Labour staff given `Christmas jobs' the `gospel of work'

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SENIOR LABOUR officials have been ordered by the party's Millbank headquarters to continue working from home during the long Christmas and New Year break.

Margaret McDonagh, the party's general secretary, raised eyebrows when she told Labour's regional bosses at a meeting to do "something extra" during their holiday - and to spread the work gospel amongst their staff.

"New Labour has abolished Christmas - it's official," said one party source. "It was a bit Scrooge-like; we need a break, like everyone else. But Margaret believes the answer to everything is work, work, work."

Ms McDonagh, who likes to go door-to-canvassing in her spare time, apparently wants senior officials to phone party members who have not renewed their subscriptions, urging them to pay up by 31 December. Labour's membership dropped from 405,238 to 387,776 in the 12 months to December 1998 and party chiefs are said to be "in a panic" because a further sharp drop is expected this year.

Colleagues of Ms McDonagh defended her "work ethic" yesterday. One said: "She is not telling people to work on Christmas Day. Everyone deserves a break and, being a good Catholic, she will be celebrating Christmas. She is merely saying that officials should use the long holiday period to good effect. It's a good time to get hold of people while they are at home and persuade them to renew. If we all ring up 100 people, we would make an impact."

A Labour MP quipped: "With Christmas coming, it is much better to have a general secretary who is workaholic than an alcoholic."

At Labour's Christmas party, held at a Victoria hotel on Thursday night, Tony Blair reinforced the need for "hard work" in the run-up to the next general election. "Margaret is only doing Tony's bidding," said one Labour aide.