Dewar denies clash over Labour 'workfare' plan

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The Independent Online
JOHN RENTOUL

The Labour leadership attempted to close ranks yesterday behind Gordon Brown's "workfare" style plan for the young unemployed, as an internal party row refused to die down.

Donald Dewar, Labour's chief whip, and Mr Brown dismissed suggestions of a Shadow Cabinet bust-up over the way the plan was launched.

At a news conference 10 days ago, the shadow Chancellor outlined four choices for young people - in-work training, a green task force, voluntary work or full-time education - and said that, if they did not take up any of them, their benefit would be cut by up to pounds 17 a week.

The idea of benefit cuts is not Labour Party policy and had not been discussed beforehand, although Mr Brown's aides point to a phrase in the economic policy document approved by the Brighton party conference about the "obligations" of the unemployed to take the opportunities offered to them.

Mr Dewar yesterday rejected the suggestion that Mr Brown was "out of control", making up policy as he went along. "The idea of Gordon Brown out of control seems to me to be a very unreasonable and unlikely phrase for him," he said on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme.

The essence of the conflict is the rivalry between Mr Brown and Robin Cook, Labour foreign affairs spokesman. But Mr Cook is also more liberal, and could be expected to oppose the element of compulsion in Mr Brown's plan.

However, other Shadow Cabinet members who might have been expected to share Mr Cook's reservations supported the plan in public. Last Thursday, Margaret Beckett, industry spokeswoman, and Michael Meacher, employment, welcomed it, saying that there has always been some compulsion in the welfare system. It is understood that Mr Brown's colleagues were more annoyed about the lack of consultation than the content of the plan.

A spokesman for Tony Blair, the Labour leader, said the Observer's account of last Tuesday's Shadow Cabinet meeting was a "travesty of what actually took place". Mr Brown described it as "absolute nonsense".

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