Leading Article: Speak for yourself, Bill

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The Independent Online
It ain't so much what he said as the way that he said it. Entering the Labour debate about Clause IV last Saturday, the transport union leader, Bill Morris, told the world that "we want a clear commitment to public ownership". So far he had "heard nothing, read nothing, seen nothing which could remotely meet our minimum requirements".

Who is this "we"? There has been no substantial consultative exercise within the T&G about Clause IV. Bus drivers, car workers and office clerks have not been gathering in their lunch-hours clamouring for the latest from the Labour leader's office. So wouldn't it have been better for him simply to refer to his personal views, without invoking the shadows of his 850,000 members?

Bill Morris reminds us that the relationship between Labour and the unions remains unfinished business. When the special conference on Clause IV meets in April, 70 per cent of the votes will be cast by Bill and his colleagues. Most will not have had timeto discuss the exact resolutions and will have to hold executive or delegation meetings to decide how to vote. All delegates will be then expected to vote the same way. Once again the block vote will be seen in inglorious action.

Last year Tony Blair made a commitment that when individual membership of the Labour Party reached 300,000, the block vote would be re-examined. This target has now been attained. Unsurprisingly, given the Labour leader's preoccupation with reducing the union share of the vote to 50 per cent by 1997 and abolishing the practice of mandating, allowing all delegates a free vote on policy matters.

But even if the constitutional stranglehold the unions exercise over the party is loosened, it won't mean that the battle is over. Labour will still have to deal with its legacy of putting the interests of organised labour over those of a wider society. Evidence for this came in the Resignation-Of-The-Week, that of the former Islington councillor Leo McKinstry. He "came out" in this week's Spectator and some of what he had to say rang true. He blamed the terrible recent industrial relations record of some councils on a reluctance by Labour councillors to invoke the law, pointed out that poor work is excused by blaming "underfunding" and drew attention to an unwillingness to take disciplinary action against hopeless employees.

The McKinstry litany is important because it points up the still essentially "producerist" mentality of Labour's internal reflexes. And that is not surprising. Local parties are themselves heavily influenced by the trade union model of organisation and representation. They are still much happier discussing the rights of workers than providing value for money. This tendency leads to decisions that are not necessarily in the interests of the consumer or the elector. It is also bad politics in an era when citizens have had enough of the big battalions. If there is to be a Labour government with the longevity to carry out the changes that this country needs, then the party itself has to put more clear water between it and its producerist past. It needs to let Bill speak for himself.