Labour poised to expel 400

Exclusive: one in ten party members do not appear on city's voting register
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is facing further political embarrassment from a secret internal Labour Party report which recommends the expulsion of 400 members in Birmingham because they are not registered voters.

Still shaking off criticism from left-wing backbenchers and from Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader, the Labour leader will this week warn his MPs to "pull yourselves together". One Blair aide said yesterday: "He believes that too many MPs think the election has already been won because of the opinion poll leads. He will urge self-discipline and warn against complacency."

However, the run of bad news for Mr Blair is by no means over. The Independent on Sunday has learnt that an investigation by senior Walworth Road officials into allegations of wrongdoing in three inner-city constituency parties in Birmingham uncovered 400 members who are not eligible to be in the party because their names are not on the electoral register.

They have all been written to, and, under rules introduced in 1992, will be thrown out if they cannot establish eligibility by getting their names on the electoral roll. This threat affects one in ten of the 4,000 members of the constituency parties - currently suspended - of Ladywood, Perry Barr, and Sparkbrook/ Small Heath.

Most of the irregular members are Asian, and predominantly Kashmiri Muslims. "If they don't want to vote, why do they want to belong to the Labour Party?" asked a senior party source last night.

A report recommending their expulsion will go to Labour's ruling national executive next month, just when Mr Blair will be making a tour of the country meeting businessmen, "aimed at finding out what they expect from a Labour government".

The Labour leader is resisting pressure to return home from his holiday in Italy before Friday, when he is due to attend 50th anniversary celebrations of the ending of the Second World War. Yesterday, he authorised a statement for release in London dismissing critical comments of recent days as "very silly, silly-season stories", and promising not to falter in his crusade of change.

"The truth is, people who have never voted for us must vote for us now," Mr Blair said. "The support we are winning in all areas and all social classes stems from the public recognition that Labour has changed."

But the Labour leader again came under fire from his own side yesterday, when left-wing Scots MPs joined the fray. Denis Canavan , MP for Falkirk West, singled out Mr Blair personally for sending his son to a grant-maintained school, and then changing party policy to be more accommodating to such schools.

"Any Labour Party policy should be firmly based on the principle of equality of opportunity for all children, rather than any attempt to justify the leader's choice of school for his son," he said. There was concern about policy decisions "suddenly announced from on high". George Galloway, MP for Glasgow Hillhead, said party discontent was "undoubtedly widespread and growing".

Further calls for more power to go to branches and local activists - who tend to be on the left - will come later this week in a New Statesman article by Peter Hain MP. He will demand reform of the national executive so that it is no longer dominated by the Shadow Cabinet, and moves to give rank and file members a greater say.

"The party cannot operate on the basis of `whatever the centre says, goes','' he said. "There has to be space for creative dialogue, otherwise we are storing up trouble for ourselves in government."

Spin doctors, page 5 On the road, page 11