Blair must give party more love and attention, says Hain

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The Independent Online
PETER HAIN, the critic of Tony Blair who won a big promotion in his ministerial reshuffle, has urged the Prime Minister to give the Labour Party more "love and attention".

In his first interview since becoming Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Mr Hain warned that the Labour grass roots was in danger of becoming divorced from the Government, and expressed doubts over Mr Blair's latest plan to modernise Labour by abolishing general committees of constituency parties.

The promotion of Mr Hain, a former minister at the Welsh Office, surprised some Labour MPs, who felt Mr Blair's "control freak" instincts would punish rather than reward the man who said the Government "appears as if it is being gratuitously offensive to its own natural supporters".

Mr Hain's long-standing fears were vindicated when Labour failed to mobilise its traditional supporters in the June Euro elections. But Mr Blair's licensed critic is convinced the Prime Minister has got the message, and that the ministerial shake-up signals an important change of gear.

"Our new agenda has got to be to deepen the partnership between the Government and the party, because that does need some love and attention.

"What is absolutely critical is that, in this second half of the Parliament, the party feels ownership of its Government and its policies. We don't have to indulge in a massive change of direction or style to achieve that."

Mr Hain believes the reshuffle will help to reposition the Government, reassuring New and Old Labour supporters alike. "There is no conflict between satisfying Middle England and Old Wales," he said. "As hundreds of thousands of people benefit from the minimum wage, the working families tax credit in October, the huge spending on education and health, they will have a much better understanding."

He insisted Labour could appeal to the readers of The Mirror and the Daily Mail at the same time, without alienating the other group.

"We need to redress the balance," he said. "It is not just a question of presentation, but the language we use, and giving priority to explaining the delivery of policy more effectively."

Mr Hain called for Labour to revive moribund local parties by giving members more say over government decisions. He wants Labour's national policy forum to have an input into Green and White papers.

He said: "There is a job to be done to reassure individual party members and grassroots party activists that the Government respects and involves them. It mustn't be tokenistic, it must be genuine. I think we need to deepen that."

Mr Hain said local party meetings were a "dreadful turn-off" for many members, but criticised plans being drawn at Labour's Millbank headquarters. "I don't think the issue should be approached by abolishing general committees. It should be about empow-ering the individual members. You will still need a body, if the structure is to be accountable and democratic, whether it is an executive or a general committee."

To Mr Hain, the message of the reshuffle was that Mr Blair wanted to end the sort of personalised faction-fighting that has harmed the Government. "There have been very few arguments over policy or ideology," he said. "Where we have had problems is on personality fiefdoms. The Prime Minister has said we want to move forward on delivering our political agenda unobstructed by those problems."

Although seen as on the left, Mr Hain has parted company with Ken Livingstone. He insisted London Labour members will choose the party's candidate for Mayor, adding: "Ken is very able, a very attractive, popular figure. But I think he does himself no favours by the style in which he conducts his politics - it is very aggressive in personal terms. In policy terms, the differences are not gigantic but I think that may be very difficult."

The appointment of the former anti-apartheid campaigner marks another stage in a revolution at the Foreign Office since 1997. Mr Hain has a statue of Aneurin Bevan behind his desk, soon to be joined by a Nelson Mandela election poster.

In effect number two to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Hain has a huge brief, including the Middle East, Africa, India and Pakistan, human rights and the United Nations. One Labour wag reckons Mr Blair gave him responsibility for the world's potential troublespots just to keep him off the domestic agenda.

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