Politics: Cabinet divided on NEC `loyalty list'

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A CABINET rift was confirmed yesterday over the "loyalty list" of three preferred candidates for the elections to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee.

A number of Cabinet ministers, led by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, are backing Anne Begg MP, Pauline Green, leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, and Clive Soley, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Group.

It is almost certain they will be elected in the vote at the party conference in October. All three had their names issued on ballot forms by the chief whip, Nick Brown.

But two Cabinet ministers have broken ranks. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, are backing Helen Jackson, Ms Mowlam's parliamentary private secretary.

Dennis Skinner who is standing as the candidate of the left against the whips' "loyalty list" got no Cabinet nominations but he is being supported by his former flatmate, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. The three "loyalty" candidates are not being criticised, but the whips are being attacked for issuing lists with their candidates' names printed on them.

Mr Skinner said: "I hope the members of the PLP will take the opportunity to punish those who took part in this rigged ballot and there is one way to stop this practice and that is to make sure those on the whips' loyalty list are defeated. It must not be allowed to happen again."

More than 250 MPs and MEPs are supporting the names issued by the whips, which is a massive majority over the other candidates. It follows protests by Labour MPs about the way the leadership is running the backbench.