Letter: Open debate within the Labour Party

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Sir: Your leading article 'Testing times for John Smith' (14 September) may have given a misleading impression to your readers.

Because politicians are chided for failing to correct misleading references and find that such attributed remarks are brought up against them at a later date, I think it is important that I put the record straight. I have indicated that I would not rule out the possibility of a referendum on the Maastricht agreement once it becomes clear what the Danes intend to do and how the other 11 EC members propose to proceed, irrespective of the result in the French referendum next Sunday.

There is no immediate need for the Labour Party to take a decision on this matter, even though wider questions may be settled at separate NEC and Shadow Cabinet meetings next Wednesday.

What is undeniable is that debate and constructive comment have to be a welcome part of an open democracy and not seen as exacerbating so-called 'splits' or 'divisions'.

Equally, having an open mind on all possible options to save British industry and our economy from further unnecessary harm, is not some kind of 'challenge' which opposition party leaders should deal with in order to prove their fitness for government.

Finally, I think it is unfortunate when the press makes remarks about candidates seeking support in the forthcoming National Executive Committee election, when so many of those already elected to the NEC of the Labour Party have gone through years of very difficult decision-making, both in terms of internal party discipline and policy review; have faced the likely consequences for support within the party; and have made every possible effort to retain unity and discipline within the party and a credible and electable alternative to the Conservatives.

Regrettably, we are in opposition once again for the immediate future. The task ahead of us is to provide not only a credible opposition but a distinct and popular alternative government.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Sheffield Brightside (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

15 September