Home > Analysis, Labour > Is it Time to Bring Back the ‘old’ Clause IV?

Is it Time to Bring Back the ‘old’ Clause IV?

Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution is known as the aims and values of the Party. It was altered in 1995 by the New Labour leadership in order to embrace the Thatcherite consensus in Britain.

The text of the ‘old’ Clause IV was written in 1918 by Sidney Webb and states the Labour Party exists;

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Whereas the ‘new’ Clause IV states;

“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”

The ‘new’ Clause IV is aspirational; something that New Labour would have liked to achieved but did not, much like the majority of people in this country. Aspire, but forever a pipe dream. The ‘old’ Clause IV had distinct aims and a working model to obtain these aims. However, where the ‘old’ Clause went wrong was that it was hijacked by those on the far left because it was left open to interpretation. As the author of the original Clause, Sidney Webb, put it;

“This declaration of the Labour Party leaves it open to choose from time to time whatever forms of common ownership, from co-operative store to the nationalised railway, and whatever forms of popular administration and control of industry, from national guilds to ministries of employment and municipal management [which] may in particular cases commend themselves.”

Clause IV never meant to be an absolute nationalisation of industry but a common ownership of the means of production, whether that was nationalisation of key industries or a co-operative economy. It was a much clearer and, possibly, a more obtainable goal than the aspiration of New Labour rhetoric.

It is quite possible for Labour to readopt to ‘old’ Clause, but to keep it fluid and malleable so as to not fall into the trap that ‘Old’ Labour did during the latter half of the 20th Century whereby Clause IV where hijacked by the ‘hard’ left in order to bring about their vision of a socialist state. That view has no place in the modern Labour Party or in modern society, but Clause IV is still as relevant today as it was in 1918.

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