Are there Tory unionists

Great Britain: End of Tory rule thanks to "new" Labor Party? / by Klaus Funken. - [Electronic ed.]. - Bonn, 1994. - 13 pp. = 42 Kb, text. - (FES analysis)
Electronic ed .: Bonn: EDV -stelle of the FES, 1997

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Despite the not unfavorable economic development, the ruling Conservative Party, and above all its Prime Minister, John Major, continues to have low opinion among the British public. Major is the most unpopular head of government in decades.

Since 1992, the Tories have suffered heavy defeats in by-elections, European and local elections, while Labor is on the rise.

In British majority voting, voters are now concentrating their votes in downright anti-Tory coalitions and preferring the opposition candidate who has the greatest chance of winning the constituency directly. This change in voting behavior makes a change of government more and more likely.

The new Labor leader Blair, a representative of the right wing of the party, has committed the party to a modernization course that opens Labor to the center. Socialist rhetoric, union dominance and ambivalence towards the market economy are being replaced by commitments to entrepreneurial and individual initiative.

The Blair program relies on a skills offensive for employees and less government, is committed to Europe and to the technological and political and social renewal of British society. The Tories are being beaten with their own weapons.

The process of transformation of the Labor Party from a socialist to a social democratic party is changing British political culture. Labor is "in", the end of Tory rule seems to be looming.

There are many indications that 1994 will go down in political history in Great Britain as a year in which the change of opinion from the Conservatives in favor of a Social Democrat mutated Labor Party (The New Labor Party) took place.

The persistent bitter dispute within the Conservative Party over the role of Great Britain in a rapidly changing world, which is only dangerously ignited by questions of further European integration, but goes beyond questions of European policy, is anything but defused. In terms of European policy, the government is in retreat and allows the Eurosceptics to dictate the pace and extent of its policy. When it comes to domestic, financial and social policy issues, it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to establish consensus among her ranks. The consideration of partial interests increasingly determines the survival of the government. The unpopular Prime Minister, who is also still controversial in his own party, remains in office, because all attempts within the party to get rid of John Major this year have failed because another personnel decision does not seem to have a majority. The government has run out of personnel, has no new ideas, and is bogged down in endless trench warfare. The Conservative Party as a whole seems disoriented, entangled in wing battles that can hardly be bridged, it is condemned to be weak at the top and to lazy compromises on essential questions of politics. There is no sign of a leading figure of Margret Thatcher's stature breaking through the Gordian knot.

The Labor Party is different. After the tragic death of John Smith, the choice of his successor turns out to be a godsend. With the new chairman Blair, the Labor Party is carrying out a generation change that is tantamount to a turning point in terms of personnel and program. At the Labor Party conference in Blackpool in early October, Blair demonstrated that he not only has a strong charismatic aura that his predecessor John Smith lacked, he also embodies confidence in victory, credibility and competence for many. The British press is already talking of the "New Labor Party", which has successfully taken over the opinion leadership that the Conservatives had held for fifteen years. In legal and domestic policy, in financial and employment policy, in foreign and European policy, opinion polls mean that the Labor Party has a higher level of competence than the Conservatives. It is chic again to pretend to be a Labor supporter. And this is also reflected in the published opinion.

It has been thirty years since Harold Wilson was at the helm of the Labor Party, who, like Tony Blair, can give the party and the public the impression that a change is overdue and realistic. Blair's election and his program of the center also demonstrate the determination of the Labor Party to replace the Conservative government under John Major with a policy of pragmatism and a sense of proportion, coupled with a healthy will to power.

The Conservative Party Crisis

John Major's party remains low in opinion, although the economic data could be quite impressive: The rate of price increase has remained stable at around two percent for more than a year, economic performance this year is growing faster than the government predicted by three percent, and unemployment has fallen by 400,000 from its 1992 peak. However, John Major has so far failed to take advantage of it; he is by far the most unpopular prime minister since the 1930s, when public opinion polls first measured prime ministers' popularity.

In a representative Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph from September 1994 this finding is substantiated: When asked whether the current good economic situation can be attributed to the politics of the government or to global economic influences, 8% of the respondents answered that the government was responsible, 68% said on the other hand global economic influences. Even from the conservative camp, only 18% believed the economic upswing to be a credit to the government, 54% said it was more due to the development of the world economy.

The answers to the crucial question of economic policy competence for elections looked accordingly. When asked, "If Britain is in economic trouble, which party do you think is most likely to deal with it, the Conservatives or the Labor Party?" answer for:

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Persistent electoral defeats of the Tories

Since the general election in April 1992, there has been a trend in by-elections, local and regional elections that have been consistently negative for the Tories and that has intensified this year. The Conservative Party has practically no election since 1992. This is particularly evident in the local elections in May and the European elections in June this year. Behind this trend lies a change in voting behavior that has been accelerated by the Blair Effect.

In the local elections on May 5, 1994, the Conservative Party suffered the worst defeat in its history. It lost a total of 429 seats in the 18 county councils, the Labor Party won 83 seats and the Liberal Party 373. Compared to the "terror election" of 1990, when the Conservatives at the height of the controversy over the so-called poll tax with 32% one had to put up with electoral defeats that had not been considered possible until then, the result of the local elections in 1994 means a further deterioration. Behind the Labor Party, which won 41% of the vote (40% in 1990) and the Liberal Party, which won 28% of the vote (18% in 1990), the Conservative Party was in third place with 27%. In Scotland it did even worse: there it ranks fourth after the Scottish Nationalists.

The winner of the local elections in May was the Liberal Democratic Party, which increased its share of the vote from 18 to 28% and gained over 370 seats. In London, she took the constituency of Lambeth, a left-wing stronghold in the Labor Party, from the Labor Party, and the Conservatives of Kingston, which has always been a heartland of the Tories. In Bath it won 21% of the vote from the Conservatives and 15% in Worthing, both constituencies were considered impregnable conservative strongholds. The only downer for the Liberals was their defeat in Tower Hamlet, the London constituency where the local party organization had tried to emulate the right-wing British National Party with xenophobic slogans. The party leadership was forced to initiate party regulatory proceedings against those responsible and publicly condemn the campaign. The Liberal Democrats then received the receipt for their flirt with right-wing radical slogans in the local elections when they lost their majority against Labor.

The increase in votes for the Labor Party was not quite as strong. The reason for this was that she had already achieved an excellent election result in 1990. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, did not do so well in 1990. Nonetheless, Labor gained another percentage point and achieved the best result in a local election since its inception: In Scotland, in the north of England, in the Midlands and in the south, the Labor Party was able to stabilize its brilliant result in the local election of 1990. Birmingham was held despite the Conservatives doing everything they could to overturn the Labor City Council. Croyden, in south London, was conquered by Labor for the first time after more than a hundred years of Conservative supremacy, and London's Ealing district was also won. On the other hand, Labor could not yet achieve important goals: the two London constituencies of Westminster and Wandsworth were held by the Conservatives, although the Conservative City Council of Westminster was embroiled in a nationally known housing scandal. In the south of the country, the Labor Party was unable to fully defend its 1990 result; Bath went to the Liberal Democratic Party.

European elections: Labor Party success

In the European elections on June 12, the Conservative Party suffered another humiliating defeat. The voter turnout remained low at a good 35%, which was mainly due to the abstention of the conservative voter potential. To the great surprise, the Liberal Democratic Party did not do as well this time as it did in the May 5 elections. The big winner was the Labor Party, which increased its share of the vote by 4.1% to 44.2%. Of the 87 British seats in the European Parliament, it was able to unite 62 (+ 17 seats) alone, the Conservatives won 18 seats (- 14 seats) with 27.8% (- 6.3%), the Liberal Democrats won 16, 7% on 2 seats. The Scottish nationalists received 3.2% (2 seats), the Northern Irish parties SDLP (Social Democrat and Labor Party), the DUP (Democratic Ulster Unionists) and the OUP (Official Ulster Unionists) each received one seat in the European Parliament.

For the opposition Labor Party, this was the best national election result in over 30 years. In the difficult phase after the death of John Smith, the leadership of the party had shown a considerable degree of unity and discipline and was able to avoid a tense scramble for the successor of John Smith. She was downright statesmanlike cautious, which earned her additional sympathy. In addition, there is the Blair effect, which can be seen in the relatively unfavorable result for the Liberal Democrats. Labor achieved a clear breakthrough in the country's south-west for the first time in a national election in the European elections, the strongholds of the Conservatives, who until then only knew how to successfully grind the Liberal Democrats. Now the Labor Party shows that it too is capable of defeating the Conservative Party in its own place.

The Tories got their worst national election result, but it turned out to be not so catastrophic rated as previously feared. The Conservative Party headquarters and the Tory-friendly press had already set expectations for the European elections so low after the disaster of the local elections and the by-elections of May 5th that even a new debacle could still be counted as a relative success for the Prime Minister . The motto was that John Major would only be at risk if the Conservative Party achieved a single-digit result, which could be considered highly improbable. So John Major and his helpers had one trick before another untimely leadership discussion saved before MPs went into summer recess.

The election results of the last two years, in which the conservatives were unable to win any election - be it by-elections, regional or local elections - show a significant change in the voting behavior of the non-conservative population: it gives the candidate of the opposition parties their vote who has the most chances of winning the constituency outright. The Liberal Democrats consciously base their campaign strategy on this. Although both party leaderships reject voting agreements or recommendations to voters, the voting behavior of voters, including most party members, amounts to bringing about a promising anti-conservative election decision.

The foreseeable result of this development will be that the Conservative Party will no longer manage to win national elections with around 43% of the votes - as in 1983, 1987 and 1992. Rather, it will have to garner 45% or more votes in order to defend its absolute majority in the House of Commons. Even if the existing constituency boundaries are changed in favor of the Convervative Party and primarily to the detriment of the Labor Party, it will be extremely difficult for the Conservatives to win 45% or more of the votes cast. A change of government in Great Britain is therefore becoming more and more likely.

The new profile of the Labor Party

The chances of a change for Labor are better than they have been in a long time. Not only in local and regional elections, in by-elections to the House of Commons and in the European elections, but also in opinion polls published since July, the party mostly left its competitors far behind. The decisive factor is that Labor is now ahead of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the constituencies in the south of the country, which have hitherto been impregnable for them. The liberals feel most threatened by Blair, for he is pushing the Labor Party further into the middle and thus into the spectrum of voters that the Liberals have always tried to claim for themselves and that the Labor Party under Michael Foot and Tony Benn had left so generously. The Liberal Democrats have fallen from around 24% before John Smith's death in the spring to 17% in mid-August.

In addition, Tony Blair has met with sympathy and approval from previously anti-labor or at least labor-skeptical groups of voters: among the affluent elderly as well as among the middle-class women with solid values, the self-employed, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and the non-party management of large companies. At the same time, he manages to keep the traditional Labor milieu in line.

In the Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph September recorded the shift in sentiment in favor of Labor. Only twelve percent of those questioned found the Conservative Party attractive, while 81% disapproved of the government's achievements. 62% found the Labor Party against it "favorable", 34% the Liberal Democrats. The Labor Party has been" in "for the first time since the early 1960s, it isfashionable"to identify with her. When asked which party they would vote if there were general elections now, they were in favor of:

Aug. 94Jun 94Option 92

The change in sentiment in favor of the Labor Party is largely due to its new party leader: When asked who is best suited for the office of prime minister, in the Gallup poll in September 41.5% voted for Tony Blair, 15.6% for John Major and 14.5% for Paddy Ashdown. So the Prime Minister is around 26 percentage points behind his challenger.

More internal party democracy

It has only been a good two years since John Smith was elected party leader to succeed Neil Kinnock with an overwhelming vote of confidence. After its depressing defeat in April 1992, Smith had not only been able to hold the party together, but also kept it on its path to modernization. The cornerstones of his modernization strategy were: turning away from collectivist models of thought and from the socialist dogmas of the past such as nationalization, traditional subsidy policy and an excessive redistributive tax policy, turning to the individual with their respective needs, interests and expectations, commitment to pragmatism and realistic reform politics.

An essential cornerstone of this strategy concerned the relationship between the Labor Party and the trade unions. It was about the principle "One member one vote"(OMOV) as a decisive design principle for the internal party decision-making processes and thus abolish the so-called block voting procedure, with which the unions affiliated to the Labor Party were given a decisive say. In truth, the" union barons "more or less dominated the politics of the party This was especially true for personnel decisions.Rumor has it that the abrupt departure of Neil Kinnock and the surprisingly quick enthronement of John Smith shortly after the lost April 1992 election were essentially decided and enforced by the five most powerful union bosses. Above all, the influence of the individual members in the constituencies remained limited, which severely impaired the attractiveness of the Labor Party in public and society and earned the party the reputation of being a union member.

To the surprise of many, John Smith made it clear shortly after his election as party leader that in future the trade union leaderships would no longer have any direct influence in the selection of candidates for the British Parliament or in the election of the party leadership. Union members should only gain influence over politics and the selection of candidates through their individual membership in the Labor Party.

Not taken seriously at first, the big unions organized bitter resistance when they saw that with perseverance and persuasion, Smith could unite a majority in the party leadership. Unions like UNISON, TGWU, GMB and MSF spoke out clearly against OMOV at their congresses. No compromise could be reached between Smith and the union barons, especially John Edmonds of GMB and Bill Morris of TGWU, ahead of the convention. It appeared that Smith did not have a majority at the party congress, as the selection of delegates was heavily influenced by the opposition unions and the block voting process was still in place. Only when MSF, which had previously also voted against OMOV, released its delegates to vote and after John Prescott spoke in a brilliant speech in favor of Smith's proposal, did the new voting procedure come through with an extremely narrow majority.

The Brighton Decision provides for the following:

1.) Parliamentary candidates are no longer - as before - elected by individual trade unions and party members from the constituencies, but only by the party members in the constituencies. Union members who are affiliated with the Labor Party and who pay an additional contribution of £ 3 per year to the party can participate in the selection process and affiliate unions can propose their own candidates.

2.) The party chairmen and their deputies will be from one in the future electoral college elected from three groups of equal size: trade unions, members of the House of Commons and the European Parliament and party members from the constituencies. So far, the unions had 40% of the delegates' votes, 60% of party members from the constituencies and Labor members in the House of Commons and in the European Parliament.

3.) The trade unionists will no longer vote in the bloc on behalf of their respective trade unions at the party congresses, but each trade unionist sent by the trade unions will have individual voting rights. The share of trade unionists at the party congresses is - as before - 70% of the delegates' votes, but it will decrease as the number of individual memberships in the party increases. If membership increases from the current 250,000 to 300,000, the union quota drops to 50%. The number of trade unionists on the party executive committee drops from 18 to 12 out of a total of 29 party executive committee members.

As before, the direct influence of the trade unions on the Labor Party remains high, although the Brighton decision marks a turning point within the party: The Labor Party as the political arm of the trade unions in Parliament has now finally had its day, although it is still against such a view articulated before resistance in the trade unions, which Tony Blair has to reckon with.

At that time in Brighton no one suspected that less than nine months after the decision on OMOV, the new electoral procedure had to be used to determine the successor to John Smith as party chairman.

Leader and deputy leader are represented by a "electoral college", which consists of three equal-sized sections: 1/3 MPs and MEPs, 1/3 individual members in the constituencies, 1/3 members of the Labor Party affiliated trade unions and" socialist societies ". An electoral commission (Unity Security Balloting Services), which called on the members of the Labor groups in the lower house and in the European Parliament as well as the individual members in the constituencies to vote by post and sent them postal voting documents. The unions carried out the postal votes for their members on their own responsibility. As elected in the respective section is the one who can collect more than 50% of the votes cast. If the 50% mark is not reached, the candidate who received the fewest votes is deleted and his number of votes is then distributed to the remaining candidates.

The new electoral process gives the new party leader a degree of democratic legitimacy that has never been seen before in Great Britain, which will automatically strengthen his position in the party, especially in relation to the parliamentary group and trade union leaders. At the same time, the power of the union leadership and party officials in choosing the party elite was decisively curtailed. This democratic revolution will fundamentally change the face of the Labor Party. Tony Blair had urged this process in the party leadership and, together with John Smith, was able to get it through last year at the party conference in Brighton. He himself knows that the new party statute is not yet the last word in matters of intra-party democracy, further steps will have to follow, but the decisive irreversible beginning towards a modern, democratic party has been made. At the same time, however, the new electoral process has made the Labor Party more attractive to society as a whole. She and her new party leader have also benefited from this, as the latest opinion polls show.

Hope bearer Blair

With 57% of the vote, the Labor Party voted for Tony Blair as the new chairman. The deputy was surprisingly John Prescot, who was able to prevail with 56.5% against Margaret Beckett, the candidate of the left and feminists. Blair won in all sectors of the electorate: 61% of the parliamentarians in the House of Commons and in the European Parliament, 58% of the votes in the constituencies and 52% of the votes in the unions. The turnout in the trade unions was just under 20%, while it was a good 70% in the constituencies.

At 41, Tony Blair is the youngest party leader the Labor Party has ever elected chairman. He is considered a brilliant debater and telegenic. Like Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, he belongs to the right wing of the party. He is considered the most decisive modernizer in the party leadership. The trained lawyer, trained in private schools and elite universities in the country, is more of a newcomer to the Labor Party, who made his way in the party after the interlude under Michael Foot and Tony Benn. In this respect, he is considered completely unencumbered by the traditional Labor milieu of the 1970s and the decline of the party in the early 1980s.

As soon as he was elected to parliament, he was quickly offered prominent positions in the parliamentary group. He is therefore often criticized by his opponents as a featureless whiz kid. In the Shadow Cabinets under Neil Kinnock and John Smith, he was responsible for education, employment and most recently for domestic affairs. Blair was mostly concerned with his law and order Politics a name that successfully competed with the conservative government in its very own field of profiling.

With the election of Tony Blair as chairman and John Prescott, whom many as a veteran warrior of the working class tend to underestimate, as deputy, the Labor Party will continue its modernization course with even more vigor and speed. The Labor Party's decision to move towards the political center, the realization that elections are not won at the fringes but in the middle, has now found a credible expression in terms of personnel with the election of Tony Blair.

The new party leader must now remove the three main handicaps that have stood in the way of a Labor Party victory in the last 15 years: the party's ambivalence towards the market economy, its dependence on the unions, and its indifference to the hopes and expectations of the middle class .

Blair has appeared in a number of keynote addresses, most notably his leadership manifesto and made it clear in his speech to the Labor Party Congress in Blackpool that he intended to take up all three handicaps, with relations with the unions certainly being the most difficult. The relationship between some union leaders and the Labor leadership is still unfriendly or even disturbed. Nonetheless, most trade unionists have resigned themselves to the fact that they can no longer dominate the Labor Party congresses as they did before. The attempt of the new party leader with a surprise coup Clause Four Eliminating the Labor Party's basic program, which commits the party to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange", only narrowly failed. Nevertheless, not only Blair, but also the trade unionists know that part of the Labor Party's credibility depends precisely on whether and how it manages to cut off old braids such as Clause 4.

Blair's program in the middle

Blair relies more on the traditional values ​​of British middle-class society than on the multiculturalism of the rainbow coalitions of the blue collar working class and all kinds of marginalized groups in society. He emphasizes the central value of the family for a prosperous development of society, he sees the rights of the individual inseparably linked to his duties towards the neighbor, society and the state, he relies more on subsidiarity as a design principle of his social policy than on the traditional solidarity of the Working class.

For him, the focus is on the individual with their hopes, expectations and interests, not an anonymous collective, not even the powerful social group that knows how to enforce their interests more or less effectively the more they feel connected to the respective government. There will be no return to typical British post-war cooperatism under Tony Blair either. Immediately after his election as chairman, he made it clear that he would no longer give the trade unions privileged access to a future Labor government.

Politicians have to face the question of how class, class, gender and race-specific disadvantages of the individual can be reduced or, better still, prevented. Questions of upbringing, a good general education for everyone, future-oriented vocational training, a comprehensive further and further education system for lifelong learning are the focus of his domestic policy.

In his keynote address at the party conference in Blackpool on October 4th, Blair made clear the Labor Party's claim to leadership in British politics with a whole package of far-reaching political reforms: "We are putting forward the biggest program of change to democracy ever proposed by a political party.

- Every citizen to be protected by fundamental rights that cannot be taken away by the state or their fellow citizens enshrined in a bill of rights.

- Government will be brought closer to the people. We will legislate for a strong Scottish Parliament, an Assembly for Wales, in the first year of a Labor government. And the Tory quangos (these are quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations) will be brought back under proper democratic control.

- We will enact a Freedom of Information Act to attack secrecy wherever it exists, public or private sector.

- We will reform the House of Commons to make its working practices and its powers to investigate more effective, and to achieve through our Party the increase in the number of women MPs that we have talked about for so long.

- We will make history by ending the ancient and indefensible of hereditary peers voting on the law of the land.

- We will tighten the rules of financing of political parties. And since trade unions are balloted on their political contribution, it is only fair that in this free country shareholders are balloted on theirs. "

The Leadership manifesto of June 23, with which Blair registered his claim for the office of Leader of the opposition and also for that of a future Prime Minister of a Labor government, formulated a program of continuity and modernization with clear accents in the areas of economic and educational policy.

All the highlights of former Labor politics, such as the question of market or state, public or private sector, nationalization or privatization, regulation or deregulation, are avoided. Society has a vital role to play in developing an effective market economy, but the government should not run the economy itself. "The purpose of economic intervention is not so that the government can run industry, but that it should work with it so that industry is better able to run itself."

Within an "invest-and-growth culture", efforts are urgently needed to improve the competitiveness of British industry. This included examining the structure of government operations and the tax system with a view to encouraging long-term investment and establishing a development bank for small and medium-sized enterprises. Ensuring that every company invests in its workforce and the use of the latest mass communication tools for a "University of Industry" which, like the "open university", offers a comprehensive range of retraining, advanced training and further education, underline the importance of qualification is attributed by labor.

Blair is committed to the goal of full employment, but avoids precisely defining what he means by "high and stable levels of employment". In the short term, long-term and youth unemployment z. B. be addressed through municipal housing programs and reform of employer's national insurance. The extension of workers' rights for part-time workers, the introduction of a minimum wage, the right of workers to trade union representation and the recognition of trade unions as negotiating partners are further cornerstones of the program.

In his party conference speech, Blair made a clear commitment to the European Union and thus distanced himself from the Conservative Party's dangerously growing disaffection with Europe, which is shared by more and more leading Tories, including in the government. Blair in Blackpool: "The Tories are playing with Europe and the future of this country. Let them. Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated or left behind in Europe ... Britain's interests demand that this country is at the forefront of the development of the new Europe. " The introduction of a single European currency is supported, "but it cannot be forced in defiance of economic facts". For an intensification of European cooperation key areas such as employment, infrastructures, technology and training.

Tax policy is essentially about questions of tax justice, honesty and fairness "in place of lies and widening inequalities of the conservative years."

Education and training play a key role not only in meeting personal expectations, but also in the prosperity of the economy and the creation of a "good society".

The reform of the welfare system should focus on creating work for those who can work. Help should be concentrated on families and carers, disabled people should be given a "civil right", everyone should be able to live in a decent and financially sustainable apartment.

In the fight against crime, Blair sees a focus on restoring confidence in the criminal justice system, more attention must be paid to the victims of crime, and the judiciary must be completely overhauled. "Local partnership strategies" with more police officers in the precinct, cooperation with the central government on certain offenses such as drug-related crime are further suggestions.

Conservatives at a loss

The Conservative Party was deeply concerned about the never-ending decline in popularity of its Prime Minister and the ongoing high public opinion for the Labor Party and its new leader. She doesn't quite know how to tackle Blair, as a conservative in disguise or as a (socialist) wolf in (conservative) sheep's clothing. Blair is therefore preferably hushed up. Instead, the Conservative Party is shooting at Blair's deputy, John Prescott, who, as an old fighter of the working class, is what she believes is a convenient target. So far, however, this tactic has hardly had any success.

In addition, the previously friendly press is running away from you. The press empire of the Australian media tycoon Rupart Murdoch, who has repeatedly encouraged the overthrow of John Majors since "black wednesday" in September 1992 at the latest, takes a liking to the young, brave and telegenic Labor leader. If he Blair honey moon in public for a long time or whether even the Murdoch press with their flagships "Sun" and "Times"Changing sides and actually going over to Labor is unpredictable. Raising this question alone, however, shows the change in British politics.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | March 1998