chapter  3
27 Pages

From New Labour’s Modernisation to the Coalition’s Big Society

Over the last 70 or so years there have been three periods of continuous government by one party which have, arguably at least, left a clearly identifi able legacy: the 1945 to 1951 Labour governments of Clement Atlee and a legacy of state intervention; the 1979 to 1990 governments of Margaret Thatcher and privatisation; and the Blair governments of 1997 to 2005 and modernisation. While the claims relating to the Atlee and Thatcher legacies have a considerable degree of credibility due to having ‘stood the test of time’, it is too soon to determine whether the Blair legacy will be re-evaluated and downgraded in the coming years and also whether the coalition government’s promotion of the ‘Big Society’ will develop a suffi ciently clear profi le to deliver an impact that outlives the government. However, the rhetoric of the Labour governments of Tony Blair and to a lesser extent that of Gordon Brown was certainly ambitious and, importantly, the party was in power for 13 years, which gave it the opportunity to make fundamental changes to policy and administration. However, one of the conventional assumptions about British politics is that continuity between administrations is considerably greater than the rhetoric of day-to-day political debate might suggest (Rose 1984). New administrations tend to add to, or tinker with, what already exists rather than try to dismantle existing policies and procedures. Current opinion on the signifi cance of New Labour’s legacy is sharply divided (Gamble 2010). For some the defi ning quality of New Labour was the degree of continuity either with the preceding Conservative governments (Heff ernan 2001) or with ‘old’ Labour (Fielding 2003), while for others New Labour marked a radical break with party history and a genuine ‘Third Way’ (Giddens 1998). A variant on the latter assessment of New Labour’s legacy is that the impact was less on policy and more on electoral strategy-a successful change of style which made the Labour brand attractive to the electorate at three successive elections rather than a signifi cant change of substance. Although the policy implications of the ‘Third Way’ can be somewhat elusive, if not illusive, it would be a mistake to dismiss the 13 years of Labour government as contentless-far from it. In a number of important policy areas Labour introduced policies which it is hard to believe the Conservatives would have considered and which

have had a marked and arguably irreversible impact on Britain. The most notable policies concern devolution to the home countries and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, the fi rst of which had, as will be argued in Chapter 4, a limited impact on sport policy up to 2010, but has the potential to have a much greater impact on UK sport policy since the election of the coalition government. Two broader policy objectives of New Labour which were prominent during the prime ministership of Tony Blair were a commitment to greater social inclusion and the promotion of a modern government built around the principles of partnership and decentralisation (Blair 1998). Both these objectives had substantial implications for sport policy, although they were also controversial in interpretation and in realisation.