Letter: Individualism poses a problem for Labour

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: It is perhaps not surprising that the issue of 'one man, one vote' is causing the Labour Party some difficulties. Behind this issue is a profound cultural difference whose resolution is central to the Labour Party's modern identity.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative ideas of representation derive from a tradition which is individualist, secular and English. It is usually traced back to Burke's Address to the Electors of Bristol, but in fact goes back to King Edward I. In this tradition, the representative, because he represents many disparate individuals, cannot speak for them all, and instead owes them, in Burke's phrase, his judgement.

The Labour tradition, though it may have been reinforced by Marxist notions of class solidarity, is collective, ecclesiastical and Scottish. The body represented, whether it be presbytery or trade union, is endowed with a collective personality. The views of this collective personality are ascertained by majority, and the delegate is then mandated to express them.

As formed by Scottish Presbyterians in the sixteenth century, this doctrine rested on fear of the sell- out. It was based on a profound distrust of power. After 400 years, John Smith is entitled to ask whether anything has changed.

Yours sincerely,


House of Lords

London, SW1

3 June