From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Labour Party stands for capitalism:“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. ”
The Socialist Party stands for socialism:"The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community."
Clause Four is dead. Long live Clause Four! The Labour leadership has decided that it must at all costs win the next election, and that the best way to do this is to modernise, to fudge, to adopt a new credo, to waffle, to change, to water down, to reform, to flannel. All of these words—and many others—have been used by friends and foes of the Labour Party to describe the intent and effect of its new Clause Four
All the discussion, the evaluation, the commentary, the prolix prose would seem to suggest that something really significant has changed in Labour Party policy. It hasn't. To amend slightly the observation of Michael Mansfield QC, it took the Webbs 60 words to say that the Labour Party offers only the reform of capitalism—it takes Blair 300
The new Clause Four mentions “socialist” once (as a label for the Labour Party) and capitalism not at all. The “socialist” label is transparently a con because the new version makes it clear (insofar as it makes anything clear) that the money and profit system will remain under labour: “the enterprise of the market . . . the rigour of competition . . . a thriving private sector". No matter that such guarantees of free-market capitalism are accompanied by references to co-operation and public service—this kind of mixed economy is offered by the other parties supporting capitalism, too.
It is instructive (or at least amusing) to read the reactions of some Tories to Clausc Four Mark 2. Douglas Hurd is reported as warning Conservatives to be ready to repel piratical labour boarders: "Mr Blair is trying to board the Conservative ship and run up his own flag on our masthead. ”
This picture of a swashbuckling Blair contrasts with his bleak record of selecting questions to the prime Minister. According to Matthew Parris (Times, 14 March) Blair has "never backed any public sector pay demand. . . not supported the teachers . . . never once complained about welfare benefits for the poor: about poverty; or about homelessness . . . never directly contested any past privatisation . . . never touched the subject of labour relations or trades unions ". Instead he has most often made points about fat cats, European unity and Tory sleaze.
The real question for electors is not whether Bambi’s blather is more likely to win votes for Labour than the Webbs’ more concise but antiquated Clause Four. It is whether any party that, openly or by inference, promises only the reform of capitalism is worth supporting Previous Labour governments were elected on programmes that were manifestly much less conservative than Blair's—but they still froze workers’ wages, broke strikes, cut welfare benefits, and deployed weapons of mass destruction against the populations of other countries.
Labour leaders need to have followers, as indeed do the leaders of all the other, anti-socialist, parties. The tragedy is that the followers, against their best interest, want to be followers. Until they decide to think and act for themselves, we can expect the clauses of the policy statements to get longer and the vision of the leaders to get shorter.