New Labour and Secondary Education, 1994–2010 by Clyde Chitty (auth.)

By Clyde Chitty (auth.)

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Tawney, who demanded greater social equality, and Harold Laski, who endorsed the idea of public ownership of major industries as a means of reducing class tensions, there were times in the first half of the twentieth century when the Labour Party appeared to be adopting a number of recognizably socialist objectives. The famous (and now abandoned) Clause Four of the Labour Party’s 1918 Constitution stated as its aim: To secure for the producers by hand and by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry and service.

Although Britain possessed an extensive and still-expanding empire, much of her overseas territory remained thinly populated and vulnerable to rival powers. Was Britain failing to exploit the economic potential of her imperial possessions? And beneath these growing concerns over industrial decline and the future of the Empire lay a fundamental unease about the moral and economic well-being of a large section of the working population. The incomes of working-class families were particularly affected by the sharp rise in unemployment during the three serious slumps of 1879, 1886, and 1893–1894, a situation which had the effect of causing many workers to question the principles underpinning the existing social and economic framework.

This philosophy did not cover the whole spectrum of political opinion, nor did it prevent vigorous party conflict. The Conservative and Labour Parties often differed fiercely about specific details of policy, and, at a deeper level, their conceptions of political authority and of social justice differed even more. But they differed within a structure of generally accepted values and common assumptions. And, in David Marquand’s view, it was this structure that was of overwhelming significance: For most of the post-war period, most front-benchers in the House of Commons, most senior civil servants, most of the leaders of the most powerful trade unions, most nationalized industry chairmen (sic), most heads of large private-sector companies and most commentators in the quality press shared a common experience and a broadly similar set of aspirations.

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