By Paul Waugh
Labour is set to vote on restoring the party’s historic Clause Four pledge to nationalise key industries following a grassroots campaign by activists, HuffPost can reveal.
The commitment to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” was famously axed by Tony Blair when he created New Labour in the 1990s.
But local constituency parties have now tabled motions for its restoration that will guarantee the issue appears on the agenda at the party conference.
Labour’s latest Delegate Report includes a motion backed by two different local constituency parties, Blyth Valley and Forest of Dean, to restore the iconic pledge and get it back on all party membership cards.
It calls for the old wording to be restored:
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
Rule changes need a year’s notice and the issue will now be voted on at the party’s 2019 conference.
The original Clause IV was adopted by the party in 1918 as the fourth clause of its constitution and underpinned its 1945 programme to put the private railways, coal, steel and iron industries into public hands.
The Bank of England was also nationalised after Clement Atlee’s landslide win.
During his own 2015 leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn floated the idea of reviving the pledge.
“I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring the clause IV as it was originally written or it’s a different one, but I think we shouldn’t shy away from public participation, public investment in industry and public control of the railways,” he said.
Blair was determined to make its abolition a highly symbolic moment in his drive to pitch to centre ground voters.
A special conference in 1995 adopted a new version that removed all commitments to nationalisation. It stated:
‘The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’
After the vote, Blair declared: “Let no one say radical politics is dead. Today a new Labour party is being born.”
But earlier this year, leftwing veteran MP Dennis Skinner joined filmmaker Ken Loach in calling for Clause Four to be restored.
Some Corbyn supporters back the idea of at least a reformed version of Clause Four if not the original one.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is among those who have supported a new model for nationalisation.
“We should not try to recreate the nationalised industries of the past… We cannot be nostalgic for a model whose management was often too distant, too bureaucratic,” McDonnell said in February.
But he has backed the principle that “nobody knows better how to run these industries than those who spend their lives with them”.
This year’s Delegates Report also includes a motion from the North Cornwall local party to create the first ever Cornwall Labour Party for the country, set up by a special conference in 2020.