Straw accuses Labour of timidity over Clause IV: Shadow cabinet member says party must establish a new ideology

LAST YEAR'S Conservative election charge that Labour was not to be trusted - because, having changed its policies before, it could change them again - was persuasive, Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said last night.

In a pamphlet that challenged Labour's 'timidity' in modernising Clause IV, Part 4, of its constitution, pledging 'common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange', Mr Straw said the question of trust had struck a chord with the voters.

'The policy changes had, as it were, knocked away the old ideological hand-holds. But where were the new ones? Without them, the charge that if we could change once, we might change again - who knows in what direction? - was a powerful one.'

But Mr Straw conceded that discussing Clause IV was hard for Labour politicians, because of its near-mystical significance and because anyone questioning it faced a charge of betrayal.

'Yet since no one - and it is virtually no one - makes any serious argument in favour of its current drafting, we may perhaps conclude that the reluctance to bite this particular bullet speaks volumes for our timidity.'

Mr Straw then asked: 'So what should Labour stand for, and what should be in Clause IV?' Suggesting his own answer, he said: 'We believe in economic democracy, public regulation and more varied forms of ownership.

'While we accept the important role of properly functioning market economies, we recognise that there are limits to markets, and they may fail. The state should intervene by regulation, active involvement, by better control, and in some cases by public ownership to secure benefits for individuals and for society, which markets left to themselves cannot obtain.'

Mr Straw was not alone in attempting to set out Labour's creed at the weekend. In a contribution to a book on Christianity and socialism, Reclaiming the Ground, John Smith said: 'The second commandment calls upon us to love our neighbours as ourselves. It does not expect a frail humanity to be capable of loving our neighbours more than ourselves: that would be a task of saintly dimension. But I do not believe we can truly follow that great commandment unless we have a concept of care and concern for our fellow citizens which is reflected in the organisation of our society.'

Policy and Ideology by Jack Straw. Blackburn Labour Party, 36 Wellington Street, Blackburn BB1 8AF. pounds 1.95.

Reclaiming the Ground by John Smith and others. Spire. pounds 5.99.

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