Blair faces backlash over `control freakery'

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR will be hit by a new backlash this week from Labour activists who accuse him of "control freakery" in his running of the party.

Mr Blair's leadership will come under attack tomorrowwhen Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) approves new measures to curb dissent by reforming the annual elections to the committee.

The allegations of growing central control will be heard as the NEC prepares to suspend the party in Newark, where a by-election looms after the Labour MP, Fiona Jones, was found guilty of election fraud.

Labour MPs are worried the growing discontent at Mr Blair's "autocratic" style could harm the party's prospects at the local elections in May and European elections in June.

"We regret the enormous damage which is currently being done to the democratic credentials of our party", said the north-west Cambridgeshire Labour Party.

"The attempts to interfere or predetermine the outcomes of the selection and election processes in the European election, Wales, Scotland and London are so blatant that we are in danger of making even the Tories appear democratic."

The constituency party in Folkestone and Hythe said the introduction of "loyalty tests" rather than competence tests was "not consistent" with Mr Blair's commitment to one-member-one-vote elections "and will damage the reputation of this party for openness and fairness". Chingford and Woodford Green party claimed in its motion there were "serious deficiencies" in the running of last year's NEC elections. It alleged that a Blairite group of candidates, Members First, spent pounds 100,000 on their campaign and that a senior Labour official intervened "in a partisan way" to support them.

Tomorrow the NEC will agree to bring forward this year's election to the party's ruling body to the summer. Traditionally, the results are announced during the annual conference in October and defeats for pro- Blair candidates in the past two years have caused embarrassment to the leadership.

The NEC will approve a new code of conduct for internal party elections. It proposes any candidates worried about the running of the ballot should raise their concerns with party officials rather than go public. Anyone breaching what the left describes as a "gagging clause" could be disqualified.

Andrew Mackinlay, Review, Page 4

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