Hain says Blair offends support

TONY BLAIR has been accused by one of his own ministers of being "gratuitously offensive" to core Labour supporters in his pursuit of Middle England voters.

In an extraordinary outburst by a serving member of the Government, Peter Hain, a Welsh Office minister, claimed that Labour had lost out in recent Welsh and Scottish elections because the party had ignored its traditional voters.

Mr Hain, who ran Labour's disastrous Welsh Assembly election campaign, also attacked "control freakery" by the party's Millbank officials and suggested that Ken Livingstone should be allowed to stand as Mayor of London.

But it was his outspoken assault on Mr Blair's strategy of wooing the middle classes that caused most amazement among MPs last night. In an interview in the New Statesman magazine, Mr Hain, MP for Neath, explained why he believed Labour crashed to its most humiliating defeat since the war.

With low turnout and swings of up to 35 per cent against it, the party lost core seats such as Rhondda to Plaid Cymru. "We have got ourselves into a dangerous situation where a Labour government appears as if it is being gratuitously offensive to its own natural supporters," he said.

"I have become convinced that we have a big problem with our core vote. At the elections last month, they felt ignored as if we, as a government, are not for them. There are real dangers in this relentless pursuit of the Daily Mail Middle England voter.

"Too often our core vote is dismissed as Old Labour. We need to make our supporters feel as if they own the Governmnent rather than the other way round."

The Government should do more to spell out its "radical socialist" programme, including the New Deal, minimum wage and higher public spending, to attract its natural supporters, he said.

Mr Hain, who was Alun Michael's campaign manager in his battle against Rhodri Morgan for the Welsh Labour leadership, went on to claim that the contest was damaging to the Prime Minister's personal popularity in Wales.

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