The Labour Party in Blackpool: Gould attacks Shadow Cabinet 'gagging'

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The Independent Online
LABOUR'S refusal to back a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, or to accept the 'damaging consequences' of an over-valued pound, were cited yesterday by Bryan Gould as the key reasons for his decision to quit the Shadow Cabinet.

Speaking at a fringe meeting in the Winter Gardens' Baronial Hall in Blackpool, Labour's former national heritage spokesman said he realised he could rapidly be marginalised by resigning.

Friends had urged him to stay and fight internally, he said. But the man who, as trade spokesman in 1987, had devised tough conditions for Labour backing entry into the European exchange rate mechanism only to see them 'surreptitiously abandoned' said he had tried that already.

'I tried it for three years before the last election,' he told a meeting organised by the anti-Maastricht Labour Common Market Safeguards Committee. 'I know that the outcome is far from providing a sounding board and a position of influence - that the Shadow Cabinet in those circumstances operates merely as a gag or straitjacket that supresses real debate.'

There was already, he said, a great deal of cynicism among the public about the readiness of politicians to swallow their beliefs and principles. He did not want to be someone who was not prepared to speak up when it mattered.

Despite recent events, he said, politicians of all parties were already closing ranks to prevent the British people having a say, when Maastricht would 'irreversibly' yield up some of the most important powers of self-government. 'That step should not in all conscience be taken without asking the British people first.'

He said Labour must fight against recession, for full employment, for democracy, and for Britain's right to govern itself within a free, open and democratic Europe - all of which, he said, Maastricht went against. He was determined 'so long as my voice is heard, to use it to argue these great issues'.

Pale and taut-faced by the end, Mr Gould said he had 'no illusion as to how rapidly I will be disowned and marginalised by a decision to speak my mind'.

But despite some movement by the party, a 'gulf' remained between his views and the stance of the leadership which was 'deaf' to a Maastricht referendum, might still back ERM re-entry at too high a rate and did not recognise that the ERM as a bridge to economic and monetary union was 'shattered'.

As he headed for what Labour's leaders will attempt to ensure is a political wilderness - he may lose his place on the national executive in today's election - Mr Gould said he found 'nothing more offensive' than the attempt to label opponents of the Maastricht blueprint as anti-European. He fervently believed in Britain's future in Europe, but in a decentralised Europe which pursued a social agenda, and co-ordinated foreign and defence policies, not one which produced deflation through 'futile' attempts to build a single currency.

His resignation produces the first break in the 'soft left' whose backing made Neil Kinnock's modernisation of Labour possible, and may give new heart to the growing anti-Maastricht numbers among Labour's backbench MPs.

But his decision left his own supporters divided. Helen Jackson, MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, who nominated him for the leadership election, said: 'He should have stayed. I am disappointed and will no doubt tell him so.'

But Terry Davis, the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, who also nominated Mr Gould, said: 'He's behaved bravely and impeccably. I think it strengthens his position.'

Mr Gould's replacement in the Shadow Cabinet will be decided by a by- election among the party's MPs.