Has Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn actually proposed anything new by arguing that his party should not “shy away” from public ownership of some industries (your report, 10 August)?
The part of the modern “Clause Four” of the party’s constitution which you outlined is only part of the story. The next part says that Labour will work for “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 and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with 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’’.
This is certainly long- winded. But it gives leaders of all persuasions the chance to interpret it flexibly.
It basically commits the Labour Party to a mixed economy which is arguably in tune with the feelings of most voters.
Crucially, it allows for a few industries to be taken into public ownership if necessary.
In practice, Labour has throughout history used public ownership sparingly. The post-war spree of nationalisations simply helped to bail out industries that were bankrupt anyway. Even the Blair/Brown governments shied away from taking the railways into public hands again because the cost was seen as too prohibitive.
Harold Wison was anxious to stress to the party that it might have difficulty in persuading the public that it could run Marks & Spencer as efficiently as the Co-op.
A Corbyn-led government would surely have much greater social priorities than taking any industry into public hands if the cost was in billions of pounds to the Exchequer.
He would soon come to terms, as previous Labour administrations have come to terms, with economic reality.
In the final analysis public ownership is a means, not an end, and Labour leaders all come to recognise that in time.