Scourge of Blairites is elected to Labour NEC

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LABOUR MPs fired a warning shot across Tony Blair's bows by electing the left-winger Dennis Skinner to the party's ruling body. Mr Skinner, dubbed "The Beast of Bolsover," lost his seat on the National Executive Committee a year ago after the leadership changed the rules to prevent MPs representing constituency parties on the NEC.

In an election among MPs and MEPs this summer, two Blair loyalists lost their seats: Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, and Pauline Green, who had led the Socialist group in the European Parliament.

They were replaced by Mr Skinner and Helen Jackson, MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, who is parliamentary aide to Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, retained his NEC seat in the three-strong section representing MPs and Euro-MPs.

Mr Skinner's re-election was seen by MPs as a message to Mr Blair not to ignore the grass roots. Several MPs are worried that the Government's policies are pitched at middle-class voters, and point to the low turn- outs in Labour's traditional heartlands at the European elections in June.

Mr Skinner, 67, was on the NEC from 1978 to 1993 and from 1994 until last year's defeat. Although seen as a firebrand when he became MP for Bolsover in 1970, the former miner has mellowed.

He is said to have a "hotline to Downing Street" when he wants to pass on friendly advice to the Prime Minister.

A Labour spokesman said that despite their differences, Mr Blair and Mr Skinner had a "good working relationship".

Officials denied the results were a setback for Mr Blair, insisting that they did not show a shift to the left.

They suggested that Ms Green lost her seat because the number of Labour MEPs dropped sharply after the European election, and said Ms Begg had come close to retaining her NEC place.

RESULTS (votes won last year in brackets):

Clive Soley 238 (259)

Helen Jackson 202 (186)

Dennis Skinner 190 (182)

Anne Begg 182 (207)

Pauline Green 154 (247)