Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy speaks in Glasgow after his election on 13 December, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Jim Murphy unveils plan to rewrite Scottish Labour's Clause IV

New leader emulates Tony Blair by announcing five new principles for the party's constitution, including commitment to patriotism. 

Twenty years ago, Tony Blair stunned the political world by declaring his intention to rewrite Labour's hallowed Clause IV and end the party's formal commitment to mass nationalisation. The move, endorsed at a special conference in 1995, was a defining point in the birth of New Labour. Ever since, leaders of all parties have been challenged to display similar daring and achieve their own "Clause IV moment".

Today, following his election as Scottish Labour leader last Saturday, Jim Murphy will seek to do quite literally that by vowing to rewrite Clause IV of his party's constitution. Mindful of Scottish Labour's tarnished reputation, which allowed the SNP to win majority control at Holyrood (and to surge in the polls), the former cabinet minister is attempting to redefine his party's purpose for the post-referendum era. He will say in a speech in Glasgow:

Once Labour’s challenge was that too many people felt they could not be Labour and make an aspirational choice.  Today Scottish Labour’s challenge is that some people feel they can’t be Labour and make a patriotic choice. The change we need goes deeper than the leadership style of a new team. If this is to be a genuinely fresh start for our party we need to make more fundamental change.
 
That is why I can announce that I will ask Scottish Labour’s Conference in March to agree a new 'Clause IV' for our Scottish constitution. A new statement of purpose for a new generation in the Scottish Labour Party. It's the biggest change in Scottish Labour's history. This is a 'Clause IV' moment for a different time and a different purpose. Tony Blair rewrote Clause Four of UK Labour to bring us closer to the centre of politics. I want to rewrite 'Clause IV' of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.
Murphy will go on to outline five principles for the new Clause IV. They are:
 
1. Making it clear that Scottish Labour is a "patriotic party"
 
Murphy will say: "One: we will make it clear that we are both a democratic socialist party and a patriotic party. We are a socialist party yes, but we recognise that our political faith grew out of something deeper which is ingrained in our Scottish character. It was there before our party in the ethics of Burns' poetry, the economic vision of New Lanark, the actions of the Highlanders who took on brutal landlords. A belief that we stand together, look after those who need our help, and make sure that everyone gets a fair shout." 
 
2. Declaring Scottish Labour a party that "represents Scotland first"
 
"Two: while we do not give up on our belief in active solidarity with people across the United Kingdom and around the world, we will make it clear that this is complementary to, and not in conflict with, the national interest of Scotland. 
 
"We will declare ourselves a party that represents Scotland first, and where, as Scots, we work with others to achieve the potential of all."
 
3. Committing to "total devolution" of policy making in devolved areas
 
"Three: we will set in stone the total devolution of policy making in devolved areas. Policy will be made in Scotland, for Scotland, by our Scottish Party, putting the needs of Scotland first."
 
4. Committing to a "permanent and powerful" Scottish Parliament
 
"Four: we will make the same commitment in our own party constitution, as the Smith Agreement did in the UK Constitution, to a permanent and powerful Scottish Parliament."
 
5. Renewing Labour's mission for "a more equal and fairer society"
 
"And Five: we will renew our historic mission for a more equal and fairer society where power, wealth and opportunity are more fairly shared by our fellow Scots and our fellow human beings around the world.
 
"This will represent the refounding and rebirth of our Scottish Labour Party.  
 
"A clear statement of our party’s beliefs. A changing Scottish Labour Party for a changing Scotland."
 
These principles are designed to draw a distinction between patriotism and nationalism (number one), to answer former leader Johann Lamont's charge that Scottish Labour was merely a "branch office" of Westminster (number two and number three), to enshrine the party's commitment to further devolution, including the full transfer of income tax (number four), and to reaffirm its egalitarian values. 
 
With the SNP 20 points ahead of Labour in Westminster voting intention, a lead that would cost Labour 34 of its 40 seats, the scale of the task facing Murphy is daunting. But with the promise of a new Clause IV, he has shown the kind of imagination and creativity that will be required in the months ahead. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Reuters
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Murder by numbers: the legacy of the Grenfell Tower fire

It is difficult to refute the reality of suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned.

How do we measure human malice? Sometimes it’s all too easy. This summer, British cities are struggling through the aftermath of successive terrorist attacks and hate crimes. The Manchester bombing. The Westminster Bridge murders. The London Bridge atrocity. The attack on people outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and on other mosques. The unidentified young men who are still at large in the capital after spraying acid in the faces of passers-by, mutilating them.

In Britain, we are commendably resilient about these things. Returning to London after some time away, I found my spirits lifted by an issue of the London Evening Standard magazine that celebrated the ordinary people who stepped in to help after these atrocities. The paramedics who worked through the night. The Romanian chef who offered shelter in his bakery. The football fan who took on the London Bridge terrorists, screaming, “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!” The student housing co-ordinator who rushed to organise board for the victims of the inferno at the Grenfell Tower and their families.

Wait. Hold on a second. One of these things is not like the others. The Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 80 people died, was not a terrorist or malicious attack. It was the result of years of callous council decisions and underinvestment in social housing. On 14 June, entire families burned alive in their homes partly because, it is alleged, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would not pay the extra £5,000 or so for fire-resistant cladding. Nor could it find the cash, despite a budget surplus, to instal proper sprinkler systems on the rotting interior of the building.

Kensington and Chelsea is a Tory borough that, in cash terms, cares very little for poorer citizens who are unlikely to vote the right way. In 2014, while the Grenfell Tower residents were refused basic maintenance, the council handed out £100 rebates to its top-rate taxpayers, boasting of its record of “consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services”. Some of those efficiencies had names, and parents, and children.

This is a different sort of depravity altogether. It’s depravity with plausible deniability, right up until the point at which deniability goes up in flames. Borrowing from Friedrich Engels, John McDonnell described the Grenfell Tower disaster as “social murder”. The shadow chancellor and sometime Jack Russell of the parliamentary left has never been known for his delicate phrasing.

Naturally, the Tory press queued up to condemn McDonnell – not because he was wrong but because he was indiscreet. “There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder,” he said, “where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences… and as a result of that people have suffered.”

It is difficult to refute the reality of that suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned from the towering tombstone that now blights the west London skyline.” As the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Market austerity is no less brutal for being bloodless, calculating, an ideology of measuring human worth in pennies and making cuts that only indirectly slice into skin and bone. Redistributing large sums of money from the poor to the rich is not simply an abstract moral infraction: it kills. It shortens lives and blights millions more. Usually, it does so in a monstrously phlegmatic manner: the pensioners who die early of preventable diseases, the teenagers who drop out of education, the disabled people left to suffer the symptoms of physical and mental illness with nobody to care for them, the thousands who have died on the waiting lists for state benefits that they are perfectly entitled to, the parents whose pride disintegrates as they watch their children go to school hungry.

We are not encouraged to measure the human cost of austerity in this way, even though there are many people in back offices making exactly these sorts of calculations. This year, when researchers from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine claimed that “relentless cuts” to the health service could explain as many as 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales in 2015, the government denounced this as “a triumph of personal bias over research”, which, however you slice it, is a callous prep school debater’s response to the reality of 30,000 fresh graves.

There is a species of evil in which an individual allows the dark and yammering corners of his mind to direct him to put a blade in a bystander’s belly, or a bomb in a bustling crowd of teenage girls. That sort of monstrosity is as easy to identify as it is mercifully rare, though frighteningly less rare than it was in less febrile times. But there is another sort of evil that seldom makes the headlines. This comes about when someone sits down with a calculator and works out how much it will cost to protect and nurture human life, deducts that from the cost of a tax rebate for local landowners or a nice night at the opera, then comes up with a figure. It’s an ordinary sort of evil, and it has become routine and automated in the austerity years. It is a sort of evil, in the words of Terry Pratchett, that “begins when you begin to treat people as things”. 

The Grenfell Tower disaster was the hellish evidence of the consequences of fiscal ruthlessness that nobody could look away from. Claims that it could not have been predicted were shot down by the victims. The residents’ association wrote on its campaign website after years of begging the council to improve living conditions: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

That catastrophic event has happened, and the ordinary British response to tragedy – brave, mannered dignity – is inappropriate. When the Grenfell inquiry launches next month, it is incumbent on every citizen to call for answers and to call this kind of travesty by its name: murder by numbers.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder