New-era activists mirror classic struggle

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The Independent Online
The future of the Labour Party gathered in Brighton yesterday. Supposedly reformed, reinvented, reconstituted and remodelled, Young Labour, the youth movement of Tony Blair's party, was nevertheless about to cause its leader a sleepless night.

In one of the traditional seaside gathering places of the full grown-up conference, Mr Blair will today learn if his plan to revamp Clause IV has the backing of the party's under 26-year-olds.

Although the party has tried to control centrally the agenda of its youth wing since the disbandment of the Young Socialists in 1988, the radical conditions of the Labour left appeared alive and well and kicking in Brighton.

Paul Fields, a Young Labour delegate from the University of Kent, said: "The party recently has had a destroy and rebuild strategy in dealing with its youth movement. They like to think this is Year Zero."

So what will Year Zero deliver during this weekend's conference? Mr Fields said: "Just look at the resolutions: retention of Clause IV; repeal of the Criminal Justice Act; anti-racism measures; the call for a minimum wage of £4.15 an-hour - all this should remind Tony Blair that the Labour Party is as much ours as it is his."

Inside the conference centre the new image Red Rose Blairites were beginning to exert their influence.

Amid a sea of student socialist grunge fashion, Stephen Forge's grey, pinstriped suit and designer tie stood out like a Hells Angel at a Tory conference. Mr Forge, chairman of Young Labour at University College London, said: "I know I'm in a minority here, but I do believe Clause IV needs reforming."

Beside him, and attending the conference, was his girlfriend, Bromley member Natasha Morabito, dressed in a matching jacket and skirt. They put Tony and Cherie Blair to shame in the haute couture stakes.

Mr Forge said: "The YL trend is to dress smarter. The important people here aren't turning up in leather jackets any more. I feel the suit is better. People aren't turned off by what you look like." If Labour's image guru, Barbara Follett, had been thereshe would have hugged him.