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banner Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 09:44 GMT
Barbara Castle: A party rooted in social justice

Former Labour minister Baroness Castle, joined the Independent Labour Party Guild of Youth aged 16 in 1926. She became an MP in 1945 and during her high profile career spent a number of years in the Labour cabinet, becoming a life peer in 1990.

Baroness Castle Barbara Castle: "You must learn from the past, not reject it."
Everyone needs roots and so do political parties. The Labour Party was formed 100 years ago to give working men and women a political voice and to fight the legacy of slums, malnutrition and poverty left by the industrial revolution.

Our roots were therefore grounded in the demand for social justice and an end to the gross inequalities between rich and poor. We wanted a society in which everyone could fulfil themselves, and with compassion for those who were left behind. Those values are just as relevant today. Of course methods must change, but values should not. "Modernisation" must not be used as a cloak for materialism.

I have been politically alert for about 80 of those 100 years, having been brought up in a socialist family in the industrial north. My belief in what we were striving for is as strong as ever. During those years I have watched the Labour movement adapt itself to changes in the world economy. It was Harold Wilson for example, who has Labour leader in the 1960s urged our party to understand the technological revolution that was taking place and face up to the adjustments we would all have to make. It was his government, which in 1974 brought the welfare state up to date by extending national insurance and introducing child benefit.

Adapting to change

All the time we were adapting our methods to the changing world. Our belief in public ownership as a means of enabling us all to shape the country's economic priorities remains strong but wholesale nationalisation is clearly inappropriate in a world dominated by international conglomerates and a global market. Nonetheless, socialists believed that democracy is not safe if untrammelled power is concentrated in a few private hands which can control not only jobs but the media.

The Labour Party still faces the challenge which haunted us 100 years ago: how to abolish poverty by making the new technology our servant and not our master: how to set individuals free to fulfil themselves without allowing them to control and dominate the rest of us.

Above all we must use the old values to fight the new materialism which the abuses of profit motive have fed and make people feel there is more to life than just getting rich. It is a daunting task but we must not give up.

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