Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Clause IV- did Labour ditch too much?

When Labour ditched its old Clause IV- which was the right thing to do- did it ditch too much? I am increasingly having to pinch myself when I observe some of things that are now happening such as the public ownership of High Street banks. The events of the last two years have brought a new found intellectual freedom. I never thought that I would ever revisit the old Clause IV. But that is exactly what I found myself doing today for my labour movement column on LabourList:
"The left used to be all about ownership. Democratic socialism saw ownership as power. Without common ownership, there couldn’t be socialism. Hence Labour’s old Clause IV: equity was premised on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Then the Gaitskellites and the revisionists got their hands on the concept. The journey from the late 1950s to the final repeal of the old Clause IV in 1995 was a forty year march of the Labour party away from paying much heed to ownership as a means of creating a more equitable society. If you forage through the verbiage of the current Clause IV you find such gems as how Labour will work to ‘promote equality of opportunity.’ Nice to know but such words float into the ether before long.

While the left was quickly dragging itself away from discussing any meaningful concept of ownership a very different thing was happening on the right: it was very actively discussing ownership and it proved to be an intellectually and politically reenergising discussion. Meanwhile, the new Clause IV doesn’t even mention ownership."
Just before you think I've taken an abrupt turn left, it is worth bearing a few things in mind:

- Common ownership is a very different thing to public ownership. In fact they are completely distinct.
- This is not a left or right issue: Thatcher was very interested in spreading ownership though her distribution was inequitable. Progressive conservatives are now openly talking about 'recapitalising the poor' and David Cameron himself seems to be engaged with this agenda.
- Ownership reconnects Labour to some forgotten threads of leftist philosophy: GDH Cole (above), RH Tawney, JB Priestley, and Common Wealth. Mutualism could be an idea whose time has come.

It's fine keeping all this at a philosophical level but now there needs to be a move towards investigating how this could work in practice (and there are already some experiments in Scotland.) To that end, I am jointly working on an idea which I'll float in the next week or two.....stay posted.

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