Education and Labour Party Ideologies, 1900-2001 and Beyond

Education and Labour Party Ideologies, 1900-2001 and Beyond

Education and Labour Party Ideologies, 1900-2001 and Beyond

Education and Labour Party Ideologies, 1900-2001 and Beyond


In 1997 Tony Blair broke with tradition by naming education as a major priority for the General Election Manifesto. In the past, Labour leaders had tended to give education a much lower priority. Despite this, Blair has been greatly criticised for his educational programme 1997-2001. Was he taking education away from traditional labour values of fairness and equality? Was Blair's 'Third Way' just 'Thatcherism in Trousers'? Denise Lawton approaches such questions by analysing labour education policies since 1900 and shows that from the very beginning the labour Party lacked unity and ideological coherence concerning education. Specifically, there has always been a tension between those like the early Fabians who saw educational reform in terms of economic efficiency, and the ethical socialists whose vision of a more moral society stressed the importance of social justice in education. After an assessment of Labour ideologies in the past, this book concludes with an examination of New Labour and the 'Third Way' in education and suggests some changes that will be necessary in the near future.


By the turn of the century several of the major assumptions which had guided Victorian economic and social policy were being questioned. At the centre lay the body of ideas known as laissez-faire.

(John Stevenson in Pimlott, 1984, p. 15)

The history of the Labour Party begins in 1906, or 1900 if you prefer to date the founding of the Party from the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). in any case, it is necessary to stress the importance to the Labour Party of various events, movements and ideas, including socialism, in the nineteenth century that have left some kind of permanent legacy. This chapter is intended to paint in that background but trying not to over-simplify an extremely complex story.

England in the nineteenth century

The nineteenth century opened with England at war with France. in the eighteenth century there had been two great changes-the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, both of which strongly influenced the development of education. France had been a commercial and colonial rival for centuries, and in 1800 Nelson was establishing British naval supremacy throughout the world; in 1815 Wellington (with a little help from the Prussians) would finally defeat Napoleon who had been seen not only as a military threat but, curiously, as a symbol of the subversive thinking of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution and the wars that followed. a major result of the Industrial Revolution was urbanisation with all its advantages and disadvantages.

After 1815 there was much discontent in England: food prices were high but wages were low, with many workers unemployed. Working-class living conditions were often appalling. the government responded to the problem of disaffection with harsh, repressive legislation and incidents such as the notorious Peterloo 'massacre'. Elsewhere in Europe the scene generally became one of

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