The major political parties in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, have become considerably more central than they were originally. Labour was originally a strongly socialist party, but it gradually centralised and has accepted some ideas of the centre-right under New Labour. The Conservative Party originated as a royalist party, but it has adopted a number of left-wing or liberal ideas in recent times, such as free-market economics and equality of opportunity.
In the 1980s there was a revival of classical liberal economics under Margaret Thatcher. Although Mrs. Thatcher was socially very conservative, she advocated economic growth through private enterprise and minimal state intervention in the economy. These doctrines were put into practice and have remained a major part of British economics, showing the legacy of classical liberalism and its success in the modern economy. Furthermore, the fact that these ideas have been adopted by both Conservative and Labour governments emphasises the influence of liberalism and suggests that both parties have become liberal in one way or another. What further emphasises the idea that ‘we are all liberals now’ is the globalised economy. There is now widespread free trade between most major industrialised countries and the free market has prevailed in most western democracies like the USA and the UK.
John Rawls developed a ‘bridge’ between socialism and liberalism in the 1970s, which heavily influenced the Labour Party and also inspired the creation of the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Rawls advocated that all humans are of equal worth and so action must be taken to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities in society. Nowadays the Labour Party accepts inequalities, which shows that the party has taken into account the ideas of Rawls and his justification for some inequalities. Even the Conservative Party, which has generally advocated hierarchy, has accepted some of Rawls’ ideas; the concept of equal basic liberties and democratic rights, as well as equality of opportunity – a doctrine that has been promoted by the Labour Party in place of its original ‘equality of outcome’.
It is irrefutable that Rawls’ ideas have been hugely influential to both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party as both parties have accepted some inequalities whilst not necessarily agreeing with huge inequalities. The current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government has continued redistribution (promoted by Rawls) with the high taxation of the richest in society and minimal taxation of the poorest. It is arguable that the Conservative Party has become a very liberal party in some respects, and the Labour Party has also become very liberal (taking into consideration the doctrines of tolerance, diversity and democracy).
‘Modern compassionate conservatism’ is the way British Prime Minister David Cameron describes his ideology, and he has shown a rather liberal way of thinking since becoming leader of the Conservative Party in 2005. The Conservatives’ manifesto mentions equality for women and ethnic minorities, which has often been opposed to some extent; this shows the influence of modern liberal and even social democratic thought on the Conservative Party and the move away from traditional conservative thought.
In 2011 Mr. Cameron declared that we need a “much more active, muscular liberalism”, referring to tolerance of Islamic extremism. Although this idea goes against the liberal doctrine of tolerance, it considers the ‘harm principle’ because it is feared that Islamic extremism can be a threat to society. As well as this, the use of the word “liberalism” by a conservative politician has shown the effect of liberal thought on the party.
The coalition with the Liberal Democrats has also had a significant effect on the thinking of the Conservative Party as compromises have had to be made to satisfy both parties. The increase in tuition fees has been one of the most controversial moves made by the coalition and was strongly opposed by the Liberal Democrats, but it allows a sense of responsibility and reflects the classical liberal idea of individualism; people are able to make their own decisions to go to university and pay for it, rather than the taxpayer paying for it.
It is clear that both major political parties of the United Kingdom have become very liberal in their thinking, promoting equality and tolerance as well as laissez-faire economics. There are a number of anomalies, however, such as the BNP which has proved to be very much the opposite of liberal, advocating separation from the EU and intolerance of Islamism. Furthermore, Labour’s proposal of ID cards was a very controversial move which faced strong opposition by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party; this perhaps reiterates the liberal thought of the Conservative Party in recent times. On the whole, most parties – certainly the two major parties – have become very central on the political spectrum and very liberal in many of their ideas.
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Topic: We’Re All Liberals Now
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