How Jeremy Corbyn might like to change Clause IV

Sienna Rodgers
Sidney Webb, who drafted the original Clause IV in 1917.
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“Labour starts to reverse Blair’s Clause 4 reforms,” The Times has splashed across its front page today. In 1995, as I’m sure you many of you will remember (I can’t; I was aged one), Tony Blair created a landmark moment in the New Labour rebranding process when he replaced the original Clause IV of the party constitution from 1918 with a new version. Instead of talking about securing for workers “the full fruits of their industry” and the policy of “common ownership”, it alluded to “the strength of our common endeavour”. It also heralded the slogan of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour: “for the many, not the few”. And it appears on the back of all party membership cards.

The change sought to suppress advocacy of great state ownership, and instead promote Labour as a party seeking to share “power, wealth and opportunity” more widely and equally – via undisclosed means. This week, Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) agreed to set up a working group that will look at amending the document again, perhaps so that it aligns better with manifesto under Corbyn that proudly support democratic public ownership (as it is now termed).

That the Labour leader doesn’t much like the ‘90s redraft of Clause IV comes as little surprise to anyone, but particularly not to those who were reading LabourList back in 2015. In August of that year, just a few days after voting had begun in the leadership contest and a month before the landslide result was announced, the future leader was interviewed by then LabourList reporter Conor Pope. During their conversation, Corbyn said: “I supported the old Clause IV against the Blair reforms in ’94, so if you ask me which one I prefer it’s fairly obvious.”

On how Corbyn would like it to be rejigged, the interview reveals: “However, if it were to be changed again, he would like something that does not just include “common ownership”, but also “recognises issues of equality, social justice, gender equality, diversity in Britain”.” That gives us some insight into the direction in which Labour’s NEC might want to steer the new wording.

Update: Labour Press Team has tweeted: “The NEC has asked that the motion be withdrawn. If it isn’t withdrawn, the NEC will recommend it is opposed.”

If you’re in Brighton on Monday, come to our panel event ‘Do low-income voters hold the key to the next election?’. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Claire Ainsley has written a preview piece for LabourList today. Remember to check out the Facebook event and click ‘Going’ too.

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