Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Gerard Hanlon (2000) 'Sacking the New Jerusalem? - The New Right, Social Democracy and Professional Identities'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, <>

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Received: 3/5/2000      Accepted: 22/5/2000      Published: 31/5/2000


The New Right have had an important if somewhat imprecise impact upon Anglo-American capitalism over the past twenty years. Much has been written about them by a variety of disciplines over a wide subject terrain. This paper will further contribute to this analysis by discussing an area which has been somewhat neglected to date - namely, the way in which the New Rightís attempt to reconstruct society has affected professional work, the identities of professionals and, by implication, the service class. It will do so through an analysis of the New Right and towards the end it will use the University sector as an example of change for a variety of professional areas. Changes in the University and other sectors have led to new discourses and practices which have had real material effects and altered the nature of professional work. In turn, these effects have reshaped the welfare state and undermined key aspects of the pre-New Right foundations on which it was built. This alteration is ongoing and hence the future of the welfare state and the wider social structure is being fought out in these processes. To simplify this attempted reconstruction has pitted public sector professionals against private sector ones as the former have material interests bound up with a large allocative state whilst the latterís interests are tied up with a neo-liberal state. However, such a division creates a problem for the New Rightís long term success as it potentially encourages one section of the service class to support the left in an attempt to conserve their bit of the welfare state. What follows is based upon the experience of the UK.

The New Right's Attack on Professionals and Social Democracy

The welfare state probably started with Lloyd George's 1906 budget, but it was the inter-war period and beyond that witnessed its rapid development and the slow institutionalisation of social democracy in the UK. After the Second World War both major political parties (despite the Conservative Party's initial hostility) shared a broad agenda which emphasised the development of social citizenship rights. The principles of social democracy were largely based on consensus government and entailed the expansion of public services, increased state involvement in the economy, increased state allocation of resources in areas like health, education and employment. In short, resource allocation was increasingly made on the basis of citizenship rather than the market.

It is this latter feature which is of central concern to any understanding of the relationship between professional employment and social democracy. The allocation of goods and services on the basis of citizenship fundamentally altered the relationship between many professionals, their clients, the state and the market. Citizenship based access to services such as law, health, education, housing, social welfare and so on meant that to different degrees and in different ways, professionals such as barristers, doctors, teachers and solicitors were subsidised from the public purse. At the time these professionals were aware of this increased dependence on the public coffers and often bitterly opposed it. The British Medical Association (BMA), the Law Society, and the Bar Council amongst others attempted to avoid this dependence or, failing that, to manage the transition in order to advantage themselves (Perkin 1989). Loosely speaking, in the early part of the twentieth century these professionals endorsed a market based provision of services to the public and were fretful about the transition to a citizenship based model.

However, such concerns were unnecessary. The expansion of social democracy and the welfare state which followed in its train, proved to be a boon for professionals. For example, in 1948 the Law Society negotiated more or less complete control over the uncapped legal aid budget whereas only twenty years previously they strenuously rejected state involvement in legal services advocating instead that they should be provided on a market and, where appropriate, a charitable basis. In short, solicitors endorsed legal aid when they were given unlimited state resources to provide legal services to the public, allowed to set down the conditions for assessing and monitoring the work performed, decided what cases should and should not be taken and were closely involved in setting rates of pay. Similarly, the BMA made certain doctors were heavily involved in the running of the National Health Service, the setting of its priorities and how medical services should be provided and allocated. To sum up, professionals forcefully argued for and were largely successful in gaining professional control over large areas of state expenditure. Such victories greatly sweetened what they initially feared was a bitter pill of state control. All of this meant that by the 1950s and 1960s many professionals were enthusiastic supporters of social democracy and the welfare state or, perhaps more accurately, their segment of it (Perkin 1989).

This attachment to social democracy was reflected in the changing nature of the ideologies professionals used to defend their position. I have argued (Hanlon 1999) that many professionals abandoned what T. H. Marshall called 'individualistic professionalism', which was closely related to the market provision of professional services, for a social service professionalism which dovetailed neatly with a citizenship based allocation of professional services. This social service professional ideology stressed all the now usual professional suspects such as altruism, public service, limited interest in pecuniary affairs and so on. Indeed, so in tune with the times was this professional ideology, that Tawney (1921) called for the (social service) professionalisation of industry, by which he meant industry should operate partly as a public service rather than solely for the purpose of financial gain. To sum up, many professionals struck a deal with the state wherein they received a monopoly on provision plus control over service quality and training in return for not exploiting the trust placed in them by the state and the client. These pacts, arrived at across a host of professions, became a pillar of service class support for social democracy (Perkin 1989).

Being one of the pillars of social democracy became problematic when the New Right came to power. In the UK the Thatcherite project aimed at no less than the destruction of social democracy (Gamble 1994). To do so, entailed a head on collision with many professions and hence the reforming of legal aid, education, social welfare, health, the Universities, to name but a few (Burrage 1997). However, the New Right project was not simply one based on attack it also involved the creation of enormous opportunities for those professionals prepared to change and embrace the markets or quasi-markets being created and re-regulated. For example, these opportunities facilitated the growth of the large accountancy and law firms and have led to the expansion of certain occupations in the public sector. As such, the New Right used a mixture of creating opportunities for some while attacking others in a pattern of divide and rule. This process creates real tensions within the service class as the reforms empower some whilst simultaneously disempowering other service class groups. The New Right used the state to create advantages for those professionals willing to endorse a commercialised professionalism and closed off or restricted opportunities for those professionals most closely associated with the older social service professionalism which thrived under social democracy. Such change is ongoing, is at least partly encouraged by the current Labour government (Jordan 1998), and is helping to reshape the service class. So why and how was this done?

The why is relatively straightforward. The New Right attempted to develop a new role for the state. They argued that to be competitive an economy needs to be open and de-regulated with limited public spending and low taxes. This meant that the state's primary task should be to create the conditions for improving the economy's international competitiveness rather than the guaranteeing of employment and citizenship based access to goods and services. The theory suggests that if the economy is internationally competitive employment will follow and people can use their salaries to fund the goods and services they need. Thus the market delivers different goods and services which people then have both a choice and a responsibility to provide for themselves. The market creates competitiveness, allows citizens choice over how their money is spent and encourages individual responsibility in a way that a socially democratic, high tax, welfare state could not. For the New Right entering this promised land was premised on three strands of action ­ the creation of a smaller but stronger state and the expansion of market forces, an increased emphasis on individual responsibility and the paring back of the public sector.

The New Right argue a socially democratic state is too large, ineffective and too involved in the daily lives of its citizens. As such it is enfeebling. To remedy this, the social democratic state should be dismantled and replaced by a smaller one which should be stronger in its dealings with sectionalist interests. To do this, the market should be unleashed wherever possible. The market is the arbitrator of the public interest because it is seen as neutral (Hall 1983). In contrast, social democracy is portrayed as favouring the already strong through the capturing of a weak state by groups such as the trades unions and, as we shall see, the professions (Hayek 1944).

Individual responsibility is to be increased. This falls in line with the idea that the market and customer choice should dominate resource use. It is no longer the duty of the state to provide its citizens with unlimited access to jobs, legal aid, housing, unemployment benefit, nursing care and so on. Many of these tasks are best left to the individual. This means that individuals are increasingly given choice and hence responsibility for the consequences of that choice or the lack of it.

Accompanying the expansion of the market, the creation of a smaller, stronger state and rising individual responsibility is the paring back of the public sector. The public sector is largely seen as a drain on the productive private sector which has to be slimmed down if the UK is to become internationally competitive. It also has to be made more responsive to user needs and market pressures. Such views have had huge implications for public sector professionals who are/were seen as a cost to society and providing services which are/were producer rather than consumer driven and hence unresponsive to the market. The power of this group had to be broken if the public sector was to be modernised for a new economic era (see Burrage 1992).

The New Right and Public Sector Professionals

Needless to say, this ideological fairyland never came to exist in reality. There are a whole series of reasons as to why this is the case. It is a fallacy to argue that the market is neutral. To begin with, what qualifies as a market is subject to all sorts of dispute and one of the reasons social democracy was so attractive in the first place was because many felt liberal capitalism had undermined the social structure to such an extent that capitalism itself was threatened (Polanyi 1957, Hall and Schwarz 1988). Secondly, the state did not get smaller, if anything it grew and the tax burden increased. Thirdly, individuals were and are reluctant to lose key aspects of the welfare state and want to continue using it in very traditional ways i.e. they want the state and not themselves to take responsibility for certain services such as health and education (Taylor-Gooby et al 1999). Despite the inconsistencies between what the New Right argued for and what was deliverable, the ideological shift on the part of the state has forced public sector professionals (and those in the private sector but somewhat reliant on the public purse such as legal aid lawyers) to change. As we shall see, this change is being fought out in terms of individual careers, daily practices and professional identities and ideologies.

The reforms of the education, health, social welfare, legal aid and other systems of public funded professional services have been well documented. These services have usually been examined in isolation or researchers have concentrated on the general principles of reform - the development of markets and quasi- markets, the increased emphasis on rationing, the development of managerialism and so on. Whilst essential to any understanding of welfare state reform, these issues are not of concern to this paper. Rather I want to speculate as to where these reforms leave the individual professionals in terms of their careers and identities. I want to argue that the changing nature of people's work in the public sector is reshaping them politically and that the outcome of this reshaping will be a key determinant in the future of the welfare state and social democracy. Reform in the public sector, the increased need to be consumer driven, the need to meet targets set down by state regulators, increased friction between rationing and catering for needs and so on, is creating tensions which individual professionals have to manage in order to develop their careers.

These tensions are leading to new forms of behaviour and everyday occupational practices. For example, there is a greater casualisation of employment in schools and Universities thereby forcing risk onto the individual and encouraging the flexibilisation and individualisation of the labour market, clinicians in hospitals are increasingly engaging in marketing activities in order to stay close to GP fundholders, medical staff in different hospitals appear to be increasingly nervous about exchanging information because theoretically they are in competition with one another in certain spheres, social workers are also increasingly reluctant to exchange information for the same reasons, teachers seem to be somewhat mechanically adhering to policy guidelines in order to ensure their careers remain viable even though they believe the guidelines lower teaching efficacy and lawyers are deserting the legal aid market as it becomes more tightly controlled by the state and falls further and further behind private market pay rates.

All of the practices outlined above undermine the once hegemonic social service work identity of professionals just as the transition from private and/or voluntary provision of professional services to public provision undermined individualistic professionalism. There is some limited evidence that this is already beginning. Burrage (1973) argued that professional membership is based on a fixed identity and a life-long occupational commitment. This is being undermined for two reasons. One, there is no agreement as to what the role of these workers actually is - there are increasing levels of dissonance between how public sector professionals view their role, how the state views it, and how customers/citizens view it and hence there is no agreement as to what this identity should be fixed on. Increasingly, there also appears to be dissonance between different generations of public sector professionals as younger professionals see opportunities opening up for them if they (practically and/or ideologically) endorse the new regimes being put in place by the state. Over time this means that endorsement of the new regime grows as natural wastage wipes out the 'dinosaurs'. Thus new professional identities may take hold which undermine social service professionalism with its supposed values of altruism, service on the basis of need rather than ability to pay, services controlled by those who provide them and so on (it must be stated that these social service values are heavily overlain with self-interest).

Such a development may represent a partial victory for the New Right as a key ideological pillar of social democracy is weakened and an important service class group begins to adhere to different values and practices. Ball's (1999) work on this is interesting. He demonstrates the changing nature of teaching and the way in which these changes are undermining previous identities and ways of doing things. In short, certain views are deemed acceptable and others are treated as unacceptable and, in classic managerialist fashion, adherents to the unacceptable are accused of being stuck in the past. The sticking of such mud seriously damages an individual's career hence they avoid it at all costs. Over time how teachers view their job, what its role is, who they provide a Rolls Royce service to, who they give up on and how they view their careers shifts altering the goals of teaching and of the individuals within it. This has an impact politically because although individual teachers may ideologically oppose these changes, they feel helpless in the face of the regulatory onslaught and the way they are monitored individualises their response thereby further increasing the feeling of helplessness and encouraging conformity. Given current Labour Party support for many of the changes initiated by the New Right, teachers and doubtless other public sector professionals have little reason to believe that the old social democratic values are worth defending and hence they may slowly abandon them.

The New Right Creation of Opportunities for Commercialised Professionals

Paralleling the reforming of the public sector professional sphere, the New Right also set about creating new opportunities for certain private sector professionals. It must be stated that many of these opportunities came as by-products of other strategies but, nevertheless, they have had important implications for the service class. The Thatcher and Major administrations implemented policies that greatly benefited certain professional groups. Huge opportunities for professionals such as accountants, lawyers, engineers, and surveyors were created via policies such as the de-regulation of financial services, the embracing of international competition and liberalising of economic activity, the denationalisation programs, the development of the Docklands and so on.

The massive growth of the accountancy and legal professions over the past twenty years neatly reflect this trend. The Big Five accountancy firms which dominate the profession globally have grown enormously in this new environment. Over the 1985-1998 period four of the five big firms saw their UK fee income expand by rates of between 300 and 889 per cent. In 1998 these firms generated staggering sums of fees, the largest firm for which figures were available collected £775 million in fees for the UK alone. It is these firms that have fuelled the expansion of the accountancy profession over the past two decades - the largest accountancy firm now employs 129,000 people globally. However, not only have these firms expanded rapidly, they have also shifted their market base in response to the opportunities which the changing nature of the state (and changing corporate practices) has provided for them. These firms have witnessed the shrinking of their major pre-1979 market - the audit - and expanded into new more lucrative fields. Auditing now accounts for just under 40 per cent of fee income for these firms. Increasingly markets such as management consultancy, tax advice, corporate finance and corporate recovery are where fees are generated. Many of these markets are intimately linked to issues of control in the newly emerging global economy with up to 25 per cent of their income coming directly from international work. The UK state's reforms were essential (as were the reforms of other states) to creating this new economic structure (Fox Piven 1995, MacGregor 1999). The New Right under Thatcher and Major actively set about generating the conditions within which this new neo-liberal economic behaviour could flourish and its flourishing generated work for professionals who could help structure and control spatially dispersed production, marketing and/or facilitate complex financial dealings.

A similar tale could be recounted for legal services. Between 1994-1999 the fastest growing large City based law firms grew by on average 97 per cent in terms of fee income. This growth took place on the back of impressive growth rates for the 1980s. While the smaller firms in the profession were being squeezed because of their dependence on publicly funded legal aid and a conveyancing monopoly that was broken by Thatcher, the large firms thrived. Indeed, it was only the large law firms that wholeheartedly endorsed the New Right's reforms of the profession. As with the accountants this expansion came on the basis of an altering market base.

In the late 1960s, City law firms derived 50 per cent of their income from property and conveyancing work, by the 1990s this had altered completely. By 1993 57 per cent of the fee income of the top ten City law firms came from financial markets and half of their fee income came from overseas work. Thus these firms were fully integrated into the open international economy the New Right had set about creating in the 1980s. The re-regulation of the City allowed these firms to create new financial products and instruments, generate new methods of raising capital, service the increased need for syndicated loans and so on. As with their accounting colleagues, these firms saw opportunities in New Right change whereas many of their public sector and small law firm counterparts only saw threats. Again similar tales of growth and integration into an open global economy could be recounted for engineering, surveying, patenting, advertising and other professional service organisations. (It should also be mentioned that the New Labour government embrace many of these processes).

However, in order to avail of these opportunities, private sector professional service firms, like their public sector counterparts, had to undergo a process of change. They had to embrace commercialisation, put the paying client before all other obligations and restructure their firms in order to add increasing value to client services. For individual professionals, career progression is ever more closely tied to entrepreneurial success and the exhibiting of commercial awareness. This meant a redefining of professionalism so that it came to mean adhering to the goals of the paying client and being commercially aware. Such values represented a shift from the social service professionalism which people traditionally associate with professionals. Professionals such as accountants and lawyers had to travel a shorter distance down this commercialised path than their public sector counterparts because they always operated in a commercialised market. But such changes altered what these professionals saw as their role (or possibly they were now prepared to publicly state what they always privately saw as their role), what meaning they derived from their work and whom they saw it as serving. The non-paying customer - be it the state, the citizen or at times the shareholder - appears to have been squeezed within this environment resulting, it could be argued, in scandals such as the Maxwell one, BCCI, Polly Peck, etc.

Two things are noticeable about recent times. Firstly, it is significant that this transition took place in the 1980s and 1990s when other pillars of social democracy were being dismantled and the neo-liberalism of the New Right ran rampant. This suggests a sea change in society which allowed certain professionals shed the ill fitting robes of social service professionalism for the new clothes of commercialised professionalism. The enthusiasm of some suggests such a shedding came not a moment too soon. Secondly, the ideological shift by a large portion of the professional strata undoubtedly put pressure on those professionals who rejected this transition to conform to the new reality and stop behaving like 'dinosaurs'. In short, it strengthened the hand of those who argued for a cultural cleansing (Strangleman 1999) of the old professionalism. Although no systematic work has been done on this, the fact that commercialised professionals like those in the big accountancy firms were engaged in the restructuring of areas of the welfare state such as community care lends support to the thesis (Lewis et al 1995).

Discussion - Where Do We Go From Here?

I have argued that the New Right, sometimes unintentionally, have reshaped professionalism and professional employment over the past twenty years. They attacked the old social service ethos of professionalism because it was seen as a pillar of social democracy. This reshaping has entailed the further development of a commercialised professionalism in the private sector and it undermined the social service professionalism in the public sector. This has led to an ideological vacuum in terms of what the role and meaning of much professional work is, especially in the public sector arena. It seems reasonable to suggest that the commercialised professionalism of the private sphere will get stronger rather than weaker as it is here that professional employment is growing. This is in contrast to the period of the post war boom where public sector professionalism and its accompanying social service ideology grew most rapidly enabling it to achieve hegemony and further tie much of the service class to the welfare state. Trends in the opposite direction will potentially weaken service class commitment to the welfare state as professionals increasingly develop a highly individualised, commercialised view of their career and work which is intimately connected to the market and the paying client. In short, unlike the recent past, professional futures will be bound up with success in the market place (or in the new public management organisation). This marketisation may ultimately individualise and weaken a sense of community upon which a welfare state depends. If my analysis is correct these developments will remove another service class brick from the social democratic wall and will debilitate the welfare state and solidify the neo-liberal view that the state is not ultimately responsible for the allocation of resources to its citizens (Jordan 1998, Culpitt 1999).

One could argue that the trends I have outlined will intensify over the next decade as organisations that have undergone transition and been taken over by the commercialised Young Turks, look to recruit people in their own image thereby leading to the amplification of the commercialised tendency. Such a view seems plausible when I look around the Universities and focus on the gap emerging between new colleagues and longer established ones over things like what the meaning of academic work is, what its role should be, who it is for and how it should be assessed. The reforms are altering these meanings. For example, Research Assessment Exercises, Teaching Quality Assessment, generating research income, reading instrumentally rather than for blue skies research appear to have more validity amongst newer colleagues. Indeed, they represent opportunities (even if they may do long term damage to the craft) and are built into how I think about my job having experienced nothing else (although it must be pointed out that these new structures are managed by older more senior academics). Needless to say, when involved in recruiting I look for people who know how to play the new game. By doing so, I reinforce the current rules and further bury any possibility of going back to older practices (for good or ill). This means I endorse the reforms by my everyday practice and hence strengthen them whether I intend to or not. Such strengthening changes academia and what is allowable and ideologically defensible within it. Similar practices appear to be emerging across both the public and private sector professions such as teaching, medicine, law and accountancy as older ways of working and thinking about work are undermined.

However, we are not at the end of this road yet. I believe the changes outlined represent a real cleavage within the service class. It is simplistic to divide this cleavage in terms of public and private sector, after all legal aid lawyers are in the private sector and NHS managers are in the public sector, however it is a convenient short hand. Social service professionals are currently trying to shore up their power and resist or manipulate the change they are bound up in. It seems they want to avoid the worse excesses of commercialisation and maintain service on the basis of need rather than ability to pay. Whether or not they will be able to do so remains to be seen but this means they have a vested interest in a welfare state paid for out of taxation and thus some sort of socially democratic state. This group will be uncomfortable with the neo-liberal state the current hegemony offers (a point New Labour should perhaps note). In contrast, large elements of the professional private sector will endorse this neo-liberal agenda with its emphasis on individual responsibility, international competition and an open economy because these features ensure the environment out of which they have done quite well. Thus there is potentially real conflict here. Whether this is a bitter conflict between different Weberian status groups within a homogenous service class or evidence that the service class is not homogenous is beyond the scope of this paper, however, one thing is certain, it is an important struggle and one which will help shape the future of the UK.


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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000