Tony Blair's 'stalker' is exposed

Deputy Prime Minister strides into enemy territory to assault defecting captains of industry
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The Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, clashed spectacularly yesterday with some of Britain's top bosses after they published a report endorsing key elements of Labour policy, including the Social Chapter and a national minimum wage.

In a gung-ho exhibition of guerrilla politics, Mr Heseltine used a leftish London conference to attack businessmen associated with Tony Blair. The Labour leader, who had earlier spotted Mr Heseltine sitting smouldering at the launch of the report, complained that the Deputy Prime Minister was becoming his personal stalker.

He joked that Mr Heseltine had pursued him to his office to talk about the Millennium Exhibition last week and had pursued him to yesterday's event; if he turned up at his speech in Amsterdam next Friday, he would have to resort to the new stalking laws.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who gatecrashed the conference in London after the organisers failed to invite a single member of the Government, accused the group of being a "front organisation for the Labour Party".

Among the members of the Commission on Public Policy and British Business are George Simpson, managing director of GEC, Bob Bauman, chairman of British Aerospace, Sir Christopher Harding, chairman of Legal & General and David Sainsbury, chairman of the supermarket group.

Speaking after the launch of the group's report, Mr Heseltine said: "This is a front organisation for the Labour Party. You only have to look at the membership of the trustees and the supporters of the organisation to realise that the objective of the exercise was to enable Tony Blair to be seen talking to the business community. The interesting thing is how few line managers turned up." Earlier Mr Blair had pledged to leave the Conservatives' industrial relations and enterprise reforms of the Eighties unchanged but offered a new agenda on education, welfare reform, the infrastructure, Europe and competition policy.

Mr Heseltine then took the platform and launched a withering assault on both the commission and its report, accusing it of "seriously understating" the Government's achievements, failing to recognise the threat posed by the left, using out-of-date and selective statistics, and ignoring the trade unions, save for two brief mentions.

"I must in honesty, go further. I question the motives of those who cloak their political intentions with academic respectability," he said.

Afterwards, John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress and a member of the commission, described Mr Heseltine's attacks as "pretty disgraceful". He said: "It shows how out of touch he is with the agenda for the future. ... he is fighting the battles of the Seventies and Eighties."

Last night the commission members fired off a letter rejecting any suggestion that they had any political agenda, pointing out that they were drawn from across the political spectrum and saying they were "rather surprised" at his comments.

Mr Heseltine did not let up, however, later writing to Mr Blair urging him to "come clean" on his plans for a windfall tax and enclosing a check- list of privatised utilities with the suggestion that the Labour leader tick those he intended to target. Labour's deputy, John Prescott, wrote back suggesting that Mr Blair's trip to the Netherlands offered "another opportunity to make a complete fool of yourself", and adding: "Always remember that just because you're losing power, it doesn't mean you have to lose the plot."

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