Labour '1922' on the cards

Click to follow
LABOUR MPs are planning to set up a back-bench body modelled on the Conservative 1922 Committee to articulate their views. The idea being canvassed at Westminster is for all Labour MPs who do not hold Shadow portfolios to band together to assert the rights and opinions of backbenchers.

The group - already being spoken of as the 1996 Committee - would ban Labour leaders from its meetings, but would expect to have regular consultations with Tony Blair and members of his Shadow Cabinet.

While protesting their loyalty to Mr Blair, the instigators, drawn mainly from the centre of the party, believe that the traditional instrument for expressing themselves - the Parliamentary Labour Party - has become a vehicle for the leader to impose his will, rather than listen to the views of rank and file MPs.

Opposition members look enviously at the Tories' 1922 Committee, which represents all backbenchers and has genuine power. Its officers can see the Prime Minister virtually at will, and it can make or break ministerial careers. Its chief scalp in this parliament was that of David Mellor, the Heritage Secretary, whose resignation was successfully demanded by "the 22".

Labour already has a number of internal groups in the Commons: the left- wing Campaign Group, the less hardline What's Left discussion body and the moribund right-wing Solidarity group. But MPs complain that these are all sectional organisations that do not cater for the needs of ordinary, loyal back-benchers who feel left out by the increasing concentration of power in the hands of the leader and his entourage.

Because the initiative is still in the planning stage, none of the MPs proposing a "Labour 1922" will talk about it on the record, but one said privately: "There is a consensus view that when we come to government . . .there needs to be a body which is able to gather the views of backbenchers, their concerns and their worries, so as to feed them through to the party leader."

Not all MPs agree with the idea of a new group. Max Madden, left-wing MP for Bradford West, argues that the PLP should be allowed to work in the way it was intended: "It is no longer a forum for free political expression."