Election '97: Labour unseats its old guard

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's campaign managers have launched an initiative to lever veteran MPs out of their seats to make way for favoured newcomers.

Pressure has been brought on the MPs to go, with some being offered seats in the House of Lords. Since the election was called three weeks ago, six Labour MPs have resigned, all of them in safe seats. Last night others said they had been asked to leave but had refused.

Ray Powell, a former Labour whip, said that he had been asked to give up his Welsh seat but was determined to stay on. He accused Peter Mandelson, the party's campaign organiser, of masterminding the exercise.

Mr Powell, 67, who has represented Ogmore since 1979, said the party leadership used go-betweens to persuade people to go. In his case, Ron Davies, the spokesman on Welsh affairs, and Don Dixon, the MP for Jarrow, had both been unsuccessful, he said.

"They say, I am able to advise you that you can go across to the Lords and in all probability you will get a job, something to do in a Labour government," he said.

"It isn't my intention to give up now. I have always said I wanted to stay on.

"Peter Mandelson will keep on the pressure to see if he can get everybody he wants in and all that he doesn't want out."

Another MP, who did not want to be named, said he had also been approached to give up his seat.

"I was asked, would I consider doing an important job for the party after the election, provided Labour won," he said.

Although one or two members usually announce their retirements after a general election has been called, it is believed that never before have so many decided to do so.

Three seats, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, St Helens South and Warrington South, have already been filled. In each case, the hopefuls were asked to send curricula vitae to party headquarters within three days of the resignations. Shortlists were drawn up by a panel of the National Executive Committee. Local members were then allowed to vote in one-member, one-vote ballots.

The Labour candidate for Cumbernauld will be Rosemary McKenna, a former president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and a member of The Network, a strongly Blairite group which is based in Scotland.

In Warrington South, local members were angry that at least two popular choices were left off the shortlist after Doug Hoyle resigned. In St Helens, John Evans is to be replaced by Dave Watts, the MP's agent and the local council leader.

Yvette Cooper, 28, an economics writer with The Independent, was selected last night to fight the safe Labour seat of Pontefract and Castleford in West Yorkshire.

The seat became vacant after the late resignation of Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse, the Speaker's second deputy in the Commons.

A spokesman for the Labour Party said he understood selections still to be made would follow existing procedures. Mr Mandelson had no comment.