its agenda after suffering heavy losses in 1979/1983/1987 to Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives. Thatcher had embarked on a series of measures to dismantle Trade Union power which she and her followers saw as instrumental in bringing about the economic downturn in the 1970s [This view did however not take into consideration the global economic downturn which was being felt in many countries across Europe regardless of the political alignment of the incumbent government, this point is graphically illustrated by the recession in 1991 which was a direct throwback to the Tory economic policy of the 1980s and resulted in a devaluation of the £ in 1992 just as had happened after the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9]

Labour’s response to the 1980s was to drop much of its socialist credentials such as Clause 4, which was a tenet in the party manifesto committing itself to the nationalisation of industry. The party did this in an attempt to address what it saw as itself being unelectable, it sought not to stick to its guns but chase the electorate to the right in the hope of capturing people on the whet end of the Conservative party. Now Labour may point to this strategy achieving success in 1997 which one of the largest landslide victories ever and backed up by a consolidation in 2001. This in my opinion is about as accurate an assessment as Thatcher’s view of global economics. In 1997 the Labour party could quite literally have stood for anything and they would have been elected just as the Conservatives could have done in 1979, the incumbent governments had presided over a period of economic shambles and people blamed them for their personal lack of prosperity. In 1979 the Tories entrenched their position and Thatcherism became a phenomenon of right-wing thinking it was picked up on by many right-wing governments in the industrialised world such as the USA.

That’s the history part covered in brief, and I think I was quite restrained there I didn’t fill every paragraph with bilious comments even when mentioning Her name! There are a couple of other things that you need to know about British politics too, I shall tackle them in the next instalments.

Next session: The Role of the Monarchy, same time, same place tomorrow, thank you for your attention.

Prof R. Baron MA D Phil

Song Of The Day – Blondie ~ Good Boys

Original Comments:

David S made this comment,
you talk about the Magna Carta but do not mention the fact that the Magna Carta isn’t British seeing as Britain didn’t exist until the Treaty of Union of 1707.
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[Redbaron responds -Yes indeed I do talk about the Magna Carta but only to illustrate how ludicrous the claim is that Britain has a written constitution. If there is a Scottish or Irish or Welsh equivalent I do not know of it. You have in fact served merely to cast further doubt on its legitimacy as an important document by the correct assertion that it dealt with the landed gentry in a specific part of the country that is only partially relevant as an autonomous region.]

comment added :: 18th June 2004, 12:35 GMT+01