Friday, 29 January 1993


Tribune leader, 29 January 1993

Labour’s working party on electoral systems, chaired by Raymond Plant, is soon to publish its final report.

Given how long it has been deliberating - it was set up after the Labour Party conference in 1990, produced a weighty interim report in July 1991 and a smaller one last summer - it might seem strange that there is still no firm indication of what it will recommend as an electoral system " for the House of Commons.

But it is really not too surprising. The implications for Labour, whatever the Plant commission comes up with, will be massive, and the members of the commission know it. The absence of any sign of a recommendation is an indication of continuing disagreement among people with strongly held views. The commission has narrowed its choice to one among three: no change, a version of the alternative vote system and a version of the additional member system. Each has its fervent champions and bitter enemies: none can command unanimous support.

So what is the way out of the impasse? Given the intensity of opinion on the matter, there is a temptation for the commission to avoid making a recommendation – which must also be felt by the Labour leadership. With plenty of other public rows already going on, a set-to on electoral reform might appear an unaffordable luxury.

Such sentiments are misguided. However painful it might be now for Labour to get off the fence on electoral systems, it will be worse if it does so closer to an election. And Labour has to get off the fence. The farcical refusal to spell out a policy in the last week of the 1992 election campaign made Labour look stupid and slippery. It must not happen again.

 So which of the options on offer should the Plant commission and the party go for? None is perfect, although all satisfy the requirement of maintaining the link between MPs and their constituencies and none would rule out the possibility of a majority Labour government.

In Tribune's view, the worst choice would be the one that looks at first sight the best hope of a compromise, a version of the alternative vote. It is not a proportional representation system, and thus has all the disadvantages of the status quo in yielding parliaments that do not accurately reflect the whole spread of opinion in the country. Worse, in any of its variants it would mean that many MPs were elected because they are considered least bad by voters, a recipe for ever-increasing blandness in politics, possibly the greatest enemy of honest democracy.

The real choice is between AMS and no change - and here the key question is whether or not to adopt the principle of proportionality as a goal of the system of representation. The great advantage of AMS is that it would yield parliaments that accurately reflect the whole spread of opinion in the country. Its disadvantage is that, as a consequence, it might give small parties of the Centre disproportionate influence.

The status quo, however, will by the next election have given the Conservative Party near-total control of the state machine for nearly two decades, with results we know all too well: the destruction of Britain's manufacturing base and creation of a low-skill, low-technology economy, the endemic corruption of public life and the erosion of the pluralism on which democracy must be based.

In the circumstances, the risk that the Liberal Democrats might behave as the German Free Democrats do seems one worth taking. Labour should adopt AMS for the Commons without delay.


Tribune, 29 January 2003

The shadow home secretary talks to Paul Anderson about how he would like to see Labour modernise its appeal

Tony Blair has not had the easiest of rides of late. The MP for Sedgefield has been looked at askance by those who suspect his ambition or his politics ever since he was put on the Labour front bench by Neil Kinnock in 1984 at the tender age of 31. But in the past couple of months he has become a bogeyman of his party's Left. John Prescott and Clare Short are only the most senior figures to have made barely veiled venomous public attacks on Blair.

The reasons for the intensification of the left's dislike for Blair are complex. Long-standing resentments about his meteoric rise, which critics claim has more to do with his television-friendly good looks and middle-class manners than with anything more substantial, have been reinforced by his continued progress.

Since last year's election defeat, Blair has landed the job of shadow home secretary, one of the three most senior front bench positions, has made it on to Labour's national executive committee at his first attempt and has emerged as the clear favourite to succeed John Smith as Labour leader, particularly if Smith goes after losing the next election.

But what has caused the outbreak of Blairophobia at this particular juncture is something much more specific: his position on the relationship between Labour and the unions and his apparently boundless enthusiasm for learning lessons from Bill Clinton's successful American Presidential campaign. Blair, for the Prescotts and Shorts, is the arch-moderniser who wants to cut Labour's links with the unions, ditch the party's commitments to the poor and move ever further to the right.

Unsurprisingly, Blair says that he is a little fed up with all this. He particularly rejects the idea that he is an uncritical admirer of Clinton who wants to import his methods and policies to Britain. "I simply thought it was sensible to see what could be learned from the Democrat victory," he Says. "But, frankly, if we carry on debating what has been called by others, although never by myself, `Clintonisation', then I think we'll just waste our time. There are of course huge differences between the United' States and here and huge differences between Labour and the Democrats."

Nevertheless, he goes on, there is definitely something to learn from Clinton. "The Clinton team was tremendously effective, in having a central economic message around the notion of active government. The dedication to putting across that message, thee refusal to be diverted, is .a very important lesson for us.

"Secondly, some of the problems that the Democrats had, particularly that they seemed trapped with a declining base of support, are not dissimilar to the problems that Labour has faced here. The Clinton campaign reached out to a broader section of the population and we've got to do that too. Now how we do that, what policies we have, is going to be completely different."


If Blair is unhappy about the way his line on Clinton has been portrayed, he is positively annoyed by the way his opponents have characterised his attitude to union-Labour links. He has not been pressing the NEC working party on the subject, on which he sits, to go for divorce and an American Democrats-style settlement, he says. All he wants is a more democratic relationship, with one member one vote elections for the party leadership and for choosing Labour candidates, along with reform of the block vote at Labour conference.

"I think it is extremely important that Labour should not sever its relations with the trade unions," he says. "What I do believe, however, is that we should make the democracy of our party as real as is possible, '"The idea that rna.' tiying to distance Labour from the trade unions by advocating one member one vote is just extraordinary. To most people outside, the idea that we should select our candidates for the Labour Party on the basis of an individual franchise of members doesn't seem a very revolutionary proposition.

"This has nothing to do with any idea that the trade unions are associated with the past or that they're part of an 'image problem'. What it's actually about is getting a modern democracy for the Labour Party. To me it is simply common sense that that democracy should be based on one member one vote." Blair says that he is "anti-block vote" but will not elaborate further on how he sees party conference being reformed. As far as union representation on local Labour Party general committees is concerned, "of course unions will maintain a role there and on the NEC".

Most of the other members of the NEC working party have backed proposals for electoral collegesystems for leadership elections and selections, in which a share of the vote would be given to "registered supporters" recruited from among trade unionists who pay the political levy.

Blair thinks that the idea is unworkable and that it would be far better simply to cut subscriptions for full party members and recruit supportive trade unionists to party membership. "I certainly want to get more trade union levy-payers involved in the Labour Party," he says. "My objection to the registered supportersscheme has been on the grounds of practicality. The motives behind it I fully applaud.

"But I think that the whole way we structure membership in the Labour Party is absolutely wrong. The high membership fee means that we're going to end up with a small membership. I'd like to see us dramatically reducing the fee and going for a large membership." Blair is waiting for the results of pilot schemes which will attempt precisely such a low-fee strategy before coming to final conclusions on the question of party organisation: if they don't work, he says that he doesn't rule out the possibility of a version of the registered supporters scheme being an acceptable compromise.

If Blair feels misrepresented on Clinton and on the unions, he nevertheless thinks that the fact that Labour is talking about its future is a healthy sign. "It would be absolutely bizarre if Labour did not conduct a debate after its election defeat," he says. "After the election, the Tories went into a nosedive: it's hardly surprising that Labour people took time out from the party's debate to attack the Tories. But now the debate is beginning in earnest."

There are, he believes, deep-rooted differences within the party about, how political strategy should be developed. "The real issue is whether you say: We've got these policies for women, these policies for ethnic minorities, these policies for the poor, these policies for trade unionists' and so on and add all the minorities together in a sort of rainbow coalition to create a majority. That is just a false political perspective that's dogged socialist and social democratic parties in recent years. I think you address the problems of the broad mass of people in the country and that you address people as individuals, not compartmentalised into various groups. For example, our central economic message has got to be the development of economic opportunity whether you're employed or unemployed – not 'here's a package for those in work, here's a package for those out of work'."


As far as his own portfolio is concerned, the key task is not so much taking on the big questions of constitutional reform as relating Labour's approach to the law-and-order concerns of ordinary people. "It is important to show that we identify with the victims of crime," he says.

"We should be giving our young people rights and opportunities and chances but we should also be demanding responsibilities. David Blunkett is saying much the same thing. Roy Hattersley took our policy quite a way but we've got to go further. That in no sense means embracing the Tory agenda on law and order."

More generally, Labour now has to embrace the idea that it will have to change its approach in the run-up to the next election: the detail is less important, for now, than a commitment to flexibility of thinking and openness to innovation. "We've got to go beyond the traditional labels of left and right in the party. We should be prepared to take on board new ideas and consider them. The idea that the 'left' position in the Labour Party is that what we've done all the way along is fine, we've just got to do it with greater intensity – that is not radical. We should be prepared to open up the debate.

"We shouldn't worry at the moment that the media will make something of it – of course they will. We've got to realise that, three or four years down the road, Labour, under John Smith's leadership, has got to be in a position to ensure that what has happened at the last four elections is not repeated." On that, it is difficult to disagree. Whether Blair has the recipe for success is, however, another question.

Friday, 22 January 1993


Tribune leader, 22 January 1993

Saddam Hussein is, as we all know, a brutal dictator. His regime is one of the most oppressive in the world. Worse, nothing seems to change it.

In the past two years, Saddam has sur­vived military defeat, creation of Kurdish safe havens, destruction of the worst of his war machine by the United Nations, sanctions and "no-fly zones" - and he is still as prepared to push his luck diplo­matically and militarily as he ever was. There can be no doubt that his behaviour in the run-up to last week's raid on his country by American warplanes was de­signed to provoke a showdown.

Bui none of this provides an adequate rationale for the raids on Iraq. However frustrated the rest of the world might be with Saddam, a demonstration of Ameri­can airpower (backed rather half-heart­edly by Britain and France) is not the way either to undermine his power or to get him to change.

Indeed, the raids were precisely what Saddam needed to renew his credibility among his subjects as a defender of the Arab nation against the imperialist west. They were not full-scale war (which would be somewhat difficult for the allied governments to sell back home) but they were big enough to give fright (and kill civilians). Nothing could have suited Sad­dam better.

More important, the raids have only the weakest of justifications in international law. The "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq that they were designed to enforce have not been backed by the UN: they were imposed by the US, Britain and France without any reference to the UN. Yet they seem to carry far more weight than many UN resolutions - particularly those on Israel.

In short, the raids have strengthened Saddam and reinforced the impression throughout the Third World that the west operates an imperialist policy based on double standards and flouting the law when it suits it. As such, they sum up per­fectly George Bush's approach to foreign policy since he entered public life. Is it too much to hope that Bill Clinton really will turn out to be a new broom?


Bill Clinton’s inauguration was just the sort of feel-good event that every­one expected it to be. But he does not have much time to get things right. His victory has raised expectations across the board in America, particularly among those who have been hit by recession in the past couple of years. If he does not get the economy working again, and fast, his honeymoon will be short and the disillu­sionment deep.

Of course, no one knows whether he will succeed or not - a fact that makes much of the British Labour Party's argument about what Mr Clinton can teach it little more than hot air. Within six months, Mr Clinton could be completely discredited, completely vindicated or, more likely, something in between.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for working on the assumption that Mr Clinton will not work miracles. Most im­portant, the US economy is in a dire state and there are few indications that "Clintonomics" has any real answer to the economic challenges posed by the Japanese sphere of influence, to the de­cay of the inner cities or to the burgeon­ing budget deficit. His policies on health and welfare are unimaginative and con­servative.

But the problems do not stop with domestic policy. Mr Clinton has given only the vaguest of signs that he wants to change the basis of American foreign poli­cy away from the shabby realpolitik in­herited from the cold war years and be­fore. Most worrying, he has given good reason for the world to suspect that he will be even easier on Israel than his pre­decessor.

It will be a little while before we can judge Mr Clinton fairly on his record. But signs of his direction will be clear within three or four months. The European left can hope for the best, but it must also keep an open mind and avoid the tempta­tion to kow-tow to Washington's new boss.

Friday, 15 January 1993


Tribune leader, 15 January 1993

For a change, the editors of the Sun and the Sunday Times are right. The new report on the press by Sir David Calcutt QC, widely leaked in last Sunday's papers, makes recommendations that, if implemented, would seriously undermine the ability of the press to do the job it should do in a free society.

The most dangerous proposal is that the Press Complaints Commission be replaced by a new tribunal, consisting of a judge (appointed by the Lord Chancellor) and two lay assessors" (appointed by the Her­itage Minister), with powers to impose big fines on newspapers if they breach a statu­tory code of conduct.

The press is already over-deterred from tackling the rich and powerful by the costs of defending libel actions (to say nothing of the size of libel damages); it is already over-constrained by Britain's ludicrous se­crecy laws. A government-appointed body with powers to decide what constitutes proper journalistic practice and to penalise newspapers that do not conform is an af­front to democracy. It should be opposed in Parliament and, if that does not work, its findings should be ignored by editors.
Other parts of the new Calcutt report are less worrying. Nevertheless, new criminal offences covering trespass, long-distance photography of people on private property and electronic surveillance could have a significant impact on investigative journal­ism, even if a "public interest" defence is allowed. They too should be vigorously op­posed.

This is not to claim that the attitude of the British press to privacy is blameless. But the breaching of privacy is not the press's main fault, nor are the Calcutt mea­sures the best way of dealing with it.
There have been far fewer breaches of privacy than is popularly believed and the most famous (from Virginia Bottomley's love-child to the "Squidgy” tapes) have in­volved public figures whose private lives are relevant to their public positions. Far more important than breaches of privacy are the concentration of press ownership, the lack of political diversity in the nation­al press and the political bias, cultural prejudice and trivialisation that characterise the tabloids - none of which figure in Calcutt

In any case, the costs of clamping down on press breaches of privacy, in terms of preventing exposure of real wrongdoing, are far greater than any supposed benefits: press freedom is more important than pri­vacy. The Calcutt report should be spiked without further ado.

Much the same goes, unfortunately, for Clive Soley's Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill. Mr Soley is a decent and honourable man, and the idea behind his proposal, that newspapers and magazines should correct inaccuracies in reports, is a worthy one. The problem is the means proposed by Mr Soley to secure this end: the imposition on editors of a duty to correct inaccuracies, with a statutory, lay-dominat­ed Independent Press Authority being giv­en the power to adjudicate contested cases and, in the last resort, to take miscreants to court.

If Mr Soley's bill became law, it would give another weapon to the nuisances and bullies who currently use the threat of libel proceedings to extract apologies from newspapers that have done nothing worse than annoy or embarrass. It should be op­posed by all supporters of a free press.


Tribune, 15 January 1993

In the second of Tribune's occasional series on key contemporary left thinkers, Paul Anderson talks to one of France's leading libertarian left intellectuals

If the pundits who appear on The Late Show and write for the Sunday reviews pages are to be believed, the days of the politically engaged French intellectual are over.

The great figures who made Paris the centre of the intellectual left's world for 40 years after the war – Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser – are all dead, the argument goes. The only intellectuals around nowadays in France either don't care about left politics or else don't matter.

This is, of course, partly true. With television in­exorably squeezing print culture, there is no doubt that intellectuals do not have the importance that they had 25 years ago. And, since communism lost its last shreds of credibility, Marxism went out of fashion and Francois Mitterrand's Socialist gov­ernment became an embarrassment, the idea that intellectuals ought to be publicly identified with the left has taken a pounding.

But there are exceptions, and none more distin­guished than Cornelius Castoriadis, the Greek-born philosopher, psychoanalyst and political writ­er, now 70, who is the nearest to a guru that the European environmentalist libertarian left has. Not that he sees himself playing any such grand role. “I'm just someone who attempts in an unsatis­factory way to rise to the intellectual challenges of the time,” he says with a shrug.

Nor is his political engagement of the sort that one associates with French left intellectuals. He never fell for the French Communist Party (PCF) in the forties or fifties: indeed, he has been an implacable enemy of Stalinism for half-a-century. More recently, he did not throw in his lot with the Socialist Party (PS) after Mitterrand's election to the Presidency in 1981: for Castoriadis, the PS, like social democratic parties everywhere else in Eu­rope, has been going through “intellectual decom­position” ever since the first oil shock of 1974-75 brought to an end the “30 glorious years” of Keynesian growth in the developed west.

“After one year of repeating stale slogans, the so­cialists became the bastion of liberal capitalism in France,” he says. “The only difference with Mar­garet Thatcher was their maintenance of the social safety net. But that was in the interests of the rul­ing class.”


The “official left”, he says, has failed even to reassert the Keynesian message against the new right. When it comes to the really im­portant questions – the massive global inequalities in power and wealth, the global ecological crisis – mainstream socialists have been hopeless, failing utterly to grasp the scale of the problems.

Castoriadis's sense of the inadequacies of ortho­dox social democracy goes back a long way. At first, it was expressed as Leninism: he joined the Greek communists at the age of 15, founded an opposition current in 1941 after the German occupation of Greece and in 1942 be­came a Trotskyist. After the war, however, he left his homeland for Paris and he began to leave Leninism behind, break­ing with the Trotskyists in 1948 over the nature of the Soviet Union and founding, with Claude Lefort and others, the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie.

S ou B ceased publication in 1965, was plagued by schism and never sold more than a few hundred copies of each issue. But the anti-Leninist, post-Marxist libertarian socialist “politics of self-activi­ty” which it developed from the mid-fifties, largely through Castoriadis's essays under the pen-names Paul Cardan and Pierre Chaulieu (used because he was working as an economist with the Organisa­tion for Economic Co-operation and Development), was enormously influential on many of the activists who played a major role in the events of May 1968. Subsequently, S ou B had a big influence on the post-1968 new left throughout continental Europe, In Britain, Castoriadis's work was published by the libertarian socialist group, Solidarity, but its im­pact was relatively small.

These days, some of his writings from S ou B re­cently collected in English in two volumes of Politi­cal and Social Writings, seem dated: they deal with a world we have lost, in which the PCF was almost hegemonic on the French left, when “actually ex­isting socialism” actually existed and fundamentalist Marxist catastrophism was left commonsense.

But much from S ou B remains as fresh as when it was written: the sketch of a society run by self-managed workers' councils in “On the content of so­cialism”, the sustained cri­tique of Marxian eco­nomics in “Modern capitalism and revolution”, the assault on Marx's technological determinism in “Marxism and revolutionary theory”, a long essay which was to become the first part of Castoriadis's magnum opus, The Imaginary Institution of Society.

Castoriadis now says that some of his earlier S ou B work was too Marxist in its assumptions, and for several years he has preferred to describe his goal as “autonomous society” rather than “social­ism” because “the term is irretrievably prostituted by the history of the last 70 years, both the history of communism and that of social democracy in the west”. But he sticks by most of what he did for the journal – even the advocacy of revolution. “The project I still pursue is a radical social transforma­tion,” he says. “And that's what I call a revolution, not storming the Winter Palace or mounting barri­cades. In broad outline, I'm still committed to the project which I outlined in the fifties.”

After S ou B, Castori­adis co-authored by far the best instant book on May 1968, La Breche (The Break), with Claude Lefort and Edgar Morin, then in 1970 left his job with the OECD to study to become a psychoanalyst.

Since then, he has written on a bewildering range of topics. In the mid-seventies, in a series of incisive essays, he developed his critique of the “to­talitarian bureaucratic capitalism” of Soviet-type societies; at the same time, he was one of the first thinkers to take seriously the implications of the ecological crisis. Meanwhile, The Imaginary Insti­tution of Society (published in 1975 in France but not until 1987 in Britain), with its defence of the central importance of creativity in human life and its extraordinary intellectual scope, was widely recognised as a major work of social philosophy. Castoriadis has followed up its arguments in a sev­eral learned articles, published in English in two collections, Crossroads in the Labyrinth and Philos­ophy, Politics, Autonomy.

In the late seventies, Castoriadis played a key role in resisting the Parisian intellectual craze for structuralism (his demolition of Althusser's Stalin­ist structural Marxism is second to none) and the “god-that-failed” rantings of the nouveaux philosophes. He has also written many polemics on French politics and psychoanalysis.

But he created the biggest furore in 1981 with a book, Devant la Guerre (Facing War), which took up the peren­nial Castoriadis theme of the critique of Soviet so­ciety, arguing that the Soviet Union was becoming a society dominated by the military and that it was pursuing an active pol­icy of expansionism towards Western Europe. The book earned Castoriadis, by now director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, the enmity of the peace movement, but he dismisses accusations that he adopted a cold-war position: if anything, he says, it now seems that he underestimated the importance of the military in the Soviet system during its last years.


Today, with “actually existing socialism” a thing of the past, Castoriadis's main political concern is once more the dire state of the de­veloped West. He is as scathing as he ever was about the depoliticisation and atomisaiion of the consumerist societies of “fragmented bureaucratic capitalism”, as he describes the developed west, talking of a “paralysis of political imagination and activity” now that it seems to so many people that there is no alternative to consumer capitalism.

With ecological crisis threatening to engulf us, he argues that it is essential that we find a new sense of responsibility for our actions – and the only way of achieving this is a simultaneous radical democratisation of society and transformation of the ways that people understand the meaning of their lives. “In current conditions, ecology and the radicalisation of democracy are inextricably linked,” he told Le Monde in a recent interview.

“I’ve written that the only way to avert an ecolog­ical catastrophe is to go back to 1929 standards of living,” he says. “We need a humanity that's able to live with frugality. But people are not like that. They want more and more of everything. We must change the realm of imaginary significations that hold this together.

“People need to find within themselves new meanings for life and new things to die for – not just a change of car every two years. This is, frankly, a fantastic change.”

Friday, 8 January 1993


Tribune leader, 8 January 1993

The current Labour row about what, if anything, the party should learn from Bill Clinton's American Presidential victory is not really about Mr Clinton.

Everyone involved in the argument knows that Mr Clinton won a particular election in a particular place at a particu­lar time and that there is no way that his campaign can simply be copied in Britain. We do not have Presidential elec­tions, there is no British equivalent of Ross Perot and our political culture is radically different from America's.

Various prominent Labour figures are actually at each other’s throats about what went wrong in the British general election last year and who is to blame.

On one hand, the "Clintonisers" - most prominently, Patricia Hewitt and Philip Gould, two of the key Labour strategists in the run-up to the election, but also a group around Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson who see themselves as "modernisers" of Labour's message and organi­sation - are saying that the problem was that the party had not gone far enough in distancing itself from the trade unions and making itself trustworthy in the eyes of the affluent working class (in Clintonese, the working middle class). What is needed now, they argue, is more change along the lines pursued by Labour be­tween 1987 and 1992.

On the other hand, their opponents, led by John Prescott, say that the problem was that, precisely because of all the changes between 1987 and 1992, Labour came across in the run-up to the election as lacking all conviction. Far from contin­uing the 1987-92 process of change, Labour needs to return to its traditional values and do it with feeling.

The row is undoubtedly something of a spectacle in an otherwise boring time for Labour politics, and it is conceivable that it will yield something of substance be­fore it fizzles out. So for, however, it has generated more heat than light.

The self-styled modernisers, for their part, have nothing more substantial to of­fer than making Labour ever more bland in pursuit of elusive affluent working-class and centrist middle-class voters. They have failed to recognise that Labour needs to appeal not just to these voters but also to poor working-class voters, among whom Labour performed miser­ably last time. More importantly, they
have also failed to see that the main rea­son for "lack of trust" in Labour, con­stantly recorded by opinion polls of the party's target voters, is that people can see through politicians who appear to be all packaging and no substance.

The traditionalists, meanwhile, have done little better. They have failed miser­ably to recognise that it is not enough to keep on playing the same old tunes and that Labour is desperately out of touch with young people and with affluent non-unionised workers in the private sector, particularly white-collar workers and particularly in the south-east. The tradi­tionalists have nothing better to offer than sentimental rhetoric.

In other words, Labour desperately needs to change, but not in the direction that the modernisers want. Instead of be­coming blander or retreating into yester­day's slogans, the party needs a new cutting edge in politics, a new intellectual creativity and a new confidence. What is most depressing about the past week's controversy is that no one apart from the proponents of an even more vacuous Labour Party seems prepared to put for­ward an alternative to business as usual. It is impossible to dismiss out of hand the possibility that the columnists who are crowing about Labour's intellectual bankruptcy are absolutely right.

Friday, 1 January 1993


Tribune leader, 1 January 1993

There is never a year that a political party can afford to waste – but 1993 is going to be particularly important for Labour. What the party does in the next 12 months will determine whether it has a hope of winning the next election.

What Labour doesn’t need is a year of wrangling over its trade union link: no one outside the party cares about it, and a workable compromise between the one-member-one-vote brigade and the rest can be easily negotiated. With an election probably four years away (and who knows what state the economy will be in then?), there is also no point in getting bogged down in the minute detail of poli­cy. That was one of the main mistakes last time around: Labour fought an elec­tion in the depths of recession on policies developed at the height of a boom.

On the other hand, Labour does need to work out its broad approach to the next election – and it cannot be content to leave things be and hope that the Tories will continue to self-destruct. “One more heave” is not enough; nor is tepid right-wing revisionism masquerading as “mod­ernisation”. Labour must develop a radi­cal populist vision of the Britain it wants.

The first task is to sort out economic policy. There is nothing wrong with being committed to redistribution of income and wealth from rich to poor: indeed, such a commitment should remain at the heart of Labour’s appeal. But Labour came across in 1992 as the party of redis­tribution and nothing else – and that is not enough.

The party desperately needs an eco­nomic policy to persuade voters that a Labour government really would reduce unemployment. The next year must be used to develop precisely such a policy. A central economic policy role for measures to combat homelessness and underinvest­ment in transport should be a prominent feature. So should emphasis on the need for intervention to cope with the post-cold-war collapse of the defence indus­tries and for Europe-wide strategies for growth.

The second key area for policy develop­ment is the political side of European union. Labour has to recognise that it is now inevitable that the Maastricht bill will be passed whatever the party does. The party’s priorities, rather than line-by-line examination of the bill’s contents, should be to get Maastricht out of the way as soon as possible and then to re­place the current European policy fudge. Labour should rid itself of the last ves­tiges of its historic anti-Europeanism, making the core of its European policy calls for a massive increase in the powers of the European Parliament and for the creation of a democratically accountable European federal executive.

Thirdly, the party needs to address the question of democratising the British state. The Plant commission on electoral systems will finalise its recommendations early this year. Labour should reject con­servative arguments for the status quo and go wholeheartedly for the German additional member system for the House of Commons. The introduction of regional assemblies and Scottish and Welsh parlia­ments, also elected by AMS, should be giv­en a high priority, as should the replace­ment of the House of Lords with a second chamber composed of representatives of Scotland, Wales and the regions.

In line with developing a commitment to democratisation of the state, Labour should be pushing the case for empower­ment of ordinary people through the democratisation of everyday life. Giving people a greater say at work – with a pro­gramme to encourage rapid growth of producer co-operatives and democratic employee share-ownership schemes, and commitments to a “co-determination” model of industrial relations and positive rights for trade unions – are essential.

The fifth crucial area for immediate action is environment policy. An un­equivocal embrace of radical environ­mentalist policies, particularly on energy and transport, is long overdue.

Finally, Labour has to make sure that its Commis­sion on Social Justice does not simply be­come a vehicle for rightwing ideas for getting rid of universal child benefits or pensions. If the commission really is to be a “new Beveridge”, it must look at the whole of the welfare state rather than just tax and benefits, and must be pre­pared to take seriously such radical ideas as the basic income guarantee.

Perhaps this is too long a list of tasks for a single year – but unless Labour takes on at least a substantial part of it, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the party’s appearance of drift over the past six months signifies something much worse than the inevitable lull after an election defeat and change of leader­ship.


Tribune, 1 January 1993

The shadow chancellor talks to Paul Anderson about what he wants to do about Labour's economic policy

"The crude free-market dogma of the eighties has failed," says Gordon Brown. "But the answer is not to go back to the policies of the fifties or sixties. We need a new economics for the nineties." Brown has a difficult task as shadow chancellor — nothing less than the production of an economic policy that wins the next election, in a world in which many of the left's traditional policy recipes have been ruled out as impractical. What makes that task doubly difficult is that the Tory government, faced with what appears to be an endless recession, has stolen many of the ideas on which Labour fought and lost the last election.

Norman Lamont's autumn statement in November promised a raft of measures that Brown and his colleagues had been pressing on the Government for ages: tax-breaks for industrial investment, an end to car tax, lease-buying of trains, relaxation of constraints on use of receipts from council house sales, easing of Treasury rules on capital spending, direct intervention in the housing market.

Brown welcomes the government's change of tack, which he sees as an opportunity for Labour.
"The Tories are having continuously to move to our ground now. They've had to admit that crude freemarket dogma cannot bring us industrial success that investment won't recover by itself, that the housing market won't recover by itself, that industry won't recover by itself, that special measures have got to be taken. What they haven't got, of course, is the courage of our convictions. Nothing they've done measures up to the scale of the problem." Nevertheless, he is more than aware that Labour needs to come up with some new ideas in response to Lamont's big steal. In the past couple of months, he has been taking soundings among left-leaning economists with a view to launching a major policy package early this year.

At this stage, says Brown, details are less crucial than big ideas. "The important thing is that we lay down the principles that guide our future policy." Then Labour has to do something like what Bill Clinton did in the United States last year: hammer away relentlessly on the economy. Brown visited America during the Presidential campaign and was impressed by the Democrats.

"Clinton found an echo throughout America for his central idea that government had responsibilities to the whole community to deal with the huge problems of unemployment, the weakness of the American manufacturing sector and training in skills and, of course, for the argument that there were entrenched economic interests, privileged elites in American society, that were denying people opportunity."

The most important thing that Labour's new economic policy will have to take into account is the globalisation of the economy, says Brown. "We're living in an increasingly global economy. There's global sourcing of companies, a global capital market, 24-hour speculative activity." Although he doesn't say as much, the implications are clear: there are limits on what the government of a single, medium-sized nation-state can do on its own.

The second major challenge, he says, is the change in the nature of economy as a result of the application of information technology. "The microelectronics revolution is affecting every industry and every service, changing the way the economy works." Britain must have a high-technology economy if it is to flourish.

Taken together, the globalisation of the economy and IT mean that the most telling way in which government can intervene`in the economy is by ensuring that the workforce is highly skilled, argues Brown. "Increasingly, the most important thing about national economic strength is the level of skill in the economy. Government has a responsibility to ensure that training, education and investment are maintained at a satisfactory level."

Beyond this, the key long-term tasks are to integrate environmental concerns into economic policy and to push the argument that social justice is essential for economic efficiency. "Prosperity requires a just society. Individuals must be given the opportunity to realise their potential to the full," says Brown.

In the short term, however, the main problem facing Britain is recession. In November, Brown launched a policy document, Labour's Campaign for Recovery, calling for an emergency employment programme and co-ordinated international action, particularly by the European Community countries, to stimulate the economy.

"Action on unemployment is not just in the interest of the unemployed, it's in the interest of the whole country," says Brown. "People's fear of unemployment is preventing them from spending, moving home, investing, taking on new commitments.

In many areas it is paralysing the economy." One of Labour's priorities in the next few weeks will be to put together a "budget for jobs" to emphasise the government's failures.

Another immediate project is development of the ideas of co-ordinated international action against recession. "I was pushing very hard before the Edinburgh summit for a co-operative growth strategy," says Brown. "The credibility of Europe depends on the ability of Governments to act together to deal with the problems of the economy.

"There are a huge number of people in Europe around 17 million — out of work, particularly young people. Europe-wide measures are an essential part of any recovery programme. What happens in one country affects what happens in another. Yet in Edinburgh the needs of the unemployed were considered between courses at a lunch."

Unsurprisingly, Brown has no time for those who argue that the events of September 16 last year, Black Wednesday, when massive speculation against sterling led to British abandonment of the exchange rate mechanism and then devaluation, show the limits to international economic co-operation. Rather the reverse: Black Wednesday, he says, shows that more co-ordination of economic policy is required, including international action to curb speculation as well as a system of managed exchange rates. The implication is that Labour should get back into the ERM and push for reform.

During September's orgy of currency speculation, Brown came under fire from many on the Labour Left for not coming out publicly for devaluation of sterling, even appearing to rule out a general realignment of the ERM's currencies.

He still defends his stance: there was no way that Labour could have kept its credibility if he had come out in favour of devaluation, he says. Moreover, much of the criticism of his stance was motivated by antipathy to the EC rather than any consideration of economic policy options. But, he goes on: "It is now quite clear that the government could have asked the German authorities in particular to consider the question of realignment.

"All the information that has now become available shows that there was a far more comprehensive realignment possible and that the government ruled that out without discussing it in detail. Faced with the choice between realignment within the ERM and leaving the ERM in order to devalue outside it, many of the difficulties could have been avoided with a realignment. The British government could have asked at any time for that to be considered."

Even such a clear statement will do little to placate Brown's left-wing critics, however. For them, Brown proved himself too cautious by half during the sterling crisis, and they accuse him of harbouring dangerously revisionist pro-establishment ambitions for party policy.

His political friends counter such charges vehemently, saying that his intentions, while modernising, are entirely radical-populist in orientation. Let's hope his friends are right.