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EDITIONS
Labour centenary Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 10:29 GMT
Bryan Gould: A soufflé of good intentions
Bryan Gould, former Labour MP and onetime leading member of Neil Kinnock's shadow cabinet, resigned from John Smith's shadow cabinet in 1992 over European policy. He is now Vice Chancellor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.


By Bryan Gould
Bryan Gould
Bryan Gould: "Labour was driven by values and principles"
When working people organised themselves industrially and acquired political clout as a result of the extended franchise, the Labour Party was the instrument they created to make this new-found political and industrial power count in the government of the country.

It took an amazingly short time for that goal to become reality.

Labour in government, and the threat that Labour might be the government, brought about a revolution in the rights, status and living standards of millions of ordinary people throughout Britain.

But Labour was always more than just a sectional interest group. Labour's espousal of the cause of the weak against the strong attracted the interest and sympathy of many who not only wanted to see a better deal for the dispossessed but who saw in the ideals of fairness and cooperation the basis of a better society for everybody.

If Labour - old or New - wants to change Britain for the better, good intentions must be backed by a rigorous analysis of why the economy fails to serve the interests of all the people

This meant that Labour was driven as much by values and principles as it was by hard economic calculation.

And Labour's very success in improving the condition of working people meant that the self-interested argument for raising the downtrodden - now arguably a minority rather than a majority - had to be supplemented by an appeal to the newly prosperous on wider social grounds.

Labour in Britain has, in other words, always eschewed the rigid ideology and economic materialism of parties of the left in other countries.

This has been, arguably, one of the reasons for its continued success. But it would be a mistake to think that Labour had or has no interest in or need for economic and social analysis.

'Cold draught of reality'

Any party which criticises the status quo, which believes in progress, and which urges reform has an obligation to describe in some detail how society at present is deficient and precisely how it could be made to work better.

Without some analytical framework, an attack on the status quo can become either just negative carping or posturing without substance.

If it is to remain true to the great achievements of its 100-year history, Labour today needs more than a soufflé of good intentions.

Soufflés can collapse very rapidly in the cold draught of reality.

If Labour - old or New - wants to change Britain for the better, good intentions must be backed by a rigorous analysis of why the economy fails to serve the interests of all the people and why its shortcomings have wide-ranging social as well as economic consequences.

Only then is there a chance of a properly structured programme for change.

See also:

22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
Links to more Labour centenary stories are at the foot of the page.


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