Losing Labour’s Soul?: New Labour and the Blair Government 1997-2007

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Note : standard errors in parentheses. Note : a significant result implies cohort differences between each given pair in the rows for each of the dependent variables in the columns. See coefficients in Table 3 for direction of effects. While the controls generally exhibit the expected effects, gender does not have a consistent effect on either economic or social values. As expected, married individuals are more conservative than both previously married and single individuals.


The same is true of individuals in full-time employment relative to all the other employment categories. As expected, individuals in the higher income categories are more Thatcherite with respect to redistribution, inequality, benefits and attitudes towards the unemployed. However, they are also less authoritarian than those with lower incomes.

Having a private education is associated with being more Thatcherite with respect to redistribution and inequality. However, it also linked with being less likely to agree with the negative sentiments about benefits and the unemployed, and with being less authoritarian.

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As expected, home ownership tends to predict Thatcherism as unsurprisingly does party identification, whereas union membership decreases the likelihood that one will agree with Thatcherite values. Class is an interesting variable. Compared to the middle class, all the other classes are less likely to agree that the income gap is too small or about right. The working class is more likely than the middle class to agree that government should redistribute.

However, there are no class differences for the survey item that suggests a trade-off between redistribution and taxation. Interestingly, controlling for all other variables in the models, all three items on benefits and all three items on authoritarianism show that all other classes are more likely to agree with the Thatcherite tendency than the upper middle class, which supports the populist story line.

Turning to the APC results, first it should be noted that there are some small age effects: the middle age group is more likely than the younger group to support redistribution if it entails higher taxes, to express more positive views of the unemployed and to disagree that the death penalty is appropriate for some crimes. Those in the oldest age group are less likely to agree with the Thatcherite position on redistribution than the youngest age group, but are more likely to think poorly of benefit seekers and to want children to be taught to obey authority.

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The effects for year of survey show that, with the exception of the inequality item, there are significant period effects with increasing support for the Thatcherite position in all cases except support for the death penalty. This suggests that, over a period of twenty or more years, the electorate indeed became more Thatcherite, particularly with respect to negative attitudes about the benefits system, the unemployed, benefit recipients and the welfare system more generally.

This provides support to Hypothesis 1. This is consistent with Hypothesis 2. They are also nearly as authoritarian as the oldest generations, showing that the trend toward modernization and greater social liberalism was at least slowed down in Britain under the Thatcher governments.

As explained in the data and methods section, in order to provide robustness tests for the results from the APC models, we next examine the visual results from the GAMs. In particular, we examine the plots of the smoothed cohort effect from the full model not shown with the same controls included as in the APC models. These plots are presented in Figure 1 — 9. The patterns are striking and consistent. Across the plots for the smoothed cohort effects all nine indicators, there is an upward swing in right-authoritarian values from around the start of the years of birth of the Thatcherite political generation that is, those born in at least up until the end of it those born in , and in several cases lasting well beyond.

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This suggests Thatcherite values were growing in strength among the cohort that became political adults during the Thatcher years. In other cases, however, there is a counter-tendency and it looks like the trend might level off or even reverse, such as for whether people who break the law should be given stiffer sentences Figure 9 , although the confidence intervals are typically too wide to be certain at the time of writing.

More years of data are needed to clarify trends in social values among the youngest members of this new political generation. This provides considerable support for our theoretical expectations. We thus find mixed support for each hypothesis. This is true when we examine eight out of nine attitudinal variables capturing different dimensions of Thatcherite beliefs.

They are also more economically right wing than both the pre- and early consensus generations, but not more socially authoritarian than either. Our models thus show that the generation coming of age in the aftermath of the Cold War, once Thatcher had left office, stands out as the most economically conservative, net of both period and age effects. These results also suggest that rendering Thatcherite values uncontentious under Blair was more significant for ensuring their long-term endurance. This interaction effect was significant for the three redistribution and inequality indicators as well as for the three welfare items.

However, this was not the case for the three authoritarian values indicators. These results therefore show that it was the generation coming of age under New Labour and identifying with this party that moved to the right. This further strengthens the conclusion that Blair achieved more than Thatcher had done in terms of cementing her principles in British society, and that this was achieved through Labour supporters embracing more right-wing positions as these became mainstream and uncontested in society.

The results presented in this article offer strong evidence of cohort effects. We have shown that generations coming of age under sustained periods of Conservative government absorb these values, offsetting the tendency towards social liberalism that is normally characteristic of youth. We analysed indicators of Thatcherite values across three dimensions — redistribution and inequality, benefits and unemployment, punishment and authority — and found that this generation born between and reversed the cohort trend towards greater support for redistribution and more social liberalism.

It seems that the trend towards ever-greater social liberalism was halted and even reversed, supporting the idea that Thatcherism has fundamentally changed British social attitudes in an enduring way. This occurs at the same time across indicators. Her moral crusade was extremely successful at changing the values of the generation that came of age at that time, and at influencing society to such an extent that New Labour came to accept these as setting the ideational parameters of political competition.

These results may also be relevant to other countries that have experienced protracted periods of conservative rule and where the New Right was popular, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Moreover, we have also shown that such changes can have spillover effects by reproducing certain values when subsequent governments or parties in power do not challenge the values that formed that generation. This is a clear sign that Thatcher changed the course of British politics and social attitudes.

Her values - or the values that have come to be associated with her name - permeate British society today as subsequent governments have not challenged her ideology. Benefits too high and discourage job search. Unemployed could find a job if they wanted. People should learn to stand on their own two feet.

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Death penalty is appropriate for certain crimes. Stiffer sentences for breaking the law. Children should be taught to obey authority. It is thus important to control, as we do in this article, for a wide variety of factors that could result in inter-generational historical differences that are not necessarily linked to political socialization, that is, historical experiences. See also Neundorf and Niemi As standard, we judge the significance through the edf value. A value greater than 1 suggests significance and that smoothing should be applied.

Testing for interaction effects between region and generation showed that this regional gap was narrower for younger cohorts. Loading article Login Alert. Log in. Aa Aa. Access Open access. Cited by.

Crossref Citations. This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef. Giugni, Marco and Grasso, Maria T. Acta Politica,. Political activism across the life course. Contemporary Social Science, Vol. Andrews, Molly Enduring ideals: revisiting Lifetimes of Commitment twenty-five years later.

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Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, p. Bessant, Judith Snee, Helene and Devine, Fiona Fair chances and hard work? Families making sense of inequality and opportunity in 21st-century Britain. The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. Rekker, Roderik Growing Up in a Globalized Society. Google Scholar Citations. Scopus Citations. Benefits too high and discourage job search Fig.

Unemployed could find a job if they wanted Fig. People should learn to stand on their own two feet Fig. Death penalty is appropriate for certain crimes Fig. Stiffer sentences for breaking the law Fig.

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Send article to Kindle. Your Kindle email address Please provide your Kindle email. Available formats PDF Please select a format to send. By using this service, you agree that you will only keep articles for personal use, and will not openly distribute them via Dropbox, Google Drive or other file sharing services. Please confirm that you accept the terms of use. Send article to Dropbox. Send article to Google Drive. Based on the discussion above, we test the following two hypotheses: Hypothesis 1: The cohort that came of age between and will be more right wing and more authoritarian than cohorts that came of age prior to this prolonged period of Conservative rule.