Another View: Don't shoot the messenger

The Independent addresses the messenger rather than the message in its leading article yesterday on my contribution to Labour's Clause IV debate at the weekend. This reflects the increasingly curious nature of the debate and, alas, a growing strain of intolerance within the Labour Party. A proposal is made to redefine the party's most basic values; a debate is called for; then, anyone who contributes views different from the prevailing orthodoxy is abused, not for what they may have said, but for having said anything at all.

Labour's MEPs advanced their position and were castigated for their pains. I make a speech setting out issues which my trade union would like to see addressed. First I am described by unnamed (but readily identifiable) "senior Labour sources" as "confused, muddled and pusillanimous"; then the Independent argues that I should not be speaking in my capacity as general secretary of the T&G.

I believe that the debate on Clause IV needs to be broadened, not constricted further, in the weeks leading up to the special conference in April. The Independent alleges that the T&G is not consulting its members on their views, and that there is no time to discuss the exact resolutions to be put to the conference.

Wrong. We have asked all our branches for their opinions. We are responsible for neither the very tight timetable which has been laid down for deciding this important issue, nor the absence of the new draft Clause IV from the debate. Its early appearancewould certainly be helpful.

More fundamentally, the Independent challenges the inescapable character of trade unions as collective organisations and, unavoidably, political ones. The T&G has its own democratic procedures for deciding policy, including our long-standing support for the principle of public ownership. Indeed, we probably engage more actual and potential Labour votes in the debate (and recruit them to the party) than any other organisation. Once our policy is agreed, we argue for it, vote for it and then accept the result, win or lose.

Questions of public or private ownership are not academic issues for us. They affect vitally the job security, working conditions and pay of our members, as the experience of the past 16 years amply demonstrates. That is certainly one of the reasons T&G members voted overwhelmingly last year to retain a political fund, which ensures that the union has a political voice. They are the "we" on whose behalf I speak publicly - lest their voice (the voice of ordinary Labour voters) goes unheard amid the spin-doctors' cacophony.

Bill Morris is general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

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