Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn has denied that he would reinstate clause IV of the Labour party constitution, which committed the party to nationalising industry and was scrapped by Tony Blair 20 years ago.
Corbyn provoked criticism from his Labour leadership rivals when he seemed to suggest in an interview with the Independent on Sunday that he would be open to restoring the clause as it was originally written, arguing that the party needed to make a clear commitment to public ownership of industry.
But a spokesperson from his campaign said Corbyn was not saying he wanted a return to “the old clause IV” and that he did not want “a big ‘moment’ such as that”.
“His leadership would be the opposite of top-down changes,” the spokesperson said. “He says we need some forms of public ownership in some cases, such as rail, on which matter Labour needs to reflect more closely the views of the majority of the public.”
Asked by the paper if he wanted to restore the clause to the party’s constitution, Corbyn said: “I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring clause IV 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.”
Clause IV, which backed “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” was removed from the constitution at a special Labour conference in Easter 1995 when the party was led by Blair.
It was replaced with a commitment to “a thriving private sector and high-quality public services, where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them”.
Described by Blair as a “defining moment in the history of my party”, the scrapping of the clause represented a symbolic break with the Labour party’s past and the arrival of the era of New Labour.
Corbyn’s leadership rival Liz Kendall, who is considered to be the most aligned with the politics of Blair, said the comments demonstrated that there was “nothing new about Corbyn’s politics”. “It is just a throwback to the past, not the change we need for our party or our country,” she said. “We are a party of the future, not a preservation society.”
Fellow leadership hopeful Yvette Cooper said the British economy needed new hi-tech entrepreneurs, innovation and growing business, “not a return to the days of British Leyland”. She said that Labour had always been a progressive party and needed “radical ideas for the future, not to turn the clock back”.
“The government’s role is to back the skills, science, research, infrastructure and childcare that employees, business and industry all need in the modern economy,” she said. “I want Britain to double its investment in science to create 2m more hi-tech manufacturing jobs. We should be working in partnership with business, not spending billions of pounds we haven’t got buying businesses out.”
Corbyn, who has been MP for Islington North since 1983, has become the surprise frontrunner in the race to replace Ed Miliband as Labour party leader. In June, he secured the necessary 35 nominations from fellow Labour MPs to get on the ballot with minutes to spare, when some MPs decided at the last minute that it was important to have a representative of the party’s left in the race to broaden the debate.
Corbyn’s comments come as five of Labour’s biggest individual donors told the Sunday Telegraph they would stop supporting the party if there was a Corbyn win. Assem Allam, the multimillionaire who has recently given Labour more than £500,000, told the paper that he would “never back a dead horse”.
Corbyn’s chances have been boosted by new rules which allow non-members to vote for the new leader if they pay £3 and sign up as a registered supporter by midday on Wednesday 12 August. Registered supporters must give signed or verbal agreement that they “support the aims and values of the Labour party” and are “not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it”.
It emerged earlier this week that more than 250 former candidates and members of rival leftwing parties had sought to be given a ballot paper in the leadership election, including 150 people who stood as candidates for the Green party.
John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, said those who fought to stop Labour winning in May had no right to vote for the next Labour leader, adding that anger was growing among Labour activists.
Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, who is backing Liz Kendall, said he welcomed Green party members registering as Labour supporters. Flynn said he had been a member of the Ecology party before it became the Green party in 1985, as well as being a Labour member.
“I’ve always believed that the best way of advancing environmental policies was to green existing parties rather than stand as a separate party, until we get proportional representation,” he said.
Kendall and the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, one of her key supporters, have both ruled out serving in the shadow cabinet if Corbyn is elected leader, as have a number of other shadow cabinet members privately. All five of the candidates to be deputy leader have said they would be happy to serve under Corbyn.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Sunday 9th August 2015 12.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010