Labour leaders at odds over speed of reforms

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair and his deputy John Prescott differed yesterday over the pace of change in the Labour Party that will follow Saturday's vote to update the party's constitution, which now looks like turning into a landslide for Mr Blair's new draft of Clause IV.

Mr Blair said the process of change "will carry on . . . democratic parties carry on changing all the time". Asked about plans to reduce the trade union block vote in party policy-making from 70 per cent to 50 per cent, he said: "I am sure that will happen at some point."

But Mr Prescott ruled out any reduction in the block vote before the next election. "I personally don't see that change taking place this side of an election," he told the BBC's On The Record. Some of Mr Blair's advisers point out that the party agreed two years ago to "review" the size of the block vote when the party's individual membership reached 300,000.

Mr Blair yesterday made much of the increase of nearly 100,000 to 330,000 members over the past year. The reduction of the block vote was "already presaged by the reforms we have in place. As the individual membership increases, so the contribution from the affiliated organisations decreases," he said.

The argument that the party needed the union block vote as a counterweight to "irresponsible" individual members was disproved by the weekend's returns from ballots of constituency parties over Clause IV. Last night Labour officials reported returns from 209 constituencies, all in favour of the new clause.

Meanwhile, in a move which will reassure the unions, a Labour policy group is understood to be proposing new rights to protect workers who go on strike after ballots.

A source close to Harriet Harman, the party's employment spokesman, said last night: "We think that if people comply with all the rules, then they should not be sacked for going on strike - that should be unfair dismissal."

BBC retreat and Thatcher's admirer, page 2

Victorian values, page 11

Dear Master Blair, page 19