Beckett's appeal to left alarms backers

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THE FIRST signs of alarm among front bench supporters of Margaret Beckett for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party emerged yesterday as she appeared to distance herself from Tony Blair on retaking control of privatised water companies.

Some of her most senior supporters, who are backing Mr Blair for the leadership, said privately they were alarmed at the campaign by Mrs Beckett to appeal to the left wing of the party.

'It's not that she is showing her true colours. We're not quite sure where she stands,' one Labour front bencher said.

There is growing tension between the two camps. Mrs Beckett's supporters expect back-biting over a trip tomorrow by Mrs Beckett to Corfu for a meeting to elect a new leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament. 'She will be criticised for going during the campaign, and criticised if she did not go to support Pauline Green (leader of the Labour MEPs),' said one of her campaigners.

Alan Simpson, secretary of the left-wing Campaign Group of MPs, who is backing Mrs Beckett for the leadership, challenged Mr Blair over his commitment to full employment.

Concern in the Blair camp intensified last night with an interview in the Times in which she said she wanted Labour to regain public control of the water industry, a pledge from which Mr Blair had distanced himself.

'I am neither ruling in nor ruling out 100 per cent ownership. My instinct is that if you can get sufficient control with 40 per cent or 20 per cent, depending on the pattern of share ownership, why buy 100 per cent?'

She also opposed dropping the traditional clause four of Labour's constitution on public ownership.