A reply to Blair’s acolytes: Clause 4 is our socialist birthright

The Labour4Clause4 campaign and its supporters – including a number of left-wing Labour MPs and leading trade unionists – are delighted to hear that this year’s Labour Party conference will be debating the question of Clause 4.

Five CLPs have passed rule change motions calling for the original Clause 4 to be restored. Another, Dundee, has been in the news for putting a motion to conference calling for “the restoration of the pre-1995” version, which pledged to carry through the “socialist transformation of society”.

Unfortunately, there are some in the party who are not so pleased about these developments. These include all the usual Blair acolytes, such as Alan Johnson, Wes Streeting, and Pat McFadden.

An alarmed Daily Express headline states that Corbyn wants the “nationalisation of EVERYTHING”. The consistently hysterical Daily Mail, meanwhile, warns that Corbyn is “lurching back towards Old Labour”.

Alan Johnson has suggested that reverting back to the original Clause 4 would mark the “final triumph over Blairism”. We 100% agree! But whereas Johnson sees this as a bad thing, we think it is a very good thing.

It is precisely for this reason that the Labour4Clause4 campaign believes we must restore the original Clause 4 wording, drafted by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1917 and adopted into the party’s constitution in February 1918.

This clause is our socialist birthright. Blair removed it as part of his New Labour project. He and his supporters preach about ‘modernisation’. But it is they who are now the dinosaurs, wanting to take us back to the past and reverse the radical transformation of our party that has taken place under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Blair’s 1995 amendment committed Labour to ‘the enterprise of the market’ and ‘the rigor of competition’. But we saw what this meant in practice under New Labour: privatisation, outsourcing, and attacks on working people and public services.

This privatisation and outsourcing has been a disaster for the public. The foundations of the NHS have been eroded. Wages have stagnated. And prices for rail, energy, and water have risen astronomically.

The ‘market’ and ‘competition’ have brought working class communities nothing but misery. Just look at the collapse of profiteering outsourcing giants like Carillion and Interserve, or the decline and closure of British industries, such as steel, shipbuilding, and car manufacturing.

No wonder that support for public ownership has grown dramatically in recent years. Opinions polls have found that over 75% of voters now support the nationalisation of the utilities and the railways. 50% even agree that we need to take over the banks.

This is why Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have promised to nationalise rail, water, and energy networks in the last Labour manifesto. It is why Labour have pledged to end the scandal of outsourcing. And it is why the upcoming Labour conference is set to pass a motion for a ‘Green New Deal’, calling for “public, democratic ownership” to be expanded “as far as necessary” to eliminate carbon emissions.

Blair’s supporters, such as McFadden, assert that we need “a Clause 4 for today, not one from a century ago”. But as John McDonnell stated at last year’s Labour conference, the original words of Clause 4 are “more relevant than ever”.

After all, what could be more relevant than the demand for “common ownership of the means of production” to “secure for workers the full fruits of their industry” in addressing urgent and pressing issues such as climate change, automation, and inequality.

We know, for example, that 100 big polluting monopolies are responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emission. These companies should be brought under public ownership and democratic control in order to stop a climate catastrophe.

If extra words and sentences are required to address other issues, then we can add additional clauses and parts to Labour’s constitution. But let’s start by restoring the original socialist Clause 4 to where it belongs.

Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, fought for the ideas encapsulated in the 1918 Clause 4 – for the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange”. If it was good enough for him, then it’s good enough for us.

We say: it is time to bring back Clause 4. We call on delegates at this year’s Labour conference to support the Clause 4 motions on the agenda, and to help restore our socialist legacy.