LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: High command tries to quell Davies row

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The Independent Online
Labour's high command yesterday offered angry delegates the chance to debate the blocking of the left-winger Liz Davies as a parliamentary candidate in an attempt to quell a potentially explosive dispute, write Patricia Wynn Davies and Stephen Goodwin.

Tension over the issue was not eased when it emerged last night that 13 resolutions for an emergency debate had been thrown out by conference organisers. Instead, two of those submitting the motions will be invited to speak on a national executive committee statement.

The national executive committee voted by 24 to 2 to opt for the compromise which party chiefs hope will contain the controversy, with Dennis Skinner and Diane Abbott, the two left-wing members, voting against in protest at the refusal to treat the issue as an emergency. The move to allow a limited debate could be challenged on the conference floor today.

Party chiefs have confirmed that the 31-year-old barrister was vetoed from standing as the duly selected candidate for Leeds North East even though no specific findings of guilt had been made.

But Tom Sawyer, the party's general secretary, insisted that the national executive had refused to endorse her because of her "long track-record of actions which include breaking the whip and being economical with the truth on certain items and her attitude over a long period of time".

Ms Davies got a heroine's welcome at an earlier left-wing Campaign for Labour Party Democracy pre-conference rally. Defending her link with the socialist Labour Briefing, which played a part in the refusal to endorse her, she said to applause: "The only thing that Labour Briefing has done wrong is that sometimes it upsets the Labour Party leadership.

"I don't apologise for that. I believe the leadership should be held to account and should be scrutinised by party members."

Ms Abbott MP, a left-wing NEC member who was absent from last week's vote to drop Ms Davies as a candidate, launched a direct attack on Tony Blair, saying: "It seems that a Blair government is going to shrink from doing even the most elementary things to make good the damage that 18 years of Tory government has done to our people and to our movement."

She added: "I am perfectly clear, as are many members of the NEC, that we were not presented with a technical reason not to endorse Liz Davies ... the problem apparently with Liz Davies is that she is a socialist."

Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South, called the move a "crude and cruel witch-hunt".