John Smith sweeps in with reforming zeal: New leader promises to win the female vote and appeal to 'haves' as well as 'have-nots'

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The Independent Online
JOHN SMITH yesterday used his overwhelming mandate as the new leader of the Labour Party to promise to democratise the party and win back the support of women. 'The party of change must be ready to change itself,' he said.

A decisive victory over his only challenger, Bryan Gould, in all three sections of Labour's electoral college gave Mr Smith more than 91 per cent of the votes. Margaret Beckett was elected as deputy leader with 57.3 per cent compared with 14.5 per cent for Mr Gould and 28.2 per cent for John Prescott.

Having been elected Labour's fourteenth leader, Mr Smith gave his clearest signal yet that the era of the trade union block vote was over. If the party was to convince the electorate of its democratic credentials, 'we must begin by modernising the democracy of our own party,' he said. He has already made clear that this will be the last election held under the present electoral college system.

And in a promise that Labour would seek to appeal at the next election to the 'haves' as well as the 'have-nots' Mr Smith told the special election conference in London: 'It is not just people who live in poverty who will gain from our commitment to social justice and fairness. We all live in the same society. We all gain in security, in a sense of identity and shared achievement from knowing that we all belong to one community.'

Mr Smith promised greater democracy through devolution to the English regions and Scotland and derided John Major's commitment to open government in the Citizen's Charter.

Although the result was universally predicted, the size of his constituency vote - 29.31 per cent out of a possible 30 per cent surprised even Smith campaigners and was a serious blow to Mr Gould. Mr Gould was also heavily defeated in the same section in the deputy leadership contest, receiving only 3.83 per cent - just over a tenth of the possible vote.

Mr Smith paid tribute to Neil Kinnock for his 'achievements in transforming and modernising our party'. Mr Kinnock, who had dashed back to London from Cardiff after receiving an honorary University of Wales doctorate from the Prince of Wales, received a tumultuous standing ovation when he arrived at the conference.

Mr Gould, undeterred by his defeat, made it clear that he would continue to agitate within the party for a change of policy on the key issues of exchange rates and the economy. He also ventured that he would make an ideal shadow Foreign Secretary, saying he was 'one of the few with qualifications to do the job'.

Mr Smith's first task will be to allot the portfolios of his new Shadow Cabinet when it has been elected on Thursday. Gordon Brown is expected to become shadow Chancellor, John Cunningham could become shadow Foreign Secretary; Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary; and Robin Cook, Mr Smith's campaign manager, will shadow Michael Heseltine in Trade and Industry. But all three remain possible candidates for the foreign affairs post, with Ms Beckett tipped for shadow Leader of the House or education.

John Prescott's strong showing will strengthen his position within the party's upper ranks, and a significant promotion from Transport is a strong possibility.

There was a widespread consensus that Ms Beckett's victory owed much to the party's wish to elect a woman. She said last night she hoped the election would be a signal 'that in the Labour movement the voice, the experience of women finds expression'.

Mr Smith's mountain, page 3

(Photograph omitted)