Ayes have it for Harman in NEC vote

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's leadership was given a boost last night when Harriet Harman was re-elected to the party's ruling National Executive Committee despite attacks on her choice of a grammar school for her son.

Mr Blair also reinforced his grip on the NEC by the election of Hilary Armstrong to replace Joan Lestor in the women's section, and Ian McCartney who beat John Evans for the seat for the socialist societies.

"This is a very good result for the leadership. It is a strong endorsement of Tony Blair's leadership. It's all a net gain," said one Blair source.

Ms Harman's vote fell slightly from 69,029 to 58,112, but she managed to hold onto her seat as a result of the quota for women on the NEC. "I am absolutely delighted," she said. "It is tremendous support from the party to put me back on. It's been a difficult year and I feel I can absolutely put it behind me now."

The Shadow social security secretary ran for the post against the advice of some colleagues who feared it would damage the leadership. She had the satisfaction of proving them wrong, but is still facing a difficult time tomorrow over pensions.

Baroness Castle, the veteran former Cabinet minister, yesterday accused Ms Harman of "inventing" figures to rebut her campaign for the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings. Lady Castle told a fringe meeting she would engage in "statistical warfare" to defeat Ms Harman in the vote at the conference.

Lady Castle, 85, accused the party of "fighting dirty" and is refusing to accept the compromise of a commission on pensions accepted by Jack Jones, the pensioners' leader.

In the NEC fight, Ms Harman polled more votes than the left-winger, Diane Abbott, who was re-elected. Ms Abbott saw her support rise from 45,653 to 54,800. The biggest jump was for Robin Cook, seen as a leader of the left in the Shadow Cabinet, who topped the poll with 109,801 votes - 20,000 more than last year.

The results of the elections, carried out by a postal ballot of party members, produced big cheers for the re-election of the left-wing fireband, Dennis Skinner, and Clare Short, who chaired the session and during the summer had criticised the spin doctors behind Mr Blair.