‘We are all liberals now.’ To what extent have liberal ideas influenced the policies of the major political parties in recent years? (30 marks)
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...
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