Corbynite Labour deputy leadership candidate Richard Burgon has called for the Labour Party to “modernise” by adopting a ‘new Clause IV’ in its constitution.
Describing parts of the constitution as “now 25 years out of date”, Burgon said: “Public ownership is popular, and we need to stay in tune with voters who are sick of being ripped off by private companies which treat public services as nothing more than cash cows.”
Tony Blair famously scrapped Labour’s original Clause IV as party leader in 1995 at a special conference, in a move designed to signal a shift away from policies of nationalisation and towards the rebranded New Labour.
The version adopted in 1918 vowed to champion equality on the “basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Blair’s new clause instead talked about “the means to realise our true potential”.
Announcing the policy, Burgon said: “I welcome that candidates in the leadership and deputy leadership elections say they’ll defend the manifesto commitments on renationalising rail, mail and water. But we need to go further and ensure this is permanently enshrined in our party’s constitution.
“Before Jeremy’s leadership, the constant timidity to back what the public knew to be the obvious common sense solution of public ownership was driven by years of internal kowtowing to neoliberalism. There must never be a return to this dead end.
“If I win, I’ll fight to ensure that the leadership of our party never again refuses to argue for public ownership. I will always publicly advocate and promote internal policies that seek to bring water, energy, rail and mail back into public hands whether it be from within the shadow cabinet or in a Labour government.”
Before Labour conference in 2019, Jeremy Corbyn and the national executive committee set up a working group tasked with looking at amending the document again with the aim of reflecting the party’s renewed support for public ownership.
In a LabourList interview in 2015, a month before the leadership election result was announced, 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 it could be adapted, reporter Conor Pope wrote: “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”.”
Richard Burgon’s bid for the deputy leadership post has been endorsed by former MP Dennis Skinner, and Laura Pidcock is serving as chair of his campaign. Both lost their seats in the 2019 general election.