Friday, 26 June 1992


Tribune, 26 June 1992

Labour's failure to think through the reasons for its April 9 defeat bodes ill for the future, writes Paul Anderson

The analysis of the election defeat presented last week to Labour’s National Executive Committee by the Shadow Com­munications Agency has stirred up a hornets’ nest.
The general conclusion of the post mortem by the party’s public relations advisers is that Labour lost not because of faults in the campaign, nor because of (easily changeable) unpopular policies, but for much the same reason that it lost in 1987. Under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, Labour was simply not trusted by the floating voters it had to attract to win.
According to, the SCA, it is seen as old-fashioned, too concerned with no-hopers and minorities, too re­liant on the trade unions.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused a furore among critics of the SCA's role in the run-up to the election. John Prescott has accused the SCA, which played a major role in decision-making during the elec­tion campaign, of attempting to divert criticism away from itself.

Supporters of Bryan Gould have detected a different hidden agenda behind the SCA’s findings: they are too convenient by half for all those, particularly the architects of Labour's tax and economic policies, who want to keep Labour on the same tack that it has taken since 1987.

But, for all the legitimate con­cern about the power and politics of an unelected body at the top of the Labour Party, the reality is that the SCA's analysis gives no comfort to anyone in the leader­ship. Indeed, it suggests that the whole approach adopted by Labour from 1987 to 1992, designed pre­cisely to address lack of trust in the party and its perceived obso­lescence, failed miserably to achieve its objectives.

The unpalatable truth is that, between 1987 and 1992, Labour did everything in its power to appear modern, responsible and trustworthy. It ditched what the opinion pollsters said were unpopular and impractical policies and it finalised a prudent minimal programme well before the election. It threw out Leninist entrists, played down its links with the unions and exercised an unprecedented collective self-discipline.

The party fought the 1992 election on a cautious social democratic platform, of modest, redistribution and "supply-side" intervention in industry, all carefully costed and easily understandable. Puni­tive taxation was out. So was na­tionalisation. Capital had nothing to fear apart from stricter regula­tion. Labour promised nothing to upset the status quo on defence. On Europe, the line was "go with the flow".

No party could have gone fur­ther, in pursuit of respectability and media-friendliness, Labour even got the endorsement of the Financial Times.

Yet all this was in vain. Ever with substantial help from the To­ries, in the shape of the poll tax and the recession, Labour failed to persuade the voters' that Britain would be safe in its hands.
There is indeed no easy excuse to be found in the conduct of the campaign. Far from leading Labour to conclude that its-general approach in 1987-92 was just about right, the result should pro­voke the party into a thorough and self-critical, examination of why the strategy didn't work: why, af­ter all this effort and all these years, Labour is still widely seen as the party of bureaucratic statism and corporatist carve-up, Is it all about folk memories of the early eighties or the Winter of Dis­content or has it more to do with the party's current practice and culture?

But so far there are few signs that very many of Labour's senior politicians have the stomach for debate about fundamentals. Apart from Bryan Gould, members of the Shadow Cabinet have given only the vaguest indications that they have been thinking critically about Labour's predicament, and the best that most seem capable of coming up with is that things weren’t taken far enough between 1987 and 1992.

A couple of them have said that Labour did not adopt a sufficiently individualist and consumerist rhetoric; rather more have said that Labour's relationship with the trade unions was still too close; and several appear to think that Clause Pour of the party constitu­tion was a problem.

More helpfully, one or two have listed concerns - notably the envi­ronment and constitutional reform – which could have been exploited more effectively by Labour, and John Prescott has used his deputy leadership campaign as a platform to make some trenchant remarks on Labour's organisational fail­ings.

For the most part, however, Labour's leaders have spent the past ten weeks resolutely defend­ing everything they did in the pre­vious five years. Most notably, John Smith, now virtually certain to be the party's next leader, has gone out of his way to identify him­self with the broad thrust of the Kinnock years. His only significant innovation is a cross-party com­mission on, social justice to re­assess the structure of the welfare state.

By contrast, Gould has made some telling points during his cam­paign for the leadership and the deputy leadership. He has argued convincingly that Labour's macho style put off many women voters and that Labour needlessly played down several key issues (the envi­ronment, housing, transport) in its campaigning, and he has made a powerful case tor the inadequacy of Labour’s approach to the democratic agenda. Perhaps most importantly, he has dared to criticise the party’s economic policies for being too timid to convince anyone that a Labour government would do anything about unemployment. 

But even Gould's approach has been flawed. He has been forced to pull too many punches in the struggle for votes and his national Keynesian programme for the economy has taken a battering, for good reason. The distinctive element in his proposed alternative economic policy, devaluation (trimmed to devaluation as part of a general realignment of currencies in the European exchange rate mechanism), is more problematic in electoral terms than anything Labour offered in April. No political party could win an election promising to devalue.
Perhaps the shortage of ideas at the top of the party would not mat­ter quite so much if there were signs of critical life elsewhere. But they are few and far between.

Apart from the few remaining anti-EC Keynesians around Peter Shore, there is no cogent voice of the right independent of the lead­ership these days, and the hard left, although acerbic on Kinnock's stewardship of the party, seems motivated almost entirely by nos­talgia for the good old days of the seventies and early eighties.

Its politics are dominated by a rhetoric of betrayal-by-the-leadership and its priorities are conservative and uninspiring: defence of the block vote and first-past-the-post elections, opposition to the EC and military spending.

Ken Livingstone is alone on the hard left in articulating a coher­ent programme, but it holds few attractions. He has hit on military spending cuts as the key to all Labour's problems. But it is a solu­tion that offers as little in electoral terms as Gould's devaluationism (which Livingstone endorses with knobs on): firing workers in arms factories to pay for teachers and nurses is hardly electorally feasible.

That leaves the amorphous mass of Labour's "soft left" (or centre-left), slowly coming to terms with the prospects of life under a leader who, unlike Kinnock, cannot claim the sentimental loyally of any section of the left. The centre-left kept its head down in the two years before the general election but it is likely that, with Kinnock gone, it will experience something of a revival as backbench MPs and others feel freer to speak their minds. Already the Tribune Group at Westminster is back to weekly meetings and centre-left MPs say that they detect a hunger for open discussion throughout the party.

As yet, however, this is all promise. Perhaps because of the leadership campaign, the centre-left has as yet contributed little of substance: a handful of articles in the Guardian, Tribune and the New Statesman and a few discus­sion papers for conferences. In­deed, it is difficult to work out ex­actly where the centre-left sees Labour going.

There is no centre-left consensus on most of the big questions that the party will have to face in the next couple of years – Europe, economic policy, environmentalism, electoral reform – let alone on internal party affairs.

Optimists say that it is simply a matter of time before this sorts it­self out; pessimists argue that the centre-left is as short of ideas as the hard left and will almost in­evitably end up meekly following in the footsteps of the "business­es-usual" right.

This weekend's Tribune/Labour Co-ordinating Committee confer­ence in London (see advertisement on page 10) is a forum for a free and frank exchange of views rather than a meeting to forge a new radical consensus, but it should give a good indication of what we can expect, from the centre-left in the next couple of years.


Tribune leader, 26 June 1992

The left is, justifiably, generally op­posed to military interventions by big powers in other people's wars. However they are dressed up for public consumption, they are usually at­tempts by the big powers to extend or defend their influence. Far from bring­ing about peace, they usually cause esca­lation and prolongation of wan look at south-east Asia, Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa, Chad, Angola.

But there are times when big-power military intervention in a small war is the only way of preventing something worse. It is becoming increasingly clear that Bosnia today is a case in point.

It is difficult to see how anything short of military intervention from outside will dislodge the Serbian nationalist ir­regular forces, backed by the Govern­ment of Slobodan Milosevic and former Yugoslav federal troops, which are cur­rently laying siege to Sarajevo and ter­rorising the civilian population with random mortar fire. Unless they are dis­lodged, the future for Sarajevo, Bosnia and the rest of what used to be Yu­goslavia is bleak indeed.

A ceasefire alone (if it could be made to hold, which seems unlikely) is not enough. It would simply allow the Ser­bian militias, currently in a psychotic, expansionist mood, to consolidate their current stranglehold on Sarajevo and to get on unmolested with the grisly busi­ness of "ethnic cleansing" in the areas of Bosnia they control, as a prelude to incorporating them into a Greater Serbia. Encouraged by their success, the mili­tias would then turn their attentions to the Albanians in Kosovo and then to the Macedonians.

Everything that the international com­munity has done so for to restrain Ser­bian expansionism has failed. The agree­ment on Croatia brokered by the United Nations special envoy, Cyrus Vance, in January allowed the Serbs to consoli­date their territorial gains there.

The EC's plans for "cantonisation" of Bosnia on ethnic lines, put for­ward in March, only encouraged Serb ambitions to annex large areas of that country: if the EC sticks to this approach, it is almost certain that the Croats will join in the carve-up, effec­tively wiping Bosnia from the map. The sanctions imposed on Serbia and Mon­tenegro by the EC and the United Na­tions last month have had no apprecia­ble effect on the Serbian agression.

A limited military intervention to re­open and secure Sarajevo's airport – its only transport link with the outside world - and to force the Serbian artillery units to retreat from their positions overlooking the city is logistically feasi­ble. It now appears to be the only way that tie world can show the Serbs that it is serious about not tolerating, unpro­voked aggression.

Obviously, there are political a military problems with such a course of action. Any intervention would have to have the backing of the UN, but it would be very difficult for any operation to save Sarajevo actually to be conducted by UN Blue Helmet troops, whose role is traditionally limited to peace-keeping. Intervention is also outside the remit of Nato, the purpose of which is to defend its own members from attack, yet Nato forces would have to be used. Unless the Western European Union were brought in, some sort of ad hoc coalition would need to be set up to do the job. This would take time and might be somewhat chaotic. There is also the possibility that what started as a limited intervention would become an endless commitment.

But none of this constitutes a convinc­ing case against intervention. The or­ganisational difficulties can be over­come if the political will is there, and there is no reason that any military action should not be strictly limited in scope and duration. In any case, there is no alternative on offer and time is gettting short. It is time to grasp the nettle.

Friday, 19 June 1992


Tribune leader, 19 June 1992

The London School of Economics’ simulation of what  would  have happened in the general election if the electoral system had been dif­ferent, conducted by the ICM polling or­ganisation and published last week, is of course only a rough guide to the way that Britain would actually have voted if   the  first-past-the-post  system had been replaced by the additional member system, the alternative vote or the sin­gle transferable vote.

Apart from any considerations of mar­gins of error in opinion polls, even those which survey nearly 10,000 people, vot­ers would almost certainly have be­haved differently in a real-life election under a new system than they did when asked by the LSE's pollsters to play a game of "what if?".

Nevertheless, the LSE survey, commis­sioned in the expectation that there would be a hung parliament and that electoral reform would be at the top of the political agenda, is the best guide we have to the effects of electoral reform for Westminster elections. Its findings are directly relevant to Labour's de­bates on electoral reform and, more sur­prisingly, on relations with the Liberal Democrats.

As far as electoral reform is con­cerned, the survey suggests that, of the two options for change currently being given serious consideration by Labour's Plant Commission on electoral systems, the alternative vote and the additional member system, only the latter fully cor­rects the pro-Tory bias inherent in first past the post.

According to the survey, if the April 9 general election had taken place using AV, which retains single-member con­stituencies but requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference, the Tories would have emerged with a share of seats much larger than their share of the vote, a couple of seats short of an overall majority. Labour would have taken a seat less than it did under first-past-the-post.

By contrast, under AMS, in which MPs from single-member constituencies are "topped up" with MPs from regional lists, seats gained by all parties would have been close to proportional to votes cast. The Tories would have got 268 seats (down 68), Labour 232 (down 39) and the Liberal Democrats 116 (up 96), with Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Na­tional Party taking 18 between them (up 11).

These conclusions should reinforce the already strong case for Labour to reject the idea of changing to AV for elections to the House of Com­mons. The LSE survey shows that AV has no significant advantages over first past the post and all the disadvantages of non-proportionality. 

The Plant Com­mission should now explicitly rule out AV just as it has effectively ruled out the single transferable vote, which is favoured by the Liberal Democrats and would do away with single-member con­stituencies.

The next step should be a strong rec­ommendation of AMS, the only model to tackle the problem of proportionality at the same time as keeping single-member constituencies, in good time for a deci­sion at 1993 party conference.

But the survey should also make Labour banish any notion that it should enter into an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats before the next election. The reason that the Tories would have done so well under AV is that more Liberal Democrat voters would choose a Tory as their second preference vote than would choose a Labour candidate. This means that an electoral   pact   in   which   the   Liberal Democrats   stood   down   in   Tory-held Labour target seats   would do Labour no good at all, and would possibly save several Tories' skins.

The only anti-Tory electoral pact that might work would be a unilateral deci­sion by Labour not to stand in certain Tory-held Liberal Democrat target seats, but the political costs of such a gift to the centre, in terms of internal strife and Labour's credibility as a national party, make such generosity distinctly unappealing.


Tribune, 19 June 1992

Paul Anderson talks to the man almost certain to lead the Labour Party

"I've yet to be persuaded of the merits of a referendum on Maastricht," says John Smith. "It was not our view that there should be a referendum prior to the Danish vote and I don't think the Danish vote changes that as a matter of principle."

The 53-year-old MP for Monklands East is treading delicately, and with good reason. The Danes' rejection of the Maastricht treaty on European union has left its future uncertain and has blown open the debate on the future of Europe throughout the European Community.

Smith's first task as leader of the Labour Party, which he is almost certain to be within a month, will be the difficult one of working out an approach to Maastricht that does maximum damage to the divided Tories at the same time as keeping Labour together. With signs of a potential split inside the Parliamentary Labour Party already apparent, he is understandably keen to keep all options open on parliamentary tactics.

He carefully emphasises both his enthusiasm for greater European integration and his criticisms of the Maastricht agreement.

On economic and monetary union, he favours creation of a single currency and a European central bank. But, aware of criticism of the deflationary effects of an over-valued Deutschmark, he does not rule out a realignment of currencies before monetary union. And he wants the central bank to be subject to stricter political control.

"The exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System is not a fixed-exchangerate system," he says. "It's adjustable. A general realignment could occur. Indeed, I rather anticipate there will be a realignment of some kind before we reach the point of decision on economic and monetary union.

"We would have preferred there to have been a more directly politically accountable regime for the central bank," he goes on. "There was a contest between the Bundesbank tradition and the Franco-British tradition, and the Bundesbank model was the decision of the majority "However, there is a way in which we can strengthen democratic accountability and that is by giving Ecofin [the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers of the EC] a much more powerful role in carrying forward the economic policy of the Community. Article Two of the Maastricht treaty includes the objectives of social cohesion, solidarity, full employment and growth. Ecofin should assert an influence in favour of these wider economic objectives.

"Labour is very close to the French socialist government on this. Together with our socialist colleagues, we should be arguing for stronger democratic accountability and for wider aims of economic policy than the bankers would like to see. It's a matter of building up the mechanisms of democratic political accountability as the system evolves." On political union, Smith tempers his belief in closer EC integration with the assertion that he is not a European federalist.

"Federalism is a word that is charged with non-meaning in the European Community I've never been in favour of a European super-state. What we are building in the European Community is not something that's analogous to any existing nation-state."

Europe is not, of course, the only problem that will face Smith as Labour leader, nor is it the biggest. The party has just suffered its fourth general election defeat in a row and its morale is at an all-time low.

Perhaps predictably, Smith argues that there is "no reason for the party to be defeatist at the moment", pointing to the substantial gains made on April 9 and the high calibre of Labour's Shadow Cabinet and its new MPs. But, stung by criticism that he is the "business as usual" candidate, short of ideas and over-cautious, he is equally at pains to emphasise the need for "changes to broaden our appeal". He promises a radical new approach to constitutional reform, a fundamental re-examination of Labour's approach to the welfare state (overseen by a crossparty commission) and, perhaps most important, a reassertion of Labour's claim to the moral and intellectual high ground.

"I'm going to be paying more attention to the philosophy of the party," he says. "I'm a bit of an unashamed intellectual in that respect. I really do think that we've got to win the battle of ideas and take on the Right. We lost out badly in the seventies because we started losing the arguments. I start my politics with a set of moral propositions and I'm not going to hide that in the slightest. The party has got to speak very confidently on this.

The altruism has got to shine through." In line with this, Smith rejects the argument that his redistributionist tax policies cost the party dear on April 9. "I don't retreat an inch from the shadow budget," he says. "I'm slightly puzzled by some of the criticism, especially when it has come from people allegedly on the left. rd like them to tell me how they would have done it differently. I've seen one or two contributions on this subject in Tribune which have caused me to raise my eyebrows slightly.

"I'm deeply troubled about the way in which western societies are developing. John Kenneth Galbraith , writes about it clearly in The Culture of Contentment: two-thirds of the people are not doing too badly thank you, but there's one-third knocked out. The Labour Party cannot in good conscience turn away from that. But I want to get a wider consensus: there are decent people who don't vote Labour yet who are troubled about it too. I want to reach out to them."

Not all critics of Smith's role as shadow chancellor in the run-up to the election have focused on his shadow budget: some have argued that his major failing was as one of the main architects of Labour's industrial and employment policies. After Labour dropped its traditional interventionism in favour of a "supply-side" approach which emphasised education and training, the argument goes, the party appeared to have no way of getting Britain out of recession.

Smith says that the charge is unfair: Labour was interventionist, although "perhaps we undersold it a bit", and he intends to keep things that way. "I would strongly dispute the idea that I am not an interventionist. The idea that the British economy, in particular its manufacturing side, is going to recover on its own, is misplaced.

"I'm a very strong supporter of development agencies because I think they can have a catalytic effect on a region. That is not command-economy-style intervention, directing from the top, but it's nonetheless intervention. Similarly, a strong technology policy, in which we co-ordinate the activities of our science and technology institutes together with industry is vital."

This said, education and training remain at the heart of his conception of industrial policy. "I see education as the great enabling instrument. I am shocked at the notion of youngsters not having training and stimulus. I see them leaving school at 16 and I see them a year later pushing trolleys round an Asda supermarket. That's not good enough.

"Young Germans are getting the chance for proper training. We neglect it. I'm a missionary about this." Smith is also concerned about the state of the British constitution. "It's antiquated," he says.

"We're heading for a new century with a medieval House of Lords, for example, which is really intolerable. "I'm unhappy about the power of the legislature against the executive. I find myself not understanding what some of the people who talk a lot about parliamentary sovereignty in our European debates are actually talking about because it's not as strong as it should be.

"I'm also worried about over-centralised government, the way that local government has been undermined, and I'm strongly committed to devolution. It's not just a question of Scotland and Wales, it's also the English regions. People want to touch power more closely, they want to be involved. Socialism for me is a decentralising and liberating philosophy.

"Finally, I'm in favour of a Bill of Rights. Labour should be a bastion of the individual against big government and big business. One of the ways of being that is to give people known legal rights which cannot be trampled upon."

Electoral reform, however, "is more complicated". "There's a good and healthy debate going on within the party and I don't want to prejudge it," says Smith, although he praises the ,work of Labour's commission on electoral systems, chaired by Raymond Plant, for writing "the best explanation of the issues that I've ever seen".

Smith sounds similarly cautious on internal party affairs — partly, no doubt, because he knows he will soon have the unenviable job of getting the party and unions to agree to a new relationship. "We're at a very interesting time in the development of the party internally," he says enigmatically. "We've made great progress on one member one vote. Ordinary members are absolutely delighted that they're able to cast an individual vote in the ballot for the leadership and deputy leadership. They will not wish to surrender these rights now, and they're right. It's a healthy and happy thing." Would that everyone else agreed.

Friday, 12 June 1992


Tribune leader, 12 June 1992

The result of last week's Danish refer­endum on the Maastricht treaty has killed the treaty in its present form. Of that there can be no doubt Maas­tricht took the form of an amendment to the Treaty of Rome and all amendments to the Treaty of Rome must be endorsed by all member states. A few thousand Danes put paid to that.

There is therefore no point, at least at this stage, in calling for a referendum on Maastricht or in wasting parliamentary time discussing ratification of Maastricht: Maastricht has fallen.

But this is not the end of the story. Al­though no one is quite sure yet of the me­chanics of the operation, it is certain that Maastricht will be resurrected in some form, probably by way of amending part of the Maastricht deal but possibly through some more thorough renegotiation, per­haps including changes to the Treaty of Rome to remove its awkward insistence on unanimity.

The British government, which holds the EC Presidency from next month, is do­ing all it can to ensure that only minor changes to the Maastricht treaty are agreed before another attempt is made to get the Danes' assent. It is easy to see why. Maastricht without any changes is the best tike Government can hope for from a treaty on European union. It makes the fight against inflation the overwhelming priority in European macro-economic poli­cy. It allows Britain to opt out of common policies on employment rights. It empha­sises the role of the intergovernmental Council of Ministers in overseeing the European Commission, gives few new powers to the European Parliament, says nothing about "federalism" and makes much of the principle of "subsidiarity", interpreted by the Tories as meaning that as much EC business as possible should be thrashed out behind closed doors by representa­tives of national governments.

The British government's particular fear is that, if Maastricht is subjected to a more thorough renegotiation, Britain will be forced to accept measures to reduce the "democratic deficit" by granting substan­tial new powers to the European Parlia­ment. Far better, think John Major and Douglas Hurd, to opt for a quick fix, first adding an "explanatory memorandum" to the existing treaty emphasising the impor­tance of "decentralisation" and then get­ting the Danish government to hold an­other referendum later in the year.

This strategy is fraught with danger for the Tories. There is little support for the British position among the other 11 EC Governments (although what the others actually want is unclear). At home, anti-EC Tory backbenchers al­ready see an opportunity for wrecking any possibility of European federalism, with a parliamentary majority of only 21, Mr Ma­jor's position is extremely shaky.

So how should Labour respond? It is clear that it cannot continue simply to tag along with whatever the government does: at the very least, Labour must insist that the government drops the Maastricht bill and submits another after amend­ments to the treaty have been agreed by the 12. But it would be foolish for Labour to leave it at that. There is a real possibili­ty of putting the government under seri­ous pressure on Maastricht, particularly on the Social Chapter and, more impor­tantly, on the crucial question of making the EC democratically accountable. Labour must not let it pass.

After this week's meeting of the Par­liamentary Labour Party, it is clear that there is the potential for a consensus among Labour MPs to vote against Maastricht unless, first, the gov­ernment reverses its decision to opt out of the Social Chapter and, secondly, the treaty is made more democratic.

Here, decentralisation, although desir­able, is not in itself enough: it must be ac­companied by measures to democratise the EC at every level, especially at the cen­tre. Labour must argue consistently and loudly for a massive increase in the pow­ers of the European Parliament to rein in the Commission and the Council of Minis­ters. If it doesn't get what it wants, it should do all it can to bring the govern­ment down.

Kaufman goes: good riddance

It is remarkable how quickly political reputations can change. During the gen­eral election campaign, Labour's Shad­ow Foreign Secretary, Gerald Kaufman, was so invisible that he became an object of ridicule among political journalists. Last week, just a couple of months on, the same journalists greeted his announce­ment that he was retiring from the Shad­ow Cabinet with hymns of praise for his political skills.

There is no doubt that Mr Kaufman will be missed by Labour, and even those who have disagreed with him cannot deny that he has had his good moments in debate. He has even taken distinctive and princi­pled stands on some of the great issues of modern international politics, notably South Africa and Israel/ Palestine.

But it is unlikely that the history books will be as kind to him as his political obit­uarists. Mr Kaufman will be remembered as the man who got Labour to ditch uni­lateral nuclear disarmament and adopt a policy of keeping nuclear arms for as long as anyone else has them – a move com­pleted just weeks before the final collapse of Soviet communism which destroyed for ever any rationale for the British nuclear deterrent.

On Europe, Mr Kaufman's deep-rooted Atlanticist hostility to the EC has been a major factor in denying Labour any coher­ent vision of the future of the continent. On Hong Kong after Tiananmen Square, he adopted a stance less principled than Paddy Ashdown’s. During the Gulf crisis of 1990-91, he meekly followed the govern­ment's line. His pronouncements on eastern Europe were consistently timid and ill-informed before the collapse of commu­nism and have not improved since. He gave the impression that the leaders of last year's coup in Moscow were people with whom the west could do business. And so one could go on.

Labour must replace Mr Kaufman with someone whose approach is governed less by considerations of Realpolitik and more by principle. It would also help if he or she had a worked-out idea of what Britain's place in the world ought to be. Absence of vision has been at the root of most of Mr Kaufman's many failings.

Friday, 5 June 1992


Tribune leader, 5 June 1992

“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 and service.”

Clause Four part four of the Labour Party constitution was not the most ele­gantly phrased statement of political in­tent even When Sydney Webb formulated it in 1918: today, its language seems not just clumsy and vague but archaic.

But it does make two points very clearly. First, Labour is a party of redis­tribution: it does not believe that the in­equalities of wealth thrown up by capi­talism are acceptable. Secondly, Labour is a party of common ownership: it does not believe that the means of produc­tion, distribution and exchange should be owned by a small minority of people.

It is the latter point that has been most controversial since the mid-fifties, when many "revisionists'* on the Labour right concluded that the party's com­mitment to common ownership – seen essentially as nationalisation – had been rendered obsolete by the Keynesian rev­olution in macro-economic manage­ment. With progressive taxation and an expansion of the welfare state funded by growth, they argued, a "mixed" economy could now deliver all that Labour wanted.

After the election defeat of 1959, Hugh Gaitskell decided that Clause Four had to go as a symbol of the party’s willingness to march with the times. He was de­feated by party conference, of course, and Clause Four stayed – but ever since it has been honoured largely in the breach, particularly when Labour has been in government. Since the mid-eighties Labour has spurned promises of nationalisation even when in opposi­tion.

One reason is simply that nationalisation has grown ever more unpopular among voters for most of the past 40 years. During the sixties and seventies, the nationalised industries came in­creasingly to be seen as bureaucratic, unresponsive and inefficient. The fierce hostility to nationalisation articulated by Margaret Thatcher's Tories struck a rich seam of popular feeling. By the late eighties, with the collapse of the economies of "actually existing social­ism” and the palpable Improvement in the quality of service from the utilities privatised by the Thatcher govern­ments, nationalisation was virtually unsaleable.

But this is not the whole story. A deep­er reason for Labour's move away from nationalisation has been a growing scepticism about its usefulness as a tool of economic policy. Today, there is widespread Labour support for the idea that the main public utilities (gas, wa­ter, electricity), the communications in­frastructure (railways, roads, telecom­munications) and perhaps energy (coal, oil) should be controlled, if not wholly owned, by the state. Most are natural monopolies, some are inherently unprof­itable yet necessary, and all need to be carefully planned in the interests of all.

But few would insist that traditional nationalisation is necessarily the best model for these industries, and virtually no one believes that an extension of na­tionalisation much beyond this infrastructural base would be effective in se­curing Labour's goals of increased in­vestment in manufacturing, sustained growth and improvements in efficiency. Indeed, there is a consensus at the top of the party that Labour's advocacy of such an extension of nationalisation would actually undermine the credibili­ty of its macro-economic policies be­cause it would scare off multinational corporations from doing business in Britain.

So should Clause Four at last be con­signed to the dustbin of history? If it could be interpreted only as a call for ever-increasing nationalisation on the model adopted by Labour between 1945 and 1951, the answer would be "yes". But nationalisation is not the only form of common ownership – and whatever the limits on Labour's aspirations to nation­alise, there should be no doubt about the continuing relevance of the project of extending other types of common ownership.

Producer co-operatives and other forms of employee ownership are em­powering, with huge advantages over traditional privately owned firms even in capitalist terms: they could play a massively increased role in the British economy. There are also strong argu­ments for extending the co-operative sector in housing and for expanding mu­nicipal ownership, particularly in trans­port. A self-managed, non-bureaucratic common ownership should be at the centre of Labour's vision. Clause Four is not the millstone round the party's neck that its detractors claim.