Great Britain had two different governments during the 1990s. A Conservative government, headed by Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, led the country from 1990 to 1997, followed by a Labour government led by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Traditionally, the U.K. Conservative Party is a center-right political party, often known as the Tory Party, and it appeals to middle class and business voters. The traditional U.K. Labour Party is the center-left party affiliated with workers' rights and commitment to social welfare programs.
Conservative Government 1990 to 1997
The prime minister leads the British government, supported by a cabinet and ministers. John Major's 1990s Conservative government took power from Margaret Thatcher's Tory government which led the United Kingdom from 1979 to November 1990. Highlights of the Conservative government from 1990 to 1997 included leading Britain to war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, alongside U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and reversing the decision of the previous Tory government to introduce an unpopular community charge tax. The Conservatives won the 1992 General Election, taking another term in office, but their popularity began to slide following a number of conflicts membership in the European Union and political sex scandals involving members of the government. A landmark success of Major's government was the work done to engage the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in peace negotiations and attempt to find a peaceful solution to the Northern Ireland problems.
Labour Government from 1997
Tony Blair was a charismatic leader who swept "New Labour" to power in 1997 in a blaze of media frenzy. One of Blair's major political party reforms was to amend Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution, which was understood to refer to Labour's beliefs in the nationalization of all forms of production. Blair's new wording for the constitution does make clear that Labour is a "democratic socialist" party, however. Some major milestones of Blair's 1990s government included the devolution of Wales and Scotland, reform to the House of Lords and major progress in Northern Ireland peace accord with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Blair's Labour government won three successive elections, with the final victory in 2005.
Cultural Historian's View of the 1990s
University lecturer and cultural historian, Alwyn Turner, believes the politics of the 1990s were "ill-tempered and intellectually sparse" with the Labour Party focus being mainly on "spin."According to Turner the 1990s were more about social liberalism and the rise of the 1960s generation, which redefined society's norms. These changes were reflected in altered viewpoints on institutional roles in Britain and led to greater individuality. Turner believes Britons of the 1990s epitomized an overriding anti-establishment viewpoint and declining interest in the history of the country.
Britain in Europe
Divisions over Europe and membership of the European Union plagued both of the U.K.'s governments in the 1990s. Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe announced his resignation from Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in November 1990, directly leading to her downfall. Major had to abandon his government's monetary policy and withdraw Britain from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Tony Blair was a popular leader in Europe and negotiated a number of important deals for the U.K. Over Blair's complete term of office, his principal failure was to fail in attempts to hold a British referendum on the adoption of the Euro currency.
- BBC History: Prime Ministers and Politics Timeline
- Princeton University: Conservative Party, UK
- BBC GCSE Bitesize, History: Rise of the Labour Party
- Gov.UK: History, Past Prime Ministers, Baroness Margaret Thatcher
- Gov.UK: How Government Works
- Gov.UK: History, Past Prime Ministers, Sir John Major
- BBC News, Politics: The Rise and Fall of New Labour
- Labour Counts: Clause IV
- Gov.UK: History, Past Prime Ministers, Tony Blair
- The Guardian: Alwyn Turner
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