Clause IV setback for Blair

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, was dealt a sharp rebuff over Clause IV yesterday after the party's London Regional Council backed a union move to block attempts to scrap the commitment to public ownership.

Voting figures revealed strong backing for Mr Blair's plans among individual constituency party members, however.

About 300 delegates took part in yesterday's vote at a biennial meeting of the council, which accounts for 73 Greater London constituencies and is a bastion of the left. Delegates backed a Rail, Maritime and Transport Union motion by 58.7 per cent to 41.3 per cent.

But separate figures for individual party members, without affiliates, showed 40.7 per cent in favour of retaining the clause and 59.3 per cent against.

The defeat, jubilantly received by the Defend Clause IV Campaign, gives Mr Blair no cause for celebration. But party officials claimed the level of rank-and-file support showed that Mr Blair was winning minds in the constituencies, which will account for 30 per cent of the vote at the special conference on 29 April.

A survey by the New Clause Campaign has found that at least three-quarters of all London constituencies have already decided to ballot individual members for their views.

A spokesman said: "During this campaign to change Clause IV there were always going to be occasions when the vote went against the National Executive Committee and the leadership."

The stiffest test of opinion will come the weekend after next, when Mr Blair's plans are widely predicted to come under heavy fire at the Scottish Labour Party conference.

There appears, however, to be growing support among both constituency and union sections for the alternative Clause IV drafted by Brian Wilson, a front-bench trade and industry spokesman and the MP for Cunninghame North.

This lays heavy emphasis on individual potential and social justice "to cast out poverty, nurture enterprise and promote common ownership".