Saturday, February 27, 2021

United We Stand

Back in April 2020 – during the first national lockdown, and just before the winner of the Labour Party leadership election was announced – I wrote that, irrespective of who is leader, party members need to unify behind them if we are to stand any chance of winning power and thus improving people’s lives.

So, how’s that going?

As always, on the surface there is energetic, spirited and lively debate across the party. There are accusations of this leader being a Tory, that leader being a Marxist, you all know the score. T’was ever thus.

Let’s just take a few minutes away from the fray though, to try to focus our collective minds on what unites ALL factions of the Labour Party, rather than what divides us.

The left – the democratic socialists – want to abolish capitalism and have a socialist economy, organized around common ownership. That might mean state ownership, or it could mean cooperative ownership, or worker ownership, or citizens’ ownership.

The idea is that it’s some kind of social ownership of the means of production. It’s quite difficult to imagine exactly what that would mean in practice – at a minimum, requiring a major programme of nationalisation and upheaval – and for many people across the country that’s a scary proposition. A significant proportion of the electorate, including some traditionally described as working class, feel they may have too much to lose.

Others in the Labour Party believe in social democracy – technically still a strand of socialism, but closer to the centre of the political spectrum – which has long been the dominant trend within the Labour Party, and to a lesser extent within the wider labour movement.

Its focus is less on ownership and more on control – controlling via regulation, rather than replacing, the capitalist free market.

This means an extensive set of regulatory policies including a national minimum wage, health and safety legislation, anti-discrimination laws, employment tribunals, paid maternity leave and meaningful negotiations between unions and management over pay and conditions.

This combination of policies and regulations are intended ensure that the owners of capital cannot exploit those who work for them, particularly when the power of the trade unions is strengthened via collective bargaining.

After Labour lost the 1959 general election, party leader High Gaitskell concluded that widespread public ownership was not popular with the electorate, and so tried unsuccessfully to change Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution to reflect this.

Decades later Tony Blair succeeded where Gaitskell had not, and the updated version of Clause IV adopted by the party at a special conference in 1995 reflected a shift towards social democracy, with:

“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.”

Personally, I’m happy with our Clause IV as it now stands, following the changes almost 30 years ago – whereby “pure” socialism has evolved into public ownership and control of public services, combined with private enterprise for wealth generation.

I know many on the left of the party aren’t happy with ANY private enterprise, but we ALL agree on the preservation and growth of publicly owned and controlled public services – health, emergency services, education, social care – and we ALL agree on taxing big business, and those best able to afford it.

The Tories don’t want ANY public ownership, or regulation of the free market – period. They continue to move towards privatisation of public services, and dismantling regulations.

Yet every time one of us throws an insult, grenade like, from one wing of our party to the other, we are doing the Tories’ job for them. People across the party start to get demoralised – not everyone is comfortable with the level of discourse – and some may even decide not to vote.

Through all this, we have so much in common. None of us want our country to go the way the Tories want to take it.

Surely we in the Labour Party can put aside our differences and unite in our determination to beat the Tories?

Let’s take our party and our country forward – not back!