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FactCheck: Labour's election pledge cards

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 08 May 2007

Did things only get better since Labour came to power in 1997?

In 1997, Tony Blair published a list of five pledges which summed up the key targets for Labour's first term in office.

They even gave them out as handy little cards. It was judged enough of a success to be repeated in 2001 and 2005. But did Labour deliver on them?

What better way to assess the success of the Labour project. Did things really get better, as Labour's 1997 campaign song promised? Here are the pledges, and here's how they turned out:


We will cut class sizes to 30 or under for 5, 6 and 7 year olds by using money saved from the assisted places scheme

In 1997, 23.9 per cent of 5-7 year olds were in classes of 30 or more. The latest figures reported that 1.4 per cent of under sevens were being taught in classes of over 30.

Most of those were covered by various exemptions to the rules - only 0.2 per cent were in illegally large classes.

Source: Department for Education and Skills (PDF)

Achievement score: 4

We will introduce a fast track punishment scheme for persistent young offenders by halving the time from arrest to sentencing

The government hit this target, and has more or less kept to it - a significant thing to do, as three months on remand is a long time for anyone, but particularly a child.

"But there were some unintended consequences", says Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Young people often go through a spell of offending, and under the old system this could all be taken into account in one sentence.

Now the first sentence is sometimes rushed through, and some cases where you might have had one sentence, you now have two. And sometimes, that might be a jail term.

Achievement score: 4

We will cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients as a first step by releasing £100m saved from NHS red tape

In 1997, 1.3m were on waiting lists. By 2000, this target had been met - though by focusing on waiting lists, the Government was accused of distorting priorities. Since then, the government has decided that it makes more sense to target waiting times, not waiting lists. In 1997, the guaranteed maximum wait was 18 months - Labour is now targeting a maximum wait of 18 weeks by 2008.

Source: The King's Fund

Achievement score: 5

We will get 250,000 under-25 years-olds off benefit and into work by using money from a windfall levy on the privatised utilities

More than 250,000 young people have passed through the New Deal, and subsequently found jobs. But in a growing economy with low unemployment, many would have found work anyway.

Professor John Van Reenen has estimated that the 'value added' by the New Deal programme amounts to around 17,000 extra young people in work per year - a success, at reasonable cost, but perhaps falling slightly below the levels promised by the pledge.

Achievement score: 4

We will set tough rules for government spending and borrowing and ensure low inflation and strengthen the economy so that interest rates are as low as possible to make all families better off

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have certainly presided over a long period of growth and economic stability (though some indicators, particularly inflation, have been heading upwards lately).

The 'tough rules' have been more controversial. The most controversial was the 'Golden Rule' which said that the government should balance the books over the economic cycle. The government has met this, but only by redefining exactly what constitutes a cycle.

The Government also pledged to keep government debt below 40 per cent of GDP, the 'sustainable investment rule'. This has been met, but public sector debt is rising, and the independent thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that there's a 44 per cent chance it will be exceeded by 2010-11.

Other liabilities, notably public sector pensions and PFI borrowing, aren't included in that figure. If they were, it would be closer to 90 per cent.

For an exhaustive account, click here.

Achievement score: 2


In 2001, Blair published a similar list of pledges

Mortgages as low as possible, low inflation and sound public finances

Almost too vague to FactCheck. Inflation has certainly been low since 2001, though it has risen recently. Blair and Brown continued to meet their own fiscal rules for sensible management of the public finances. But taxation, spending and government borrowing all rose during the second Labour term in office.

Achievement score: 3

10,000 extra teachers and higher standards in secondary schools

The DfES says that there were 24,700 more teachers than in 2001 - target met. The higher standards issue is more debatable. 57.2 per cent of state school pupils achieved five good grades at GSCE in 2006, up from 42.0 per cent in 2001.

But there have been arguments about falling standards, backed by evidence of poor literacy, and stories about universities having to teach remedial maths classes.

There's a suspicion that the figures don't tell the full story - on one fudge, a GNVQ vocational qualification can count for four GSCEs. A potentially more instructive figure is the pass rate including Maths and English: just 44.1 per cent last year.

Achievement score: 3

20,000 extra nurses and 10,000 extra doctors in a reformed NHS

Between 2001 and 2005, the NHS hired 22,000 extra doctors and 53,000 extra nurses - meeting the pledge. But NHS reform remains a work in progress, as recent problems with IT projects, deficits and junior doctor training illustrate.

Source: The Information centre, NHS

Achievement score: 4

6,000 extra recruits to raise police numbers to their highest ever level
Pensioners' winter fuel payment retained, minimum wage rising to £4.20

Police officer numbers have continued to rise since 2001, reaching 142,972 in England and Wales - an all time high.

The minimum wage was £3.70 in June 2006, and this not especially generous increase was achieved on October 1 2002.

The winter fuel payment has been unchanged since 2001, despite rising energy costs.

Achievement score: 4.5


In 2005, the old pledge tactic was being recycled yet again.

The six pledges:

1. Your family better off
2. Your family treated better and faster
3. Your child achieving more
4. Your country's borders protected
5. Your community safer
6. Your children with the best start

Some pledges, like number 4, are so vague that some of them can't be factchecked or falsified, and it's still quite early in the second term to verify the others.

Is this a sign that Labour has run out of ideas? That Blair and Brown couldn't agree what to promise? Or just a judgement that general themes will resonate better with voters than concrete pledges?


The government's record on its pledges is not bad - most have been achieved, in name at least. And if there are caveats, then you'd hardly expect otherwise.

But a few questions remain. This progress was achieved at the cost of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Was it worth it? And, given the two massive parliamentary majorities Blair had, could he have achieved more? Many things did get better. But could Labour have done better?

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