Earlier this week, The Times reported Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) – controlled by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn – has agreed to set up a working group to examine changing one of the key pillars of its constitution. The original 1917 wording of the clause, drafted by socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, committed the Labour Party to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Tony Blair changed it to support “a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs”.
The original wording was replaced with a new 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”.
But Mayor of London Mr Khan has warned Labour not to revert to the old version of the clause if it presses ahead with plans to rewrite it.
He warned this would be 25 years out of date and cause the party to go “backwards”.
Mr Khan also lashed out at the decision by former Prime Minister Mr Blair for the changes made to the section of the party’s constitution in 1995.
What I’d be against is going back a hundred years to try and put in our constitution something that was out of date 25 years ago, let alone in 2019
He told Sky News: “I’ve got nothing against us going forward and evolving our constitution to adapt to modern society.
“What I’d be against is going back a hundred years to try and put in our constitution something that was out of date 25 years ago, let alone in 2019.
“Constitutions adapt and reflect the society we live in. A constitution written in the early 20th century is clearly not suitable for a Labour Party that wants to govern in the 1990s.
“Similarly, a constitution changed in 1995 may not be relevant to 2019.
“So let’s look at it if that’s what the powers that be want to do, but let’s not go backwards, let’s go forwards.”
A source on Labour’s NEC confirmed to The Independent the move to possibly change Clause 4, and insisted revision would be in “modern language”.
They said: “There is a proposed rule change proposed by a few CLPs, recommended for remission to the NEC, which will establish a small working party to consider possible revisions not to the old version but one in modern language which commits to equality on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.”
But Labour has played down possible changes to Clause 4, insisting the claims were “jumping the gun”.
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A party source told The Times: “The NEC is asking the proposers to withdraw the motion.”
They added if the motion is not withdrawn by activists, then the NEC would recommend it be opposed.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson has also urged Labour not to go back to the original.
He told The Times: “The version so dearly beloved by Corbyn and his doctrinaire chums was a product of 1917 and committed the party to the public ownership of everything.
“The word ‘socialism’ wasn’t in it. Neither were important issues such as women’s rights even mentioned.
“I suspect Momentum will want to go back to the old wording, which they’d see as their final triumph over Blairism.
“Except of course that nothing can erase our three election victories or the enormous good that the Blair and Brown governments did in the causes of eradicating poverty and of greater equality.”
In 2015, Mr Corbyn had hinted at the prospect of reinstating the original Clause 4, when he said: “I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring Clause 4 as it was originally written or it’s a different one.”
Labour activists, MPs and councillors have previously joined forces with trade unionists to form Labour4Clause4 campaign group.
It campaigns to force Labour governments to stick to socialist policies and is backed by Labour MPs Ian Mearns, Ronnie Campbell and Dennis Skinner.
Campaigners said: “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.”
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