UK Politics

Labour's Owen Smith vows to tackle inequality

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLabour leadership challenger Owen Smith outlines his ideas

Owen Smith has vowed to rewrite part of Labour's constitution to put tackling inequality at its heart, as he launched his bid to be party leader.

He said Labour must strive to reduce the gap between "haves and have-nots", with all policies tested against that benchmark.

Mr Smith, who joins Angela Eagle in challenging leader Jeremy Corbyn, also said he was the one to unite the party.

Speaking to Labour members, he vowed the party would not split on his watch.

Mr Corbyn has vowed to fight the challengers in the upcoming contest, which was prompted after the leader lost a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs by 172 votes to 40.

Formally launching his leadership campaign in his Pontypridd constituency, Mr Smith said: "I say it is time for us in words to commit ourselves by rewriting Clause IV of the Labour Party's constitution... to put tackling inequality right at the heart of everything that we do.

"Every Labour policy has to be tested against that benchmark - is it going to reduce inequalities in wealth, in power, in outcomes and opportunities, or is it not?

"And if it is not going to reduce those inequalities, then we in the Labour Party should not do it."

Clause IV is the part of the Labour Party's written constitution that sets out the aims and values of the party. It was amended in 1995 by Tony Blair to remove its historic commitment to mass nationalisation.

Image caption An old Labour membership card in the days of Clause IV

What is Clause IV?

  • A commitment to public ownership of industry was inserted into Labour's constitution in 1918
  • It talked of securing "common ownership of the means of production"
  • The centre-right of the Labour Party waged a long campaign to ditch Clause IV, seeing it as an unrealistic throwback to an era of hard line socialism - but it was seen as an article of faith by those on the left
  • Soon after becoming Labour leader, Tony Blair scrapped Clause IV, a move seen by some as a symbolic step which made the party more electable
  • 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"

The Welsh MP and former shadow work and pensions secretary Mr Smith repeatedly praised Mr Corbyn's influence on the party and endorsed his anti-austerity agenda.

But he said too many working people had doubts and concerns that they felt were not being addressed, as he warned that Labour was "not on the pitch" in British political debate.

'Reconnect' the party

Mr Smith argued that the party needed to "put in place the policies that allow us to illustrate what prosperity looks like".

He outlined plans to:

  • Create a shadow cabinet of Labour members to "inform" the leadership and help "reconnect" the party
  • Build a "better future" by creating a £200bn investment fund to "rebuild physical and social infrastructure"
  • Reinstate the Department of Energy and Climate Change, recently axed by Prime Minister Theresa May
  • Introduce a "War Powers Act" to give Parliament a veto over any decision to go to war
  • Renationalise the railways

Speaking earlier to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Smith also vowed to increase the top rate of tax, to 50p, saying a more "progressive" tax system was needed.

Explaining his reason for standing, Mr Smith said it was to ensure that the party "cannot split" - as he pitched himself as the candidate that could "unite" Labour.

"There is a clear and present danger that some in our party are getting fatalistic about the prospect of that split.

"It cannot happen. It will not happen. If I've got anything to do with it, never on my watch will this party split."

More on this story