Labour leaders reveal their hand on state ownership

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The Independent Online
A Labour government should limit public ownership to cases justified "on grounds of efficiency and equity" according to proposals drawn up by the pro-Blair campaign for a new Clause IV in the party's constitution.

The pivotal phrase provides the clearest indication yet of leadership thinking on the most controversial problem in the struggle to agree on Clause IV - how to pitch any reference to Labour's traditional commitment to public ownership.

A newsletter sent to all constituency Labour parties by the New Clause IV Campaign, an organisation headed by senior MPs, Peers and party officials in tune with the leadership, says the new constitution should include "crucial democratic socialist valueslike social justice, freedom, opportunity, equality, democracy and solidarity".

The most sensitive passage in a section furnishing ideas for grass roots resolutions and amendments of the party constitution "supports the existence of strong, well resourced public services run in the public interest as vital foundations for both a socially just society... In the amended Clause IV resolution to be drawn up, this party calls for both a socially responsible, properly regulated private sector and for public ownership where it is justified on grounds of efficiency and equity." The unequivocally pro-EU line is also underlined by a proposal that the new clause should include a "modern statement of international solidarity based on Britain's position as a key member of the European Union."

The document from the group, co-ordinated by the MPs, Kevin Barron, Helen Liddell, and Greg Pope, marks the opening of more than three months of intensive campaigning to secure a modern definition of Labour's aims and values at the special party conference on a new Clause IV on April 29.

The campaign will eschew media glitz in favour of an old fashioned grassroots operation of lobbying activists by letter and telephone in the run-up to the special conference - a technique normally associated with the left wing of the party.

Although narrowly drawn, the wording of the suggestions in the New Clause IV campaign document may come as a relief to some of the more mainstream traditionalists in the party in that it does not fulfil their worst fears that all references to public ownership would be deleted.

But it will certainly not quell opposition of those on the hard left campaigning for retention of the 77-year-old constitution's commitment to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". And some activists in the New Clause IV campaign are already arguing for an even more revisionist formula under which public ownership would only be sanctioned "where necessary."

The campaign by Blair supporters coincides with the circulation of an official document from Labour Party headquarters on a new Clause IV which contains a lengthy questionnaire inviting local parties to comment on their ideas about Labour's objects and values, along with suggestions on themes like opportunity, equality, democracy and the economy.

.THE OLD CLAUSE IV 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.

THE NEW CLAUSE IV?

This party supports the existence of strong, well-resourced public services run in the public interest as vital foundations for both a socially just society and a dynamic successful economy . . . this party calls for both a socially responsible, properl

y regulated private sector and for public ownership where it is justified on grounds of efficiency and equity.

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