On 1 May 1997, the Labour Party gained a landslide General Election victory that brought to an end 18 years of Conservative rule in Britain. Securing 43 per cent of the national vote, its 419 MPs gave it a House of Commons majority over all other parties of 179. With only 31 per cent of the national vote and just 165 MPs, this was the Conservatives’ most dismal General Election performance since their defeat at the hands of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberal Party in January 1906. While all commentators agreed that the result was a major and largely unexpected triumph for Tony Blair’s New Labour Party, there were conflicting views as to its causes and actual significance. Above all, did it represent a massive endorsement of the policies that New Labour had been promoting since the death of John Smith in May 1994; or was it simply a decisive rejection of the policies and style of the 1992–7 Major administration, which had never really recovered from the economic crisis of September 1992? In this chapter, we look beyond the excitement engendered by the change of government and ask to what extent New Labour’s education agenda marked a real departure from the policies pursued by the Thatcher and Major administrations. We shall also examine the extent to which New Labour’s education policies were embraced by the Coalition Government under David Cameron, which took office in May 2010, the new Education Secretary (Michael Gove), being a huge admirer of Andrew Adonis’s Academies Programme.
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