Blair `faces same end as Thatcher'

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR has been warned that his "control freakery" could result in him losing touch with Labour Party members, and then losing power.

The prediction of a fate similar to that which befell Baroness Thatcher came from two academics who, after polling1,300 party members, found that a majority believed the leadership did not pay enough attention to ordinary members.

Patrick Seyd and Paul Whiteley, professors of politics at Sheffield University, said: "If the culture grows ever more centralised and controlling, the party will atrophy. The leadership should recognise that open debate and dissension are healthy; that it may sometimes benefit from a defeat.

"Ultimately Margaret Thatcher's downfall was the product of a closed mind that had surrounded itself with courtiers and which lost touch with reality. A Labour Party dominated by a culture of political orthodoxy, which is fearful of dissension and debate, is likely to end up the same way." The survey, published in today's New Statesman magazine, found that only 11 per cent of grassroots members had attended a local policy forum - the method by which activists are consulted on policy. "Members believe that policy forums work well, but that they are not very influential," the academics said.

They warned that Mr Blair's plan to abolish the general committees of constituency parties may backfire, as it may "demotivate" activists, who will then gives less money and time to Labour. They dismissed as a "myth" claims by Blairites that party members regard such meetings as boring.