Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Clause 4 Moment?

The major problem with the Labour Party Consultative Document "Refounding Labour" is that it manages to put forward over a 100 questions on how the Labour Party should operate and function without ever raising the key question which should shape our approach to these bits and pieces : namely, what is the Labour Party supposed to be about? What is its purpose?

Yet there is a well known section of the Constitution of the Labour Party which deals with the paramount issue of what its very aims and values are - its famous Clause IV.

I can appreciate why the Labour Leadership would wish to avoid a re-run of the past disputes over reforming Clause IV, which were initially unsuccessfully instigated by Hugh Gaitskell and then successfully by Tony Blair. For if they had even mentioned the words "Clause 4" in their Consultative Document, then that would have been enough to stimulate an argument as to whether we should return to the original wording that was adopted in 1918 namely - "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service." The publicity around the Labour Party itself re-opening this debate could have been used to damage Labour's standing. But perhaps our responses to the Consultative Document could be used to get the matter of aims and values back onto the agenda, yet we might be able to avoid any major damage from the media. Especially if we use the words of the original Clause IV as inspirational, rather than treating them as if they were the Holy Grail.

The current Clause IV appears below. What do you think of it as it stands?

Clause IV.
Aims and values

1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

2. To these ends we work for:

A. A DYNAMIC ECONOMY, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them
B. A JUST SOCIETY, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.
C. AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed.
D. A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

3. Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people and to co-operating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

4. Labour shall work in pursuit oft these aims with trade unions and co-operative societies and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

5. On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.

As a democratic socialist, I can live with much of the above. Sub-clause 1 appears on the front of Labour Party Membership Cards and is what many members may believe is the full Clause. But there are four more sub-clauses given above. The first section presses for each person to be given the chance to reach their own potential, rather than seeing people as benefiting by sharing and helping each other. But the overall phraseology is ambiguous enough to be given a general form of democratic socialist interpretation. And the meaning given to the sub-clause depends to some extent what then follows.

It is sub-clause 2a which is the major drawback for me. It encapsulates the New Labour approach which came to fail us both morally and electorally by 2010. Here the concept of the "Dynamic Economy" attempts to marry together the opposing forces of a mainly unrestrained free enterprise approach with that of the public well-being. Below I offer an alternative form of words in favour of advancing the alternative concept of a "Sustainable Economy".
In sub-clause 2b, I am also concerned about the commitment to promoting "equality of opportunity", a concept which creates the image of us being lined up on the starting line to race against each other, rather than our working together to form an egalitarian, participatory and sharing society. The notion of "social equality" seems to me to point us in a better direction.

My two proposed amendments are given below. Limiting the changes in the overall wording, whilst trying to get to the heart of the matter, seems to me to be a practical yet principled approach.

Proposed amendments.

A. Replace sub-clause 2a on “A Dynamic Economy” with the following -

“A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY, serving the public interest by operating through the principles of co-operation and participatory democracy, in which wealth and economic power are fairly shared.”

B. Amend sub-clause 2b on “A Just Society” as follows -
"Replace the words"equality of opportunity" with the words "social equality".


Richard said...

I couldn't agree more, Harry. THanks for posting the link on Left Foot Forward or I may never have come across your blog.

Harry Barnes said...

Richard : Cheers. You seem just to have set up your blog facility. Welcome.

Harry Barnes said...

I sent a version of this thread to the Labour Party and I have today received the following reply -
"Thank you for your submission to Refounding Labour. We are very grateful for the time you have taken to send Peter Hain your comments. Your analysis of the sub-clauses of the Labour constitution is very interesting, especially your concept of "sustainable economy".

All submissions will be fed into the final document. If you would like to carry on the conversation, please visit the Refounding Labour website at www.refoundinglabour.org"

Rory said...

Hi Harry, here is your comment:

I need to thank you for raising the Blue Labour issue, for it was only after reading your Blog that I turned to the ebook and downloaded a copy. I find Blue Labourism, however, a difficult notion to grasp hold off and I am in danger of thinking that this is its own fault for being incomprehensible. So I need to examine it more carefully. You will need to excuse me for using your comment box to sort out some of my initial thoughts.

Each of the four chapters of the ebook leads with a key article by a Blue Labour advocate. First, Maurice Glasman says that Blue Labour brings together two ancient traditions which are (a) Aristotelian and (b) in the tradition of a proclaiming "rights of freeborn Englishmen". This all sounds rather grand, but the Aristotelian bit has little to do with the broad sweep of Aristotle's ideas. It is limited to Aristotle's notion of the Golden Mean in which he advocates taking up the middle position between extreme ideas. But much then depends on (i) what you take the extremes to be and (ii) how wide the difference is between the extemes on offer. If the extremes are, say anarchism and fascism; then there is a world of difference between these views, so where is the Golden Mean to be found- and on which bit of middle ground? What he says on the rights of "freeborn Englishmen" is (as these thinkers claim) a strong historical tradition which the poor and the depressed pushed well before the Labour Party was founded . It is based on the notion that these rights were first attacked as a consequence of the Norman Invasion; although many events have occured since where they have been under further attack - under, say, Charles I who was seen as trying to establish full Monarchical power to upset a more traditional balance in the way constitutional power was perceived to operate.

The lead article in Chapter Two is by Marc Stears. Whilst he makes some interesting points on issues such as the renewal of the Labour Party, I have not yet seen how his analysis relates to a Blue Labour's stance.

Chapter Three seems to me to be more specific than Maurice Glasman is about Blue Labourism. Here Jonathan Rutherford seems to ignore Glasman's references to Aristotle and to develop instead the the notion of the long term struggle by the people against being dispossed. He does this in detail on pages 95 to 98. This analysis leads Rutherford to both radical and conservative conclusions. On the radical side, he attacks the the culture of capitalism which he sees as having come to dominate our society over the last three decades. On the conservative side he quotes Scurton favourably when he talks of his own working class father thus - "Even in his bitterest protests against the monarchy, the artistocacy and the class systemm, he was a patriot".

The final lead article is by Stuart White, in which he has an early section entitled "What is radical conservatism?". Here he offers differing radical and conservative interpretations on what is needed. On the former he calls for the power of capital to be balanced by workers' rights. On the latter, he calls for less emphasis on redistribution, welfare transfers and the state as a provider of services. Whilst after some rather right-wing noises he concludes by favouring the radical views of Tom Paine over what are seen as the conservative views of Edmund Burke.

Without becoming doctrinaire, there is a need for Blue Labour to clarify its stance so that we can follow it. On the other hand it would not be healthy to have started out from a uniform stance. Ideas need to be in debate with each other, even in a given camp. Its just that the rest of us need to get a handle on what they are about before we can either generally accept or reject what is on offer.

Richard said...

Harry,we shall see, though I don't think I'll be holding my breath. I don't know if you have heard but the consultation process is being run by an outside company called Zentrum Consulting. When will they ever learn?


Harry Barnes said...

Yes Richard - Zentrum in the New Statesman, as I pointed out in an item on 3 June which you commented on at the time.

Robert said...

I've a feeling the refounding Labour interest only those who see Labour as socialist.

A few weeks ago I was asked to go with a friend to his medical for ESA, he has Cerebral Palsy, hell of a job to fake that one, we went the doctor was nice asked him some question obviously he's disabled, he has problems speaking problems holding a conversation, he is shy, and he has Cerebral Palsy, he was found fit to work and could go straight to JSA, we are of course going to appeal.

So what is Labour for if not the sick the disabled the poor the working class, has it really become the party of the smalConservativetive.


I did ask Labour and was told to direct my questions to the Tories are they are now in power, not labour, good solid New labour answer blame the world not them