Posts Tagged ‘Progess’

Will Progress ever have a clause four moment of its own?

18/05/2011, 04:00:19 PM

by Sunder Katwala

“A Fabian clause IV moment may loom for the ole statists’ new chief”, wrote the pressure group Progress, as their think-tank column sought to stir up some speculation about the future of the Fabian Society under its next general secretary. (I leave this summer. Do apply here, before May 26).

A week later, Progress published a “reform or die” injunction to the Fabian Society, though doing more to stoke a little distant nostalgia for the early “big tent” Blairism of the Britpop era than to credibly suggest an existential threat, particularly when Fabian┬áSociety membership is today higher that at any point in our 126-year history.

Still, the argument for a fabian clause four moment is a good one. Fabianism is full of clause four moments. It is because it has been the most open, plural and self-critical, hence regenerating and revisionist, of intellectual and political traditions that fabianism has endured and thrived across a century and more. As Progress gathers for its annual conference this weekend, it would be a good moment for that organisation to consider how to emulate that fabian tradition, and to try a clause four moment of its own.

The Fabians can, uniquely, stake a claim to have been a significant contributor to both of Labour’s own clause four moments. Sidney Webb’s 1918 clause four was, in its own time, the moderate, gradualist and democratic socialist riposte to the Bolshevik revolution. Its appeal to workers “by hand or by brain” was designed to expand Labour’s appeal beyond the trade union interest by seeking middle-class support for democratic socialism. That this was a fabian achievement was never a barrier to fabian interrogation and criticism of it.

Arthur Henderson favoured rewriting it by 1929. Fabians were at the heart of the revisionist social democratic push to revise clause four in the 1950s. Fabian general secretary, Bill Rodgers, was central to the modernising campaign for democratic socialism, which sought to mobilise support for Hugh Gaitskell’s ill-fated assault on the old clause four.

Fabians returned to the fray in the 1990s, as the society put Labour’s “southern discomfort” at centre stage after the 1992 general election. Giles Radice called on leader, John Smith, to revise clause four, and returned to the theme as the latest follow-up pamphlet was published on the eve of the 1995 conference. “There would be no better way of showing that Labour is putting forward a credible vision for the future than by rewriting clause four”, wrote Radice. His diaries recount that he had no prior knowledge of Blair’s plan to do exactly that, but was able to tell a fabian fringe meeting on the Tuesday night that “I have been outflanked by my leader”. A decade later, we were making the case for Labour to revisit its foundational values in every generation, not twice a century. Having successfully helped to put the language of equality back into mainstream politics – with the argument for more equal life chances now echoing across the political spectrum. So I argued that Labour ought now to have the confidence to make its commitment to a fairer and more equal society an explicit part of its political mission.

By contrast with the fabians, Progress has never had nor contributed to a clause four moment yet.

Founded in 1996, the organisation had been a mere glint in Derek Draper’s eye when Tony Blair revised clause four the year before. The self-styled modernisers of Progress, arriving afterwards, did not offer an independent, insurgent challenge for Labour to rethink its ideas. Rather, as Tom Watson has set out on Uncut, the organisation was created “from above”, through explicitly seeking out and receiving the patronage of the party leadership for its offer to consolidate and mobilise support for what had already become the new status quo. After fifteen years of flying that New Labour flag, arriving metaphorically in its late adolescence, Progress may increasingly face a “forward, not back” challenge of its own.

If the Fabian Society‘s next leadership should embrace the challenge to define the society’s own next clause four moment, it must also be time for Progress to consider how to have their first.

With Progress fashioning a new trend in fraternal advice and organisational scrutiny between progressive allies, it would seem only fair to reciprocate and to draw on the fabian experience to identify three signposts as to what Progress‘ first ever clause four moment might look like. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon