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New Labour group modernises itself out of a job

THE PRESSURE group which paved the way for the creation of New Labour has been wound up because it was too successful. Following the election of the group's most famous member, Tony Blair, as Prime Minister last year, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee has decided to declare victory in its 20-year battle to modernise the party.

Meeting in a smoke-free room above a pub in Pimlico on Saturday, the remaining active members of the LCC decided to close the group down. "We have achieved most of the tasks we set for ourselves," declared the chair, Ben Lucas. It was set up in 1978 to bring together all the left-wing forces in the party and promote Tony Benn's leadership ambitions. But its priority quickly became the fight against Trotskyist infiltrators and, by the time Mr Blair was persuaded to join in 1982, it was organising the "soft left" - a sort of Third Way between hardline socialists and Social Democratic Party defectors.

After the 1983 election, which brought Mr Blair into parliament, his wife, Cherie Booth, served for three years on the LCC executive as the organisation played an important role supporting Neil Kinnock's drive for party reform. Under John Smith it campaigned to end the trade union block vote and bring in the one-member, one-vote system for choosing MPs.

But now it has fulfilled most of its aims and most of its leading members are in positions of power in government and industry and as lobbyists. The roll-call of apologies for absence at Saturday's meeting was like an archaeological dig through the layers of left-wing Labour factions over the past two decades: Barbara Castle, sacked from Jim Callaghan's Cabinet in 1976; Michael Meacher, a Bennite minister in the last Labour government and now Environment minister; Peter Hain, then a radical Bennite activist, now a Welsh Office minister. Even Ms Booth, in a discreet assertion of her right to a political mind of her own, sent word that she was sorry she could not be there.

Mr Lucas, now director of the New Labour lobbying company Lucas Lawson Mendelsohn, listed the group's achievements: "The LCC has run its course. Tony Blair is the most overtly modernising leader Labour has ever had and his government has set about the most radical constitutional change for a century. Labour is now more representative of its members and voters. Trotskyism has been reduced to a tiny and ineffective rump within the party."

There were some doubts expressed. Paul Thompson, a professor at Edinburgh University and editor of the LCC journal Renewal, which is continuing, said the success of hard-left candidates in this year's ballot of party members for the National Executive was "really depressing". The LCC had paid the price for failing to oppose the party machine's "centralising tendencies".