Old tactics save the party's slick new image

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The New Labour leadership last night used old Labour tactics to ensure that Tony Blair avoids defeat and presents a united front to voters this week.

Mr Blair will use high tech and videos, including personal endorsements from supporters in a move borrowed from the Democrats, but old-style deals avoided embarrassment over pensions, employment rights and child benefit.

Labour leaders spent the weekend thrashing out a compromise with the unions to promise a full review of the pensioners' demands by a commission, with the promise of a voice for the pensioners' group.

The breakthrough came in a late-night call on Saturday by Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, to Lord (Jack) Jones, the 83-year-old former union power broker from the Wilson era. Lord Jones, a leading campaigner for pensioners' rights, accepted the deal.

The compromise failed to win over the fiery Lady Castle, the battling former cabinet minister, who is planning to go ahead with an appeal to the conference to overturn the leadership's stance. However, the leadership was confident that the compromise would hold.

Dennis Skinner, a left-winger who opposed the move on the NEC, complained that the review did not specify the restoration of the link with earnings.

The party leadership also worked hard in hotel rooms to head-off union pressure to commit Labour to a restore full rights from the first day of employment. Roger Lyons, the leader of the MSF manufacturing union, claimed victory after winning acceptance by the NEC for a lengthy motion, including a commitment for rights "to all employees regardless of hours worked, length of service or form of contract".

A senior NEC member said: "The key question is whether it allows workers to take employers to an industrial tribunal from day one. This does not do that."

David Hill, Labour's chief communications officer, said a separate reference in the motion to review by the House of Lords left the issue open. The Law Lords are considering reducing from two years to one year the limit for the implementation of employees' rights. It is expected that Labour will adopt the outcome as its policy.

The leadership is confident that this week will see a show of unity in the party, and support for Mr Blair's modernising strategy, in spite of the anger felt by some union leaders at his use of the TUC conference to get across the message that Labour would not be in hock to the unions. "There is a real will to win around Blackpool. You can sense it in the air," said one NEC member.

The party leadership will be fielding John Prescott, the deputy leader, for a morale-boosting rally on Wednesday before the difficult votes on pensions. The votes on rights at work will come today in a debate on the stakeholder economy.