Jeremy Corbyn was accused by his Labour leadership rivals of wanting to turn back the clock to the failed policies of the 1970s and 1980s as they sought to halt his bandwagon of support.
The veteran left-winger signalled, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, that he could restore Clause Four, the commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production”, to the party’s constitution if he becomes leader. He appeared to backtrack in the face of charges that he favoured the return of vast nationalised industries.
The dramatic surge of support for Mr Corbyn, with an apparent flood of admirers registering to vote for him to succeed Ed Miliband, continues to dominate the campaign. After starting as the rank outsider, some Labour figures believe he has gathered enough momentum to win the contest. With ballot papers due to be sent out on 14 August, tensions are rising in other camps over the unpredictability of the result.
Seizing on Mr Corbyn’s apparent support for Clause Four, ditched by Labour in 1994, the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, warned against a return to the “days of British Leyland” when the state-owned car firm gained a reputation for unreliable products and industrial unrest. “Labour needs radical ideas for the future, not to turn the clock back. We have always been a progressive party that has embraced the future – this is not the time to be reactionary and cling to the past,” she said.
Liz Kendall, seen as the Blairite candidate, said Mr Corbyn was reheating the policies of the late Tony Benn which led Labour to electoral disaster in the 1980s. “Life had moved on from the old Clause Four in 1994, let alone 2015. We are a party of the future not a preservation society,” she said.
The row came after the left-winger was asked whether he wanted to reinstate Clause Four. He said: “We should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring Clause Four as it was originally written or it’s a different one. But we shouldn’t shy away from public participation, public investment in industry and public control of the railways.”
He appeared to rein back last night, insisting he did not want a return to Clause Four. He said: “I believe in public ownership, but I have never favoured the remote nationalised model that prevailed in the post-war era.
“Like a majority of the population and a majority of even Tory voters, I want the railways back in public ownership. But public control should mean just that, not simply state control: so we should have passengers, rail workers and government too, co-operatively running the railways to ensure they are run in our interests and not for private profit.”
Andy Burnham also took a swipe at Mr Corbyn over claims of a £55bn gap in his spending proposals. The shadow Health Secretary said: “I’m going to say how I’m going to pay for things that I’m proposing, without promising £55bn of public spending.”
The candidates will make final pitches to undecided Labour members this week.
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