The Labour Party in Blackpool: Key left-wingers decline to revolt over bombshell

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

TONY Blair's clear intention to re-examine the Labour Party's sacred Clause IV came as a bombshell to left-wingers yesterday, but many of them accepted change was inevitable.

Only a handful of Shadow Cabinet members knew the address would hold out the possibility of a Labour Party devoid of a commitment to nationalisation.

Many in the hall welcomed the honesty of Mr Blair's comments, but were unaware of the seismic shift in Labour policy being contemplated.

Importantly, Bill Morris, leader of the left-wing Transport and General Workers' Union and Labour's biggest affiliate, refused to be drawn into condemning Mr Blair's vision of the party.

Mr Morris said he would not form a judgement until he saw the detail of Mr Blair's plans. He believed the Labour leader was simply drawing up a 'mission statement' rather than making a fundamental change. But when asked, Mr Morris said: 'Of course I support Clause IV.'

One member of the Shadow Cabinet said: 'It's a bold and brave gamble. I just hope it bloody works.'

Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, who in 1993 published his own proposals for a revised Clause IV, said the rewriting of the constitution would be 'a collaborative, consultative venture. The party has to debate and agree what its aims and values are'.

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB union, the second-largest affiliate, said he would have no quarrel with replacing Clause IV if it reflected the sentiments in Mr Blair's 'excellent' speech. One GMB delegate summed up the mood of many of his colleagues when he said the clause had never been implemented by a Labour government and that its re-examination was inevitable.

The reaction of other union leaders ranged from the predictable fury of Arthur Scargill, who said Mr Blair had 'declared war' on the Labour Party, to the fulsome endorsement of Bill Jordan, right-wing leader of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, who said change had been long overdue.

Mr Scargill said of Mr Blair: 'If he was a bishop in the Church of England he would have been accused of denying the basic principles of Christianity.'

However, Roy Hattersley, former deputy Labour leader, said of changing Clause IV: 'I think it will be a popular thing to do and a wholly right thing to do.'

David Blunkett, the party chairman, said: 'The need to be clear about modern aims and values is something which must be welcomed across the party, not as a denial of our past or our principles but as a way of expressing them for the 21st century.'

Dennis Skinner, newly re-elected to the national executive, said: 'You can be absolutely sure that there will be thousands of people in the Labour Party who will resist dropping Clause IV.'

He said the move was 'an unnecessary diversion that the Tories will regard as manna from heaven'.

Labour MPs on the left were divided. David Winnick, MP for Walsall North, said: 'It would be a great mistake to go through the nightmare of attempting to change Clause IV.'

But Bernie Grant, the Tottenham MP, said he was delighted that Mr Blair had used the word 'socialism' and he would not oppose a change to Clause IV if something more appropriate was put in its place.

Giles Radice, MP for Durham North, has campaigned for Clause IV to be rewritten. He said Mr Blair had shown 'what a very courageous leader we now have. It won't be a question of dropping it. It will be a question of rewriting it. And that's the right thing to do.'

Teresa Gorman, the Thatcherite Conservative MP for Billericay, said: 'If you had had your eyes shut, you would have thought that chunks of this had been spoken by a Tory Secretary of State. We had law and order. We had sack the bad teachers. He's like a Tory plant in the Labour Party.'