Blair accused of breaking party rules

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

A former Labour Party chairman and staunch supporter of Tony Blair will accuse the party leader in the High Court on Monday of breaking the Labour constitution.

John Evans, MP for St Helens North, who held the Labour chair between 1991 and 1992, has signed an affidavit condemning the leadership's rejection of a fresh ballot for a parliamentary candidate in Swindon North, a rejection fully endorsed by Mr Blair.

In the document to be presented at the court hearing, Mr Evans, a "new Labour" loyalist and sometime scourge of the Militant Tendency, declares that the executive made the decision on the basis of unproven and false accusations against a union-backed candidate, Jim D'Avila, a car plant shop steward.

The scene has been set for a high-profile court battle. Tom Sawyer, Labour's general secretary, is to submit his own declaration to the hearing which "addresses in detail" the issues raised by Mr Evans and reaffirms the party's decision.

Mr D'Avila has taken legal action in an attempt to have the vote rerun after alleged irregularities in the ballot which was won by Michael Wills, a television producer, former adviser to the shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and friend of Peter Mandelson, Labour's public relations guru.

The battle between the two men has been variously characterised as a fight between old and new Labour or a "class war" conflict.

After months of feuding, litigation and hastily prepared internal reports, the national executive last month rejected moves to rerun the ballot and instead decided that an NEC panel would re-interview the five original applicants and choose a candidate.

A High Court hearing at the end of January adjourned with a recommendation from the judge that the party should not rely on the validity of the original ballot.