ONE day someone will get round to writing a history of the modern Labour Party that isn’t just re-hashing the tedious details of Blair-Brown infighting. When they do, the date Tuesday, October 4, 1994 will loom large in it.
That was the day Tony Blair gave his first speech as leader to the party conference.
Most of it, frankly, was waffle, though it received the predictable massive ovation.
He even claimed, incredible though it seems looking back, to be a socialist. Though he did insist that “his” socialism “is not the socialism of Marx or state control”.
(Neither is mine, Tony, but unlike yours it’s distinguishable from messianic Toryism.)
The nugget of meaning – I’m tempted to call it the gobbet of phlegm – came four minutes from the end.
That’s when he said: “It is time we had a clear, up-to-date statement of the objects and objectives of our party.”
Which was the first real inkling he gave that he was set on abandoning the perfectly clear objectives which had defined the party since 1918.
Until Blair ditched it, the party’s aim was laid out in Clause Four of its constitution: “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 and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
That is socialism. That is what Labour, under Blair, gave up. A coherent ideology. Any ideology.
As it happens, the ideology of those now in power (Clegg as well as Cameron) could be summed up as the opposite of poor abandoned Clause Four:
• To DENY the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry;
• To PREVENT its equitable distribution;
• To ERADICATE any remaining vestiges of common ownership;
• To GIVE UP popular administration and control of anything.
It’s a nightmare. But it does have the virtue of consistent thinking behind it.
At its heart is the idea that private ownership is in every way superior to public ownership. A view quite understandable from those (like Cameron, Clegg and most of their pals) who own quite a lot.
Not so good in practice for all the rest of us. The workers by hand or by brain.
A fortnight ago I reported with incredulity the view of Gordon Brown that “only the private sector is efficient”.
This brought a robust response from one of this column’s more intelligent readers.
For fairly obvious reasons he wishes to remain anonymous. I can tell you only that he is Ipswich-based, works for a prominent local company, and that I agree with every word he says:
“As someone who has worked in the private sector for his entire adult life, I can assure you that the constant assertion of private sector efficiency is a complete myth.
“The idea that people or businesses fail if they are inefficient is complete hogwash. Every single company I have worked for, or contracted into, has been massively inefficient and wasteful.
“Incompetence is routinely rewarded and any suspicion of innovation or creativity stifled at birth.
“Most private companies are extremely risk-averse. Even supposedly high-tech companies (the area in which I earn my bread and butter) tend to be held back by managers who would rather be assured some new technique or technology is ‘proven’ before they consider an investment.
“The difference is that the vast profits to be made from the minority of ideas and products that succeed mask the hideous waste that’s going on behind the gloss and headlines.
“When you consider the level of service that much of the public sector continue to deliver, despite shrinking investment, it baffles me that politicians continue to get away with this lie.”
We’ll end up in the Browne stuff
THE headlines so far have mostly been about the high cost of education hanging over future students. And that is certainly bad enough.
But there are worse things lurking in the detail of Lord Browne’s review of university funding.
I predict trouble ahead if the government tries to implement it – as it surely will, because it fits Tory thinking so well.
At heart, Browne aims to end the notion of higher education as a public service and reduce it to the level of the free market.
Universities will cease to get government support and rely instead purely on fees.
Which courses are available will depend ultimately on “consumer choice”. In other words, on the unrealistic expectations and desires of 18-year-olds.
Not that I have anything against 18-year-olds. But anyone in need of education needs better guidance than comes from a profit-driven market.
And that’s before you even consider society’s need for scientists, engineers, doctors and the rest.