Labour's old left regroups in secret

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The Independent Online
OLD Labour is making a comeback: traditionalist MPs, concerned about the party's drift to the right, have discreetly formed a new body at Westminster called What's Left?

Several Shadow Cabinet members - including Robin Cook, David Blunkett, Michael Meacher and Clare Short - have attended meetings. More than 30 MPs are counted as adherents.

Insiders regard What's Left? as the true heir to the Tribune Group, which has itself been purged of "old left" elements. The What's Left group meets weekly in a Commons committee room but has no officers and no official membership.

Its convener, Jean Corston, MP for Bristol East since the last election, said: "We are not anti-Blair. We are not a group. We are people who occasionally sit and chat about politics - but not on the basis of conspiracy."

Nonetheless, the group has caused concern among "new Labour" MPs, who foresee the first stirrings of internal opposition to a future Blair government. Mike Watts, secretary of an extra-parliamentary What's Left? organisation, said: "These are pretty grim times for the left. But there are a lot of people out there in the constituencies who are with us but appreciate that nothing much can be done this side of the general election."

Some What's Left? adherents are reluctant to discuss their activities because many Labour MPs regard signs of internal disagreement as little short of treachery. But the group favours a stronger commitment to full employment and to a high national minimum wage.

A conference in Leeds in September, organised by What's Left?, will discuss the party's "democratic practices". Mr Watts said that policy was being made by "front-benchers on the hoof". Mr Blunkett is billed to speak.

Yesterday, Tony Blair addressed 200 executives of Rupert Murdoch's News International on Hayman Island in Australia. He said he was not there "to trade policy for editorial support" and added: "Nor do I detect any desire on your part to do so."

Alan Watkins, page 23