Politics: Blair offers rebels stick and carrot

The Prime Minister appealed to backbench MPs for unity yesterday as anger persisted over planned benefit cuts. Mr Blair promised to listen to their concerns but both he and Gordon Brown spent the day warning of `hard choices' ahead. Fran Abrams and Colin Brown report on Labour's tough pre-Christmas messages.

Tony Blair's speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party did not calm all the 47 rebels who voted against the Government on lone-parent benefits last week, but it did provoke both laughter and applause.

Afterwards party officials promised new efforts to ensure backbenchers' concerns were heard in future: the protesters said their attempts to voice their feelings privately had brought no concessions. In future, a spokesman said, there could be an "early-warning system" to try to avert clashes, and perhaps more discussion of issues at a regional level.

But although Mr Blair said he would listen, his message was far from contrite. The party must focus on the "big picture" and not be distracted from fulfilling electoral promises, including modernisation of the welfare state. "I have listened to criticism in recent days. There has to be room in any party for criticism, for conscience, for dissent," he said.

But he hit at his strongest critics within the party. "Constructive criticism is one thing. But it should never be made in such a way that it merely provides gifts to our political enemies, or repeats their propaganda about broken promises when we have broken none, or accuses us of dismantling the welfare state when it is this party that built the welfare state and this government that will save the welfare state."

MPs had been told not to comment on what happened at the meeting but some said they had been neither mollified nor angered by Mr Blair's speech. One who voted against the Government said the party leadership was "far from out of the woods.... It must be very plain to everybody, and if it is not plain to the leadership, by Christ, they are in for a shock."

Some veteran MPs said they felt resentful that younger and newer members had seen fit to lecture them on loyalty to the party.

Many of those who have defended the leadership, such as Patricia Hewitt, MP for Leicester East, and Jim Murphy, MP for Eastwood, were elected for the first time in May.

Cabinet ministers have received protest letters from Labour members resigning from the party in protest at cuts in lone-parent benefits.

The resignation of members across the country has led to concern among some senior members of Mr Blair's Cabinet.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, yesterday faced allegations from a Labour MP that the cut in child benefit "looks a bit like a dangerous piece of social engineering with a touch of Frankenstein's monster to it".

Mr Brown was challenged by Brian Sedgemore, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, at the Commons Treasury select committee but the Chancellor told the MPs there would be no let-up in the strategy.

"We are determined in a comprehensive spending review as well as in the welfare-to-work reforms to give people opportunities they have never enjoyed. It is possible to give lone parents child care, training and employment opportunities. It is not a cuts-driven review at all," said Mr Brown.

The Chancellor also denied suggestions that he was preparing a "pot of gold" for the general election by being too pessimistic in assumptions about revenues, including VAT, privatisations and the scrapping of advanced corporation tax.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor