Why both Labour’s Left and Right should combine to vote down the new Clause I
According to Labour NEC member Johanna Baxter, the following proposed new Clause I will be voted on by delegates at Labour conference:
The party shall bring together members and supporters who share its values to develop policies, make communities stronger through collective action and support and promote the election of Labour representatives at all levels of the democratic process.
Oddly, this wording doesn’t appear in the documentation sent out to all members this week, which refers merely to a recommendation “to agree a new clause I for the Labour party”.
Assuming, though, that Johanna’s blog does carry the wording to be put to delegates, I believe it should be rejected.
As I’ve said previously, I do think a new Clause I is a good move, not least as a symbolic statement. But while it is mostly symbolic, it’s important to get the words right, as they will be quoted far into the future. At the moment the words are, wrong for reasons which should concern both left and right of the party.
There are two main problems.
First, the proposed clause is not actually a statement of Labour values. It merely states that it will welcome people who share its values, but without any indication of what they are.
Second, it prioritises one particular form of political action – “making communities stronger through collection action” – over over forms of action.
That is not to say that “strong communities” are not important, though (as even Hazel Blears has acknowledged) “community” is and should remain a contested term. But to privilege (presumably) local, spatial action over and above over valid political engagement, simply because it happens to fit loosely with the current community organisation initiative, is a big mistake.
It is not just be those on the Labour Left who should be worried about this. The first chapter of the new Purple Book, by Robert Philpot, sets out precisely why the ‘modernising’ section of the party should be concerned:
An ideology is a combination of three things: values, an idea of society and the methods by which to implement them. Labour has spent much more of its history arguing about the tyhird…The revisionists have always tried to push the debate back to the first two – to values, to society, with the means following form a clear understanding of both (p.11).
Yet the proposed Clause I is value-free, method heavy.
In fact, I would much prefer a Clause I modelled on Philpot’s own statement of what the party is about, which at least makes some mention of those in whose interests the Party was originally conceived:
[T] he poor and the powerless, those who it is the Labour party’s first duty to defend (p.8).
I know that some on the right who read this reach for “the now is the time for unity” mantra, as Labour goes into conference week, and shudder at the thought of the Refounding Labour proposal being amended from the floor. But to those now wanting to see the usual ‘party discipline’ played out, I would offer up Ed Miliband’s own views on the stage Labour is at (also in the Purple Book):
I believe strongly that a vibrant debate across the party, in all its colours, is a necessary condition of renewal and of returning to power (p.ix).
What better place to have that vibrant debate than on the conference tomorrow, and in that spirit re-offer, via any delegate able and willing to put it as an amendment, TCF’s own proposed Clause I, in all its unambiguously socialist value glory:
This organisation shall be known as ‘The Labour Party’. Its purpose is to contribute significantly to the economic, social and psychological well-being of the people of Britain, and where possible the wider world, and in particular those citizens who suffer systemic disadvantage.