LEADING ARTICLE: From Molotov to Mandelson

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The Independent Online
Is Tony Blair really Stalin in a Paul Smith suit? Does his vision for his party run no further than to take absolute control of it? For Mandelson and Campbell, should we read Molotov and Kalinin?

Apparently so, according to voices on Labour's left. The well-timed leak of the summary of a six-month-old strategy document - penned by Blair's adviser, Philip Gould - to one of the Guardian's most unreconstructed journalists, has been cited in evidence for the prosecution. Yesterday at the TUC conference in Brighton, union leaders such as Rodney Bickerstaffe and Ken Cameron, doubtless anticipating the dawn knock and the bullet in the neck, spoke of their fears of a party in which all debate is suppressed.

So does the peaked cap fit? To answer the question, it is useful to examine the salient features of the Gould memorandum. The first thing that hits the reader is its similarity in tone and candour to the note from the Tory vice-chairman John Maples which so embarrassed the Conservatives last year. Like Mr Maples, Mr Gould tells a big truth; one which this paper has referred to on several occasions. It is that new Labour does not yet have a "political project" for Britain which matches the one that sustained Margaret Thatcher through nearly three terms in power. He also states that the party lacks "the flexibility and the capacity for innovation", which is necessary for a modern political force.

Mr Gould is, of course, right. And not only is he right, but it is encouraging that the Blair entourage seems to recognise these problems (their unconvincing protestations that this was all before the Clause IV vote notwithstanding). What we do not yet know is what they intend to do about it.

On modernising the Labour Party itself the Blair camp is much more definite, which explains the emphasis on reducing direct union influence on the party. The memo envisages a party which - in the long term - accords each member an equal vote and voice in party deliberations. This may seem threatening to the union barons, but it is good news for everyone else.

Ah, reply the critics, but what about all those rather Leninist sounding bits about "sole sources of authority", "command structures" and "ultimate responsibility" - surely they're a bit worrying? Yes, they are, but mostly for the Conservative Party. What they refer to is the continuing need for a professionally directed campaigns organisation, with tight discipline. Unless Labour wishes to lose the next election, such an approach is both necessary and inevitable.

Yet there is one bum note in the The Unfinished Revolution (as the incomplete summary was titled). This is the complaint that Labour is not yet a "cohesive, integrated political party, sharing the same political ideology". What this betrays is a mechanistic and limited view of what a party as necessarily broad and diverse as Labour is all about. If new Labour seeks to represent the aspirations and needs of large sections of the population, it must be a party of many voices, a plethora of ideas and a range of inspirations.