Tribune leader, 24 April 1992

It is now clear that we are not going to get a full choice in the Labour lead­ership election. The bounce has worked: the rapid endorsement of John Smith by several key union leaders persuaded all but two of his potential ri­vals for the leadership that he had it all sewn up and that it wasn’t worth even trying to challenge him. One by one, all the younger politicians whose names had been mentioned as putative Labour leaders rallied publicly to his banner – Robin Cook, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown – leaving only Bryan Gould and Ken Livingstone to offer a challenge. With Mr Livingstone almost certain to be eliminated from the contest because of the absurd anti-democratic requirement that any would–be leader needs the nom­inations of 20 per cent of MPs to become a candidate in the election, that means that the choice is between Mr Smith and Mr Gould.
This is an unhappy state of affairs, not because there is anything wrong with ei­ther Mr Smith or Mr Gould – both are decent, honest men – but because, be­tween them, they do not adequately rep­resent the range of options available to Labour in the mid-nineties.
Mr Smith is the “business as usual” candidate (hardly surprising given that he was in charge of Labour’s economic policy in the run-up to the 1992 elec­tion). Although he has promised to be open to ideas, and has given Mr Brown and Mr Blair special responsibility for developing them, he has yet to convince anyone that, under his leadership, Labour would adopt anything other than a “safety first” approach. In eco­nomic policy, the recipe is familiar: mod­est increases in public spending paid for by modest tax increases, with industrial intervention limited to “supply-side” measures and devaluation of sterling ruled out of order. A Smith Labour Par­ty would go with the flow on Europe, cautiously backing the EC’s moves to­wards European Monetary Union but wary of being seen as too pro-European, and it would support the safest option on electoral reform, whatever that turns out to be after Labour’s commission on electoral systems, chaired by Raymond Plant, reaches its conclusions. A similar­ly cautions approach would be taken to reforming Labour’s internal structures. All in all, Mr Smith would be a very dull leader at a time when dullness is the last thing Labour needs more of.
Mr Gould, by contrast, is brimming over with ideas for change: he is in favour of industrial interventionism and devaluation and has been critical of Mr Smith’s redistributive Shadow budget for its “insensitivity” to voters in the south-east of England. He is a decentraliser, sceptical about Europe, and a convinced environmentalist. He would move rapidly towards one member one vote as the basis for Labour’s structure.
Looking on the bright side, we are be­ing offered a clear choice. Apart from taxation, where it is difficult to tell whether Mr Gould dislikes the Shadow budget tax increases or just the way they were put across, the differences be­tween the two candidates have been ad­mirably well defined. Nothing has hap­pened in the past week to change Tribune’s belief that Mr Gould’s decentralism, environmentalism and enthusiasm for reform of Labour’s structures make him the better bet for the leadership.
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Moreover, if, as nearly everyone expects, he fails to beat Mr Smith, he would be a better choice for deputy than Margaret Beckett, who seems likely to be the other main candidate. Unlike Mr Gould, Mrs Beckett cannot these days credibly claim to be a left-wing balance to Mr Smith’s right-wing pragmatism because of her central role in economic policy in the past few years. Her antipathy to electoral reform bodes ill for Labour if she becomes deputy to Mr Smith, as does her tendency to Euro–scepticism.
But here also lies the nub of the problem with the whole contest. For Mr Gould is as much of a Eurosceptic as Mrs Beckett. No one with a serious chance of becoming leader or deputy is saying that the fault with Labour’s stance on Europe over the past couple of years has been lack of enthusiasm for Europe. The only credible way of sub­jecting to democratic control the key de­cisions in European economic policy-making is the development of a federal European executive accountable to the European Parliament. But, instead of willing the means, Labour has taken refuge in the idea that national Minis­ters drawn from national parliaments should have a little bit more of a role.
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Similarly, no one with a serious chance of winning is saying both that the economic policy of the past couple of years has been over­cautious and that devaluation cannot be offered by Labour as a policy at the next election. Devaluation increases prices of imports and cuts prices of exports: as a result, it boosts the economy, at least un­til wage inflation cancels out its effects. It is sometimes necessary, and there is a strong case that now is such a time: ster­ling is undoubtedly over-valued against the Deutschmark, as are several other European currencies. But devaluation is not a matter of policy. It can only be used as a surprise weapon in economic management: no speculator wants to hold a currency if it is known that its value will be cut in the future, and few voters would back any party that said it would increase, at a stroke, the price of every single import.
Tribune would have preferred to be able to back a candidate for the leader­ship who was saying these things: as it is, we cannot. So we support Mr Gould for leader, in the knowledge that the best likely outcome, even if all the trade unions and constituency Labour parties ballot their members as they should, is Mr Smith as leader and Mr Gould as deputy.
A “dream ticket” it isn’t, but it is cer­tainly not a nightmare.
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