Blair transfers party secretary in first shake-up

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR yesterday executed his first big internal change since becoming Labour leader by transferring Larry Whitty from the key post of party general secretary.

The departure of Mr Whitty, who has been general secretary for nine years, leaves a vacancy for a key figure to carry out the ambitions of Mr Blair and his deputy, John Prescott. These include modernising the party organisation and helping to spearhead a recruitment drive.

Tom Sawyer, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees, and one of the trade union movement's most political figures, was last night heading a long lost of potential candidates which immediately figured in Westminster speculation.

A statement yesterday announced that Mr Whitty, 51, former head of the GMB union's research department, had 'in principle agreed' to take on a new post of European co-ordinator of the party. The European job, which the statement said reflected 'the increasing importance of Europe and the affairs of the EU', will involve liaison between the Labour Party, the socialist group in the European Parliament, and other left-of-centre parties in Europe.

Although the new post is seen as important one and Mr Whitty is a strong pro-European, the move will be seen as reflecting the determination of Mr Blair to make organisational changes which will 'professionalise' the party and sharpen its campaigning edge in the run-up to the general election.

One of Mr Blair's top priorities is expansion of the party's membership. This has increased by more than 10,000 since he became leader, but is still languishing at little more than 260,000.

He regards the current pounds 15-per- year subscription as too high and is said to be keen to see the party nationally increase its membership as it has in his own constituency of Sedgefield, where members' subscriptions are linked to what they can afford.

Among other possible candidates being mentioned yesterday were: Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the TGWU and a leading union 'moderniser'; Charles Clarke, Neil Kinnock's former chief of staff; Patricia Hewitt, who has just left the left- of-centre Institute of Public Policy Research for a job with the consultants Arthur Andersen; and Glenys Thornton, former chairman of London Labour Party.

The job, which has a salary of about pounds 40,000 a year, will be advertised and will carry a specification that the candidate must be in tune with Mr Blair's desire to reform party organisation. The appointment will be made by the National Executive.