Luvvies against the Left

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The Independent Online
DOWNING Street is drafting in "luvvies" - including former EastEnders star Michael Cashman - and Blairite loyalists to beat off a new bid for power by the Left.

Party officials and staffers from the Prime Minister's Political Unit met at Labour headquarters at Millbank last week to draw up a campaign plan against the resurgent opponents of New Labour.

They fear the various factions of the traditional Left have agreed to sink their ideological differences in a concerted drive to win seats on the party's National Executive Committee.

Under new rules agreed at the Brighton conference last year, six seats on the NEC are reserved for constituency party members who are not MPs. This sector has become the political cockpit of Labour's internal struggle.

Five Left groups - Tribune, Labour Briefing, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Campaign and Labour Reform - have formed a coalition to support an agreed slate of candidates in the summer elections.

Among their contenders are Liz Davies, who was ousted by Blairites from the parliamentary selection at Leeds North East; Mark Seddon, the editor of Tribune, and Andy Howe, chairman of the Birmingham-based Labour Reform group. They are standing on a platform of hostility to the growing centralisation of power in the party and the perceived authoritarianism of the Prime Minister and his courtiers.

Alarmed Downing Street officials will now take charge of a counter-attack, sending out a rival slate of "approved" candidates who can be relied on to support the Government when the going gets awkward.

A No 10 staffer has been put in charge of the campaign, which will be boosted by the hiring of New Labour student activists in the summer. They will work on the campaign at Millbank.

Mr Blair is concerned that the Left could make serious inroads into the NEC, following the spectacular victory of Ken Livingstone MP over the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson MP, last year. "There is a massive panic in Downing Street, judging by the Millbank meeting," said a party insider yesterday.

One curious omission from the "luvvies list" is Catherine Taylor, research assistant to Ms Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, who is reckoned to be a coming name from the ranks of young Labour. She was considered, but was dropped on the grounds that she was considered to be "too close to Gordon Brown" - a sign of the continuing coolness between No 10 and No 11.

Left activists believe that the "arrogance" of Labour's high command over such issues as the choice of candidates for the European parliament and the method of choosing the party's candidate for the Mayor of London election is sufficiently broad and deep to translate into votes for the NEC poll.