A fundamental revision of the party's constitution has now been accepted as a fait accompli by the leaders of all the big unions. The battle to decide the wording has only just started, however.
Bill Morris, general secretary of Labour's largest affiliate, the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: 'We accept the need to update the language of Labour's aims and objectives to reflect the realities of the Nineties.'
But he warned that he expected the new version to 'reflect Labour's values of common ownership in key strategic areas of our national life'. His left-led executive is expected to demand that there is explicit reference to the public ownership of the utilities, the Post Office and the railways.
At the heart of the debate, however, will be whether the phrase 'common ownership' survives. A new Clause IV drafted last year by Jack Straw, Mr Blair's campaign manager in the leadership election, talked of 'appropriate measures of regulation, control and public ownership' - a flexible formula.
Mr Straw's draft - which angered John Smith for raising the Clause IV issue - said Labour's aim was to work for a society 'of freedom, and choice, fairness and opportunity; where the power of the community is used to advance the interest of the individual and the family, and where individual liberty is enhanced by collective provision'. Some constituency delegates, however, want common ownership omitted entirely. John McTernan, secretary of the Dulwich party, said the clause should 'describe the kind of society Labour wants, but without detailing the means by which it achieves it. Nationalisation was a means which became an end.'
On the parliamentary left, Peter Hain, MP for Neath, said: 'We should have a commitment to a range of forms of public ownership, from co- operatives to employee share ownership to industrial democracy and up to public ownership at national level, where considered appropriate - and those last three words would be very important.'
The party had nothing to fear from the debate. 'This is very different from Gaitskell's stance in 1959 of take it or leave it.' However, Barbara Castle, chairman of the party in 1959 when Hugh Gaitskell tried to dump Clause IV and who opposed him then, said it was 'a darned pity' Mr Blair had raised the issue again.
Ken Livingstone, the Brent East MP, warned that the left would 'dig in and fight for a proper socialist statement of economic policy, and that will include public ownership'.
John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, would not state what he wanted: 'It depends on whether we are drawing up a constitution for the next election or the next millenium. I don't want to create a situation where Tony Blair is in a win-or-lose situation.'
Most unions have a reference to Clause IV or similar policies in their rules and will therefore have to debate the issue during next year's conference season.
MSF, the white-collar union and the only Labour affiliate to have had such a debate in recent years, decided overwhelmingly that Clause IV was an anachronism. Roger Lyons, its general secretary, said yesterday that there should be an emphasis on 'democratisation' of the workplace.Reuse content