Dear friends,

 

I thought you might be interested in reading my latest piece for the Guardian entitled; “Labour must rewrite Clause 4, and put inequality centre stage”.

 

You can view the piece here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/21/labour-rewrite-clause-four-inequality-jeremy-corbyn-moderates

 

Or read it below.
Very best
Liam

 

Labour must rewrite Clause 4, and put inequality centre stage

Liam Byrne

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn succeeded because we Labour moderates failed to offer the party a soul. But there’s much in his message that the whole party can agree with – starting with inequality

 

It was said that when Cicero spoke, his audience applauded. But when Demosthenes spoke, the people marched. The new leader of the Labour party is an unlikely Demosthenes, but whatever your views, Labour MPs have to recognise this: members didn’t just applaud him, they marched behind him to deliver a resounding victory.

The blunt truth is that Labour’s moderates lost on soul, style and substance. A new era has opened. And the moderates have to begin rebuilding from the ground floor up.

As is well known in China, the beginning of a cultural revolution begins with a healthy dose of self-denunciation. So, as our cultural revolution begins, the moderates might as well get the self-denunciation under way. Because unless we learn what we got wrong – over very many years – we will fail to help shape a new programme that is both radical and credible.

Let’s start with soul. Politics is a passionate business. It’s often animated by anger. I joined the Labour party at the age of 15 in fury at the TV pictures of striking miners being baton-charged by police for the crime of defending their jobs. Anger at injustice is the soul force of the Labour party.

Jeremy Corbyn articulated better than anyone else the profound anger at spiralling inequality in our world and in our country. As it happens, he is not alone in his analysis. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, Angel Gurria, head of the OECD, and this month the World Economic Forum of all people, underlined the point: inequality is rising, it is rising too fast and the scale of inequality is both morally wrong and economically dangerous.

Written through Corbyn’s speeches was an analysis that is now the new norm amongst international economists, but allied with a moral anger and idealism that is, and always has been, the founding passion of the Labour party. And yet the moderates, myself included, with a very healthy thirst for electability sounded all too often like, as Nye Bevan said of Hugh Gaitskell, “a desiccated calculating machine”. We simply failed to offer the party soul.

Equally, Corbyn’s style knocked the moderates into a cocked hat. Rather than stick to the disciplines carefully schooled in Millbank Tower in the mid-90s, Corbyn quite simply led a social movement. Ignored by the moderates for years, it has multiplied through the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, turbo-charged by new forces from 38 Degrees to the campaigners for disability rights. When Billy Bragg said Grassroots Labour beat New Labour, he was bang on.

Among good and progressive people, there is a gigantic thirst for a different way of doing politics: authentic, “say what you mean”, radical. It is organised on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Its vibrancy and speed is magnificent. It can deliver thousands of emails to an MP ahead of a crunch vote in the Commons. It can help organise hundreds of thousands to demonstrate. Some might attack it as the politics of the flashmob: I think it’s healthy, it’s here to stay, and the moderates need to master its methods sharp-ish.

Third is the question of substance. I read every word of Corbyn’s policy papers. They are impressive. Their intellectual pedigree can be traced neatly back to the People’s Charter published in 2012. The ideas fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The fuel for the programme – people’s quantitative easing plus a big increase in borrowing – is, I fear, false hope rather than real hope. But, in its ambitions, there is much the Labour party can agree with: a more realistic timetable for deficit reduction, rebalancing the burden of who pays for what, tax justice and a tougher stance on tax avoidance, better spending choices, council house building, a higher living wage, industrial policy, world class vocational education, radical devolution, a genuinely grass-roots green policy agenda, “re-industrialisation of the north”. The list goes on.

Of course there are big disagreements. But the list of ambitions the party shares is long. It’s the route-map we must debate.

So how do the moderates regroup? First by remembering the lessons of the early 80s. We are collectively determined to avoid an SDP-style split. There will be no defections. That’s why so many colleagues have agreed to serve on the frontbench – and why those on the backbench will honour and support them.

But second, we have to show we genuinely are one party with one set of values. We’re in this business to change the world and make it more just. Today our party’s aims and values do not reflect the urgency of what needs to change.

So it is now time to begin a debate within the party to re-write Clause Four. It is simply ludicrous for Labour’s aims and values not to even mention “inequality”. We need a rewrite to put the war on inequality centre stage. We have a long parliament. In many ways, we’re about to have the debate that we managed to avoid five years ago. Let’s get on with it, and emerge stronger, tougher – and re-united.

 

ENDS

 

 

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