NEIL KINNOCK is to shoulder the potentially explosive task of urging the replacement of the 'nationalisation' clause IV of the Labour party's constitution.
But the former leader seemed intent yesterday on insulating his successor John Smith from the resulting controversy.
The clause, encapsulating the notion of public ownership of the means of production, had been hijacked by the Militant Tendency as a 'kind of evening prayer' and made Labour 'easy meat' for Tory newspapers and politicians, Mr Kinnock said.
But it was 'unlikely and in some respects inappropriate' for the present leadership to seek to promote the change.
Speaking in advance of a BBC 2 programme on modern socialism to be broadcast on Saturday, Mr Kinnock said what had been drawn up 75 years ago by Beatrice and Sydney Webb had long since ceased be an 'accurate and adequate' definition.
The idea of a modern statement of party aims and values pursued by Mr Kinnock when leader and Roy Hattersley, his deputy, was overshadowed by moves to reform Labour's links with the unions.
John Smith and much of his front bench team have consistently dismissed the debate as 'irrelevant'.
Mr Kinnock, a member of the party's National Executive Committee, said yesterday that the clause had never had any practical effect on policy. There had been coincidences between events and the words of clause IV, but no 'cause and effect.'
He said: 'Just as I have never canvassed with clause IV clenched in my hand, in 37 years of political life I have rarely been challenged on the doorstep about it.'
But Mr Kinnock appears intent on insulating Mr Smith from any flak, saying that the present leader could afford to be agnostic on the issue.
He insisted that the reform would not stir the 'visceral' divisions seen in the 1950s, when Hugh Gaitskell dared to challenge the hallowed phraseology.
However, in an implicit rebuke to the press, he said it should likewise not be seen as a test of the disposition of the leader.
'It's much healthier if the proposal for change comes from the party generally than as a top-down operation, with the leader investing his own standing to any extent in this process of change,' Mr Kinnock said.
'Tomorrow's Socialism', BBC 2, 7.35-8.05pm, Saturday 5 February.Reuse content