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The Real Rose of Britain:Tony Blair's Labor Party is Delivering the Reforms That It Promised

Michael J. Ring

It was one year ago tonight when a jubilant, energetic Tony Blair asked his supporters, "A new day has dawned, has it not?"

The first of May, 1997 marked the most climactic shift in the political landscape of the United Kingdom in nearly a century. The Tories were routed in the general election and Blair's Labor Party captured a majority of 179 in the 659 seat House of Commons. Britain had clearly rejected Conservative rule, and the Right Honorable Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service Anthony Charles Lynton Blair MP had a clear mandate for a leftist program.

But the program which the British people demanded so firmly was a program of the New Left. In assuming the leadership of the Labor Party, Blair rejected the bloc's commitment to state socialism. He rewrote Clause IV, which had previously committed Labor to a course of socialism, to espouse both social justice and free enterprise. Blair pledged instead a pragmatism; New Labor would protect those services which the government was best fit to run while encouraging innovation and enterprise in the private sector. Blair promised the British people that New Labor would find la troisime voie.

One year after that dawn, the sun is still shining brightly on the United Kingdom and on New Labor. Blair's government has kept its promises, becoming a hallmark of fairness and integrity. Britain is again the strongest nation in Europe. While continental Europe struggles with high unemployment, the British economy is roaring. The British people, renewed in spirit and destiny, will enter the next millennium confident of their place in the modern world. It is the sensible policies ofNew Labor which have made all this possible.

Blair and company have faced some grumbling from aging backbenchers that they have deserted the core values of the Labor Party. Times change, however, and a wise government will recognize that the approaches of previous generations are not always valid in the present. Blair has built a new approach to the economy, one which can better fulfill the Labor values of social justice, quality education and health care, and a clean environment.

New Labor, in its first year, has kept all its manifesto promises. It has not raised income taxes, just as it promised. It has begun to reform Britain's welfare system. It has returned Britain to a position of international leadership. It has committed itself to improving Britain's educational system and National Health Service, two institutions decimated by nearly two decades of Tory rule.

Blair's government does not seek to renationalize companies such as British Telecom and British Airways, but it does require that they share their newfound wealth and profit with all the people of Britain. To accomplish this goal, Blair placed a windfall tax on the enormous profits of these companies, a move bitterly opposed by the Conservatives.

New Labor has also set the Bank of England on an independent course. Previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Cabinet member responsible for fiduciary affairs, had the power to set interest rates. Thus the Bank's policies were subject to the whims of the governing party. The new independence of the Bank of England, similar to that enjoyed by our Federal Reserve system, allows for stable, sustainable growth in the United Kingdom for the coming millennium. True to Blair's word, New Labor has indeed become the party of fiscal responsibility in Britain.

Blair has committed to reforming the welfare behemoth in the United Kingdom. No longer will benefits recipients be allowed to rest idly on the dole; in fairness to the taxpayers of Britain they must take an active role in society. But this is far from the myopic proposals advanced by the Republicans in this nation which push recipients into work without creating long term solutions to the benefits dilemma. Blair's plan reaches deep and addresses the structural problems in society. It is a firm and sound plan which will enhance British productivity in the years to come.

The New Labor welfare reform plan gives the unemployed several choices. They may enroll in volunteer work, continue their education, or take full-time employment. The prime minister, realizing that welfare dependency has dragged on for several generations in some families, does not foolishly push recipients off into a dead-end job. His plan, especially with its emphasis on education, gives long term solutions for the welfare system and British society and will improve both.

While Blair has reformed the party's economic platform, he has recognized Labor's traditional commitments to social issues such as education and health care. Long neglected under Conservative rule, the schools and hospitals of the United Kingdom are beginning to show signs of a New Labor renaissance.

Labor's manifesto states, "Education has been the Tories' biggest failure. It is Labor's number one priority." Under the Tories British education standards declined; test scores in Britain, like those here, fall behind those of continental Europe and east Asia. New Labor has accepted the challenge of repairing the schools of Britain. Smaller class sizes, nursery school seats for all four-year- olds, and "zero tolerance" of underperforming schools are a few of the manifesto promises. Indeed, New Labor has warned underperforming schools that they will be closed and started anew if that is what it takes to make them work. In the year since the Labor Party has returned to power, 2.5 billion beyond Tory spending plans have been invested in Britain's educational system.

Traditionally, Britons have enjoyed one of the finest health plans in the world through their government. Under the Thatcher-Major reign of error, however, the National Health Service was pillaged. Hospitals closed, waiting lists skyrocketed, and the quality of health care declined. Under New Labor's first budget, billions of pounds were poured into to the National Health Service. These monies are badly needed to preserve this socialist enterprise. Blair admits that change will come slowly, but a continued commitment by his government to the National Health Service will reap great rewards for the people of Britain, who will again universally have access to one of the best health care systems in the world.

New Labor has stood for the rights of the environment. Britain was perhaps the loudest voice at the Kyoto Conference, calling for a 15 percent worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2010. On the homefront New Labor has proposed funds for improving rural transport, and the party has blocked a Tory plan to privatize London Underground. New Labor seeks to encourage energy conservation and investment in non-polluting technologies. Blair's New Labor is a party which strives to preserve the environment, both in Britain and worldwide.

In foreign policy Britain has become aggressive in the European Union and the United Nations, rightfully assuming a position of leadership in the world. The government has decided not to join the first wave of the European monetary union, but it is expected that they will do so after the turn of the century. New Labor recognizes Britain must integrate, not isolate, to play a leading role in the global economy.

By far Blair's greatest foreign policy triumph has been the peace settlement in Northern Ireland. His predecessor was brave in starting the process, but it was Blair who brought the determination and courage to Ulster to work out a fair and hopefully lasting settlement for those whose lives have been marred by violence. Active throughout the negotiations, it was a final push by Blair himself which produced what was truly a Good Friday for the people of northern Ireland. The peace settlement is testament to Blair's and New Labor's willingness to take risks and commitments to fairness and honesty.

In yet another area of key need for the British people, political reform, New Labor continues undaunted. It has successfully achieved devolution in Wales and Scotland, giving those sections of the United Kingdom assemblies so that they have more local control over local affairs. New Labor has been the strongest voice for a mayoral system of government in London to give the people of that city the voice they need and deserve. And finally, New Labor is committed to reforming the Upper House of Parliament by revoking the voting privileges of hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

The case for New Labor has been made easier by the Tory opposition. The Conservative Party under William Hague has drifted right, adopting a largely Europhobic agenda at a time when Britain is clearly profiting from the leadership in Europe. Instead of offering constructive ideas, Hague's style of opposition leadership has largely consisted of attacks of Cabinet members. Many of these attacks, however, have backfired. When, for example, Blair ordered a large donation from an auto racing organization returned at even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest, Hague relentlessly assailed the government. But when it was discovered that Labor voluntarily disclosed the names of its donors while the Tories did not, the leader of the Opposition was exposed as a hypocrite.

The United Kingdom's young, energetic, forward-looking prime minister has often spoke about how though Britain may no longer be the biggest nation on earth, there is no reason why it cannot be the best. If the next four years of his government mirror the first, there is every reason to believe this ultimate goal will be achieved.