Labour Party Conference: Modernisation - Left attacks plan to undermine activists

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR'S plans to complete his modernisation of the Labour Party ran into immediate grassroots criticism when they were unveiled in Bournemouth yesterday.

Mr Blair wants to abolish the general committees of constituency Labour parties, the last bastion of Old Labour in some areas, and replace them with all-member meetings. Senior officials denied the aim was to neuter left-wing critics, saying the plan was to attract new members by replacing "boring" administrative meetings with policy discussions.

However, party sources said that the proposed shake-up was modelled on an internal report by David Evans, Labour's regional director in the North West. He called for a "radical overhaul" of the party to "excite and enthuse our own membership". Crucially, he added: "Done correctly, it will empower modernising forces within the party and marginalise Old Labour."

Labour bosses sought to placate worried activists by promising a year- long consultation exercise before a new structure for local parties is approved at next year's annual conference. One official said: "There is no blueprint; we want people's ideas."

Ian McCartney, the Cabinet Office minister who heads a Labour task force on membership, said in the consultation document: "We now have to move on to the next stage, making sure our party is inclusive and effective."

He said some constituency parties had been transformed into more vibrant organisations by involving members in social as well as political activities.

But Labour Reform, a grassroots pressure group, said there was no evidence that all-member meetings boosted attendance. Trevor Fisher, its secretary, said: "People tend to turn up once, but not again because they feel they have little influence."

As the conference got under way yesterday, there was criticism from party activists that the agenda had been rigged to avoid potentially embarrassing defeats for the leadership. No amendments have been put forward to policy documents before the conference - despite assurances that they would not be presented on a "take-it-or-leave-it" basis when a new policy-making system was introduced.

More than 100 emergency motions have been ruled out by conference organisers, including one opposing plans to commercialise Britain's air traffic control service. But a motion criticising plans partly to privatise the Post Office may be the subject of a fierce debate.