Left out in the cold

Clause four roadshow gets underway

DUE TO snow drifts that annually cause turmoil - and the even bigger upstaging by Eric Cantona - the launch of Tony Blair’s tour of the constituencies may not have opened with the blaze of publicity he had hoped for.

The first constituency meetings will of course have been carefully chosen, but they do give a taste of things to come in a debate which the whole of the left has catapulted itself into with notable passion and a more notable lack of ammunition.

The whimpers of opposition to Blair are shrivelling already in a fortnight which has seen moderniser and traditionalist alike jump on board to defend their leader and his campaign to change clause four.

Brian Wilson is the latest to add his meaningless jargon to that of the other contenders. He wants to “cast out poverty, nurture enterprise and promote common ownership”, and has won the support of several MPs in Scotland.

Blair has welcomed Wilson’s contribution and during his tour has dropped several hints at the wording of his new clause.

It is clear that it will have plenty of reference to ‘fairness’, vague enough to satisfy both left and right who both have their pet schemes and definitions of what that means. Significantly for the left, Blair says: “The issue of ownership will not be a matter of ideology, but of the best practical means to serve the public interest.” - Sorry, is that the elusive ‘common’ interest, workers’ interest or bosses’ interest?

The phrasing of the new clause, as with Blair and Prescott’s speaking tour, will give the left apologists for the Labour Party very little room for manoeuvre. The wording will undoubtedly keep in a reference to common or public ownership in some form or another. All the left can do then is cling desperately on to arguing for the retention of a clause which was introduced as an anti-revolutionary, anti-socialist move, was never (and never intended to be) implemented and now is woefully out of date by anybody’s standards.

The argument for and against replacing one meaningless clause with another one is obviously a tenuous one, and one therefore that the left is having difficulty rallying anything other than itself around.

Although many left constituency members may have a utopian and nostalgic attachment to clause four, they are unlikely to rock the boat if the rewrite can express equally well all their utopian and reformist dreams.

For the left inside the Labour Party, the various Trotskyite permanent entryists and those outside who still devote pages of their papers on how the Labour Party should change and ‘why we are going to vote for it anyway’, the stakes are much higher. The debate over clause four highlights starkly the very nature of the Labour Party itself.

If we all know why clause four was introduced, why it was never implemented and why now Blair is so keen and so able to ditch it, surely the most important question raised is the need to ditch Labour.

Unfortunately it seems these left groups are doomed to hang on to Labour’s coat tails until they can see an alternative. Revolutionaries must take up the task of building that alternative. Building a working class party based on scientific socialism, not defending a clause which tried to steal the language of socialism in order to disarm workers.

Helen Ellis