Tribune leader, 2 October 1992

Not for the first time, the biggest excitement of this week’s Labour conference came before it    formally opened. The dramatic resignation of Bryan Gould from the Shadow Cabinet has overshadowed everything else that has happened in Blackpool this week.
Although Tribunedisagrees with Mr Gould over Europe and economic policy, the issues on which he decided that he could not accept Shadow Cabinet collec­tive responsibility, we regret his decision to go.
It is not that his position is incompre­hensible. Mr Gould’s core beliefs about management of the economy (he remains a stalwart of the “Keynesianism in one country” school) are radically at odds with the “co-ordinated European refla­tion” approach taken by the Labour lead­ership and overwhelmingly endorsed by this week’s conference.
It is hardly surprising that Mr Gould decided that a life of back-bench freedom was preferable to four years of sitting on his hands, particularly given his experi­ence between 1989 and last April. Then Mr Gould kept quiet in the face of what he saw as a disastrous Labour economic policy shift, away from the intervention­ist industrial strategy he had elaborated as trade and industry spokesman and to­wards an approach emphasising only “supply side” measures, mainly education and training.
The prospect of another frustrating pe­riod of not disagreeing in public with what he saw as party policy was under­standably unattractive for Mr Gould. What made it even worse was that, hav­ing been so roundly beaten in the Labour leadership contest this summer, he was in an even weaker position inside the Shad­ow Cabinet than he had been in the three years before the general election. Know­ing by last weekend that he was also cer­tain to lose his seat on the National Executive Committee, Mr Gould walked.
No one can blame him for doing so, but there is something deeply  disturbing  about   the   circum­stances. The impossibility of his predica­ment came about only because of the en­forcement last week of Shadow Cabinet collective responsibility on Europe and economic policy. Yet there was no need to foreclose Labour’s debate on these issues, apart, possibly, for last week’s emergency House of Commons debate on the econo­my. However essential it might be for any political party to present a show of unity in the couple of years before a general election, there is no convincing argument for Labour doing any such thing right now.
It is less than six months since the par­ty suffered a humiliating general election defeat. It has still only begun to chew over why it lost and what it should do next. Two years of free and frank debate, with the tolerance of the widest range of views at every level of the party is essen­tial if Labour is to have any hope of get­ting to grips with its predicament.
The departure of Mr Gould is a worry­ing sign that the Labour leadership thinks that the debate is not neces­sary. It also inevitably casts a shadow of doubt over the seriousness of John Smith’s promise during the leadership campaign to operate a more relaxed disci­plinary regime than his predecessor. The least we should now expect from Mr Smith is a ringing declaration of the val­ue he places on dissent in the Labour Party.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.