Britain's opposition Labour Party has finally turned its back on the policy of nationalizing major industries, which has been one of its central planks since the end of World War II. In its place, and in response to the government's program of privatizing state-owned industries, Labour will promote ``social ownership'' - intended to give consumers and workers a more direct say in how public utilities are run.
The new policy won massive approval Monday at the Labour Party's annual conference at Blackpool. The week-long conference also appeared to end a lengthy wrangle over the party leadership when Neil Kinnock was confirmed as leader.
Labour has been soundly beaten by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Tories in the last three general elections. The party chose its Blackpool conference to launch a year-long policy review to update the party's policies and image in time for the next general election three or four years from now.
The conference rejected left-wing calls for the renationalization of industries privatized by the Tories since they took office in 1979. Instead, Labour favors restoring utilities such as British Airways, British Telecom, and British Petroleum to a form of public ownership giving individual citizens greater rights over the management of these firms.
The Labour Party accuses the Tories of ``selling off'' essential state industries to the private sector, effectively allowing huge financial corporations, such as insurance companies, to have control over them.
Some industries, such as the suppliers of electricity and gas, would be designated ``public interest companies'' and would be required by law to serve consumers and the national interest. Mrs. Thatcher now plans to privatize industries that supply electricity and water.
In another key move, the conference agreed that the pursuit of an equal society and a mixed economy are fundamental Labour aims.
For Mr. Kinnock, the Blackpool conference is crucial to laying the groundwork for Labour's political comeback. And, it is believed that if he loses the next general election, he will be dropped as party leader.
His defeat of Tony Benn, a left-wing challenger for the leadership, has strengthened his position. The deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, was also successful in beating back a radical challenge.
Arthur Scargill, the radical miners' leader, strongly attacked the Labour leadership and its new policy program. But Mr. Scargill found himself a member of what amounted to a left-wing fringe.
Kinnock, however, still faces three major problems as he sets out to recoup his own position in the party:
The victories he achieved at Blackpool were largely the result of ``bloc voting'' - a system that gives the trade unions a major say in party policy. His success in the leadership contest, for example, was due in great measure to the unions throwing their bloc votes behind him and Hattersley.
Kinnock and his moderates may have difficulty getting their message through to voters, without the active backing of grass-roots campaigners. Much of the opposition to the new social ownership policy and the advocacy of Labour values came from constituency activists who say it is difficult to ``sell'' the new ideas to an electorate used to hearing about more old-fashioned policies.
Defense policy remains a potential weak point in Labour's electoral arsenal. At last year's general election Labour advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament and many voters were unimpressed. Kinnock would like to move away from that policy, but he is under heavy trade union pressure not to do so.
The huge Transport and General Workers Union arrived at Blackpool determined to force the party leadership to continue its support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. British political analysts say the union is likely to get its way in a vote scheduled for tomorrow.