In a recent interview for a Sunday newspaper, Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he wouldn’t shy away from public participation and public investment in industry. In particular he would take public control of the railways. So far, so good. However he went beyond that by floating the idea of the reinstatement of the original Clause IV. By doing so he displayed an underlying vulnerability, which is built on his complete lack of understanding of modern industry and society.
Clause IV (technically Clause IV, para. 4) of the Labour Party’s constitution was almost certainly written by the Fabian Sidney Webb. The Party adopted it in 1918. Webb would have been astonished to know that his words would be treated with such reverence almost a century later, – a century that has been transformed by the rise of consumer power, globalisation, and technology.
When I first joined the Labour Party as a teenager in 1961, Clause IV of the Labour Party’s Constitution was printed on my membership card. It stated:
“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.”
It was replaced in 1995 by a new political statement of aims as part of Tony Blair’s modernisation of the party.
The old Clause IV did not refer to ‘nationalisation’ but to ‘common ownership’. One of the more important strands in traditional left-of-centre thinking has been the idea of co-operative ownership. The Co-operative Party, as part of its involvement in the leadership debate, invited all candidates to outline their position. Jeremy Corbyn, who increasingly seems to be ideologically stuck in the 1980s, began by quoting Tony Benn and went on:
“Tony was one of the few ministers of state to truly try to bring co- operative principles into the heart of government. As a young trade union official I had the pleasure of working with him when he was encouraging workers to come up with co-operative plans to save their jobs, like at Triumph.”
In fact not a single job was saved. Between 1979 and 1981 I worked at a public body called the Co-operative Development Agency (CDA. I became a firm advocate of co-operative forms of organisation, under the right circumstances. This would be a small-scale start up where there were realistic prospects of succeeding, not bailouts of collapsing firms. Benn’s embrace of the concept was to give support to failed manufacturing ventures that had no commercial future. A lot of decent people were misled. Not only is Jeremy’s analysis at fault but his memory appears to be failing.
On 21st August I will be publishing a short book:
Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren
It will be made available free of charge as a download on this site and my personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. I also intend to produce a Kindle edition. The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.