Sir: Gareth Stedman Jones has repeated the myth of Sidney Webb composing Clause IV ("Labour can learn from Victorian values", 24 April). This political philosophy of the party was, however, defined long before 1919, at the famous TUC meeting in 1900, that was held to set up parliamentary "labour representation". Under the heading "A Labour Party", in the report of that meeting, is the proposal from a delegate of the Socialist Democratic Federation:
That the representatives of the working class movement in the House of Commons shall form there a distinct party ... based upon recognition of the class war, and having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
This was rejected as crying for the moon and "nothing could be more unfortunate for the Conference than to label across its front the words `class war' " - though five out of seven speakers supported the purpose of the resolution. Keir Hardie's more politically acceptable wording was adopted: "legislation in the interests of labour".
In the very different conditions of 1919, the party could state the policy openly. Sidney Webb simply adopted the 1900 statement, replacing "socialisation" with "common ownership". In 1919, "socialisation" would have been more frightening for the bulk of voters, new and old, than Webb's "common ownership". This fits in well with the contention that an appeal to the middle classes was clearly intended in the new constitution. Plus ca change?
24 AprilReuse content