Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Our Discussion Group's Submission to Labour's "New politics, Fresh ideas"

Submission to the “New politics, Fresh ideas” consultation, from the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group which draws from Labour Party members and supporters in numbers of Constituencies in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. Dronfield is itself in the NE Derbyshire Constituency.

(1) In the introduction to the "New politics, Fresh ideas" consultative document. Liam Byrne states that as a Labour Party “Our values are non-negotiable”. We wish to challenge this claim. The only place where the aims and values of the Labour Party are spelt out is in Clause IV of the Labour Party's Constitution. Far from this clause being set in stone, it was radically amended in 1995 to usher in New Labour's political stance. It is, therefore, always open to amendment if this is what its membership wants. Below we reproduce the current Clause.

Clause IV.

Aims and values

1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

2. To these ends we work for:

A. 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.
B. A JUST SOCIETY, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.
C. AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed.
D. A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

3. Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people and to co-operating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

4. Labour shall work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions and co-operative societies and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

5. On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.

As democratic socialists, we can just about live with much of the above. Sub-clause 1 appears on the front of Labour Party Membership Cards and is what many members may believe is the full Clause. But there are four more sub-clauses given above. The first section presses for each person to be given the chance to reach their own potential, rather than seeing people as benefiting by sharing and helping each other. But the overall phraseology is ambiguous enough to be given a general form of democratic socialist interpretation. And the meaning given to the sub-clause depends to some extent on what then follows.

It is sub-clause 2a which is the major drawback.. It encapsulates the New Labour approach which came to fail us both morally and electorally by 2010. Here the concept of the "Dynamic Economy" attempts to marry together the opposing forces of a mainly unrestrained free enterprise approach with that of the public well-being. Below we offer an alternative form of words in favour of advancing the alternative concept of a "Sustainable Economy". In sub-clause 2b, we are also concerned about the commitment to promoting "equality of opportunity", a concept which creates the image of us being lined up on the starting line to race against each other, rather than our working together to form an egalitarian, participatory and sharing society. The notion of "social equality" seems to us to point us in a better direction.

Two proposed amendments are given below. Limiting the changes in the overall wording, whilst trying to get to the heart of the matter seems to us to be a practical yet principled approach.

Proposed amendments.

A. Replace sub-clause 2a on “A DYNAMIC ECONOMY” with the following -

“A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY, serving the public interest by operating through the principles of co-operation and participatory democracy, in which wealth and economic power are equitably shared.”

Amend sub-clause 2b on “A Just Society” as follows -
"Replace the words"equality of opportunity" with the words "social equality"

(2) We also criticise this whole consultation exercise as being a marketing exercise illustrated by the character of its associated booklet, which is aimed at non-party members such as “small business owners”. 20 Shadow Cabinet Review bodies are linked into the exercise and the final wording on the booklet (in small print) indicates that those completing the booklet are likely to be nobbled by these bodies where appropriate.

We are, however, in favour of Policy Commissions being run under the auspicious of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party with their reports being fully discussed throughout the Labour Party and the wider Labour movement, with the Annual Conference of the Labour Party being given a full opportunity to determine or reject proposals, along with amendments and alternatives submitted from the grassroots of the Party. To give the NEC, Annual Conference and the membership of the Party control over these procedures, we call for the abolition of National Policy Forum and of all other arrangements under “Partnership into Power”.

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