Blair's shift to 'glasnost' unsettles left

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR, the new Labour leader, is to ask his party policy commissions to take advice from think-tanks and experts - including those usually more associated with other political parties, writes Stephen Castle. In a move which paves the way for a far-reaching review of many policies, including those on economics, social affairs, international affairs and defence, Mr Blair will open up important party committees to outside contributions.

Labour's policy commissions are made up of members of the Shadow Cabinet, the front bench and the National Executive Committee. Mr Blair believes policymaking has been too inward-looking. He has been disappointed by the quality of some work. The admission of outsiders will inevitably challenge some Labour assumptions. Mr Blair's move raises the prospect - alarming to some traditionalists and left- wingers - that the party's next general election platform will be influenced as much by non-partisan experts as by affiliated organisations such as the trade unions.

Labour's policy commissions have been working on a two-year timescale and will ultimately help to produce the manifesto. They will report to the joint policy committee, chaired by Mr Blair.

The move comes as Shirley Williams, the Liberal Democrat peer and former Labour Cabinet minister, called for the two parties to 'talk together'. In a pamphlet in Fabian Review she argues for 'regional conferences on issues like the internal structure of the NHS or the future of the national curriculum'.

The initiative has been encouraged by the success of the Social Justice Commission which includes members from outside the party. One member of a Labour policy commission said: 'The feeling is that the more people brought in the better. The Social Justice Commission has shown the advantages of calling on a wider breadth of knowledge although it will still be for Labour and its leader to decide what is accepted.'