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January 29 2010

Scott Budow explores "The Future of the British Labor Party" in England this winter

Scott BudowThanks to a generous grant from ILR International Programs, I was able to conduct interviews with 7 different experts on my thesis topic, "The Future of the British Labor Party." While it may seem like an obscure topic for an ILR major in America to study, the Labor Party's future holds implications for working class political representation throughout many first world countries.

It is no secret that unions and the working class in first world countries have shrunk in number and power over the last few decades, as their jobs have been progressively outsourced. Additionally, service sector jobs have grown exponentially over the same period, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the overall economic power of the working class. Over the same period of time, politicians in both America and Britain have wholeheartedly embraced free market principles while often failing to consider the potential downsides that such a belief system produces.

Unions and working class people have been particularly affected by these policies, as income inequality has noticeably expanded in recent history. Due to a concurrence of these multiple factors, the fundamental question that the working class must now ask itself is what needs to be done to ensure that it still has a voice in the formation of laws that govern society.

In Britain, the Labor Party is likely to be defeated in the next election after holding power for 13 years. While the Labor Party was founded 110 years ago to represent the interests of working class voters, today its base includes a far broader swath of society. Some would say the Party has exchanged genuine working class interests for political success, yet unions remain its largest contributor.

Should it lose the next election, unions will face a crucial crossroads: do they continue to fund the Labor Party, which has supported some of the policies that are responsible for weakening their economic power, or do they move their money and votes elsewhere, to alter the political climate and risk their current level of influence?

Furthermore, should they support Labor, to what extent do they push their agenda, which is less politically viable with the broader electorate, and to what extent do they compromise principles to revive a Party that represents some, but not all, of their interests?

I questioned professors and researchers at some of the most well established institutions in London over the course of one week about a few of those difficult questions. Many were hesitant to confidently speculate about the future, given the overwhelming sense of uncertainty and insecurity that pervades both domestic and international affairs, but all agreed that it should be an exciting time in British politics.

Several of those interviewed noted that the topic I am considering is specific in title, but that it encompasses multiple disciplines, namely political science, history and economics, which make it an ambitious proposal to pursue.

LondonDuring the time that I was not working, I was able to visit Parliament, see Les Miserables, attend a performance at one of the greatest venues in the world, Royal Albert Hall, and watch the famous Scottish comedian Billy Connoly perform.

During one day in which I had no scheduled interviews, I went to watch soccer ("football" there) at a local pub, which was an amazingĀ  experience given how intensely devoted the fans were to the final outcome. People were almost always friendly and inquisitive about what I was doing in London, as it was clear from my accent that I was from elsewhere.

Overall, it was a pleasant mix of work and leisure in one of the world's greatest cities.