Friday, 16 July 2010

Labour should rethink clause four again, suggests Cruddas

The Guardian previews a major Jon Cruddas speech, to be given to Labour friends of Searchlight in London tomorrow. {Update: Read the full speech on the Compass website}

After speculation about a David Miliband-Cruddas alliance last week, given the evident influence of the Dagenham MP on David Miliband's Keir Hardie lecture, The Guardian report suggests that Cruddas is not endorsing a leadership candidate, and will instead make his own contribution to debates about the party's future, with the intention of running for the role of elected party chair, which several leadership candidates have now said should be created.

That could well prove a more effective way to stretch the party's debate than hitching a wagon to any particular leadership candidate.

Cruddas' speech will highlight the need for a more democratic party structure and a comprehensive review of policy.

The Guardian reports that that he will say:

"We need a new statement of our identity, our essential purpose, what we are for, to build a new language anchored in the ordinary lives and sentiment of the people. A new chair that is elected by conference, a new commission on party structures and a renewed culture of organisation, a comprehensive review of policy under a joint secretariat of party chair and party leader, in a root and branch deliberation about Labour's future politics and policy strategies. We must democratise the national policy forum."

The call for "a new statement of our identity, our essential purpose" would suggest reopening the question of the party's aims and values, last revised in the Clause Four debate of 1995.

A decade later, the Fabian Society suggested that it was important for Labour to have a fundamental debate of this kind, once a generation rather than twice a century, and that it would be particularly important to state the party's commitment to equality more explicitly, with that language now returning to politics not just in the Labour party but across the political spectrum.

I recall Ed Balls, who was Fabian chair at the time, being very supportive of the call for the party to engage in more regular "aims and values" debates. I don't think he made any public statement about whether or not he would support returning to the clause four constitutional statement as the best way to do that.

Our call for a new clause four was publicly supported by Andy Burnham, now also a Labour leadership candidate. Speaking at a Fabian meeting in Bournemouth at the 2007 party conference, Burnham said:

When I joined the Labour Party as a 15 year old in Warrington in 1985, it was very clear, it was a question of identity: which side are you on?', said Burnham. 'What the Labour party stands for probably isn't as clear to young people today'.

There is a need for a new expression of our aims and values. We wrote that new clause four in opposition, It was very relevant to the time. I think ten years on, we should look at it again. We renewed our aims and values 10 years ago. We need to think again about how we can look again at that: how can we express what we are for, in a way that makes sense to young people in particular",

Speaking at the same fringe meeting, Douglas Alexander, who is now running David Miliband's leadership campaign said he had an "open mind" about the proposal, again supporting more space for debate about the party's fundamental values

Ed Miliband tells Tribune this week that "only a government with an unshakeable commitment to equality will have any chance of putting things right. That's the sort of government I want to lead".


This was my initial attempt to set out how a new "clause four moment" could seek make the party's commitment to equality at the heart of its statement of values:

The Labour party is a democratic socialist party that strives to create a fair and more equal society. We campaign to eradicate poverty and discrimination and to extend opportunities to those denied them because we believe that no citizen's life chances should be determined by the circumstances into which he or she is born. We hold that a free and fair society is founded upon mutual respect, compassion and understanding. We will work internationally with all who share our values, to spread justice and human rights and to sustain our common environment for generations yet to come.

No doubt we could do with more poetry than that.

The draft of a next generation new Clause Four was mainly seeking to spark a broader debate, rather than to suggest this would form the outcome.

So, if you can do better, do please let us have your version of what a Labour statement of aims and values should try to capture.


james said...

I can't see the point - just as in retrospect it's hard to see why the previous change to Clause 4 was useful. It's only ever been of interest to members of the Labour Party.

I doubt most voters care about party constitutions - before he won the leadership contest, Blair himself gave interviews saying there was no point in changing it.

Far more important is offering organisational support to parties in the Southern regions to rebuild.

obliquewordsmith said...

I'd suggest this as a damned good statement of aims and values for clause 4:

"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."