`Sleaze' claims against Blair dismissed

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The Independent Online
THE first serious bid by Conservative Central Office to draw Tony Blair into the "sleaze" net appeared to have backfired early today. The Labour leader's office dismissed as "a disgraceful and unworthy smear" allegations in the Sunday Times that he, and his deputy, John Prescott, were facing allegations of sleaze over stays in a luxury hotel, and the Labour leader's "undisclosed" trip on Concorde.

Sources pointed out that Mr Blair had visited the US on Concorde in 1985 at the request of Mrs Thatcher's administration when he was an Opposition Treasury spokesman. The bipartisan trip had been "fully disclosed at the time".

The "hotel stays" were at the Gleneagles Hotel, in Perthshire, where the oil company, Conoco, always invited Opposition energy spokesmen to speak and take part in its annual seminars.

Mr Blair and Mr Prescott, in their capacity as Shadow Energy Secretary at different times, had taken part in the seminar and had been accommodated for one or two nights.

Last night, Tory backbencher David Shaw, the MP for Dover, said he was writing to the members' interests committee urging that "in the current circumstances nothing less than suspension from the House of Commons would seem appropriate".

A Labour spokesman said there was a fundamental distinction between working visits and speaking engagements undertaken in an official capacity - "as Tony Blair and John Prescott were on these occasions" - and undisclosed free or sightseeing trips. To equate the two was "a disgraceful and unworthy smear, and the Tory party must be truly desperate to make that attempt".

n Tony Blair is to confront the trade unions head-on with a warning that they will lose the party the next election if they fail to back his revamped Clause IV.

Senior party sources said last night he would "lay it on the line" at Labour's final consultative meeting on Wednesday. He will warn doubters that Labour's electability depends on winning voters' trust, and that clarity about what the party believes and what it will do in government is "indispensable".

Mr Blair is to insist that his new Clause IV - replacing the historic commitment to nationalisation with a credo of social justice, a mixed economy and "opportunity for all" - genuinely represents what new Labour stands for. The sources added that the Labour leader was determined to warn the unions that there will be "no deals, no trade-offs" on his rewrite of the party's objectives.

Union insiders, who believe that Mr Blair will still win by a 70-30 margin at a special party conference on 29 April, recognised last night that: "Blair has to say what he has to say. We know that. But he has to be sensitive to the internal dynamics of the unions."

Leading article, page 26

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