Blair takes to the road to hit back at critics

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair will seek to regain momentum in the debate over Labour's direction with a series of meetings in key seats next month to press home the message that modernisation will continue, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The meetings, signifying Mr Blair's determination to show he has not been blown off course by a welter of mainly left-wing criticisms, will be slotted into a pre-planned business tour to meet CBI officials and industry leaders. Party managers believe the tour, in the run-up to the party's Brighton conference and beyond, will wrong-foot left- wingers who claim Mr Blair is not consulting the party.

The Labour leader, who broke his holiday at the weekend for the VJ Day commemorations and who returns to France for a further week today, has been plagued by a fortnight of outbursts from critics alleging his style of leadership is too autocratic, his pool of advisers too narrowly drawn and his commitment to socialist policies in question.

But yesterday's NOP poll for the Sunday Times showed 55 per cent of Labour supporters backing Blair changes such as rewriting Clause IV, while 15 per cent thought his scale of reform had not gone far enough. Asked whether Mr Blair "behaved too much like a dictator", 74 per cent agreed and only 10 per cent disagreed, a drop from 24 per cent in July.

David Blunkett, education spokesman, Robin Cook, foreign affairs spokesman and Marjorie Mowlam, summer campaigns manager, yesterday rebutted the stream of attacks on "Kremlin"-style leadership after the left-wing MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Simpson renewed the criticisms. Electoral victory could "slip away" unless the party stayed ahead of the game, "speaking about the new world in a new situation", Mr Blunkett said.

Mr Simpson, MP for Nottinghamshire South, said that "many people" in the party were having difficulty distinguishing new Labour from the old SDP, which had been rejected in the polls.

The high command also moved swiftly to quash a new controversy over the nomination of the Blair ally Harriet Harman for the National Executive Committee elections. A leaked letter to Labour's south London HQ from her Camberwell and Peckham constituency party secretary insists it made "no nomination", and that Ms Harman got her branch chairwoman, Clare Cozens, to fill in a nomination form. "This is a non-story," said Ms Mowlam. "Harriet's nomination paper is in."