Leading the Labor Party through what he called a “defining moment” in its history, Tony Blair scored a significant victory on Monday as the party leadership voted to drop a 77-year-old commitment to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.”
The rewriting of the party’s charter - with its implicit abandonment of socialist high doctrine and its explicit embrace of free market pragmatism - is intended to reposition Britain’s perennial opposition into the political mainstream.
The goal is simple: to knock John Major’s Conservatives, in power since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979, out of the box. An election must be held by 1997 and could well come sooner if Major loses control of Parliament.
Monday’s decision was a personal triumph for Blair. The 41-year-old leader, who came to power as party “modernizer” emphasizing such middle-class issues as crime reduction, staked a good deal of political capital on the struggle to rewrite Clause Four, as it is called.
Written in 1918 by two socialist pioneers, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Clause Four is written on all party membership cards. To some it is a central tenet, but to others it is largely symbolic.
Instead of common ownership, the new version speaks of creating “a community in which power, wealth, and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few” and an economy in which “the enterprise of the market and the rigor of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and cooperation.”