Hain ruffles Labour's repose: MP uses magazine article to say activists are 'fed up' and criticises 'soft-focus' approach

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST dissonant note over Labour's direction and methods since the election of Tony Blair as leader came yesterday from Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath and a candidate for the party's national executive.

Despite Labour claims of rising membership in the wake of the leadership election and Mr Blair's spectacular honeymoon - yesterday an ICM poll in the Guardian rated him the friendliest, brainiest, least boring and most attractive of the three party leaders - Mr Hain, writing in the New Statesman and Society, claimed that grass-roots activists are 'fed up'.

The new one member, one vote party and other constitutional changes have removed power from them and 'all but destroyed Labour's activist base and created an empty shell of a party', Mr Hain said. At the same time, Labour risked alienating its working- class base while failing to impress floating southern voters by a policy of 'soft-focus smiles' without substance, he said. Labour should stick to socialist policies that included universal welfare benefits, redistributive taxation that would take more from those on pounds 50,000 and above, while introducing a wealth tax and VAT on private health and education.

Mr Hain is careful to praise Labour's 'dynamic new leadership'. He approves Mr Blair's plans for a cut-price membership party. And the article coincides with ballot papers being distributed for the NEC elections in which Mr Hain has to outvote a triumvirate of Shadow Cabinet candidates to win a seat.

But while one member, one vote was 'an admirable principle', Mr Hain said, plans for cut-price mass membership 'do not breed activists. Indeed they are not meant to: the model is a passive membership . . . casting the odd vote in a ballot from Walworth Road'.

A Labour government, he said, will 'require' the support of trade unions, community and single-issue groups, as well as popular opinion. 'It also needs to be held accountable by movements that can provide a valuable counterveiling pressure against that from the City and the civil service.'

Labour could not win with its core vote alone, the MP, who is chairman of the Tribune newspaper, said. But it could not win without it, and the core 'does not identify with a yuppie, credit-card party. There is a real danger of Labour's working-class base being driven to absention'.

The biggest single obstacle to victory, Mr Hain said, was that voters still did not know what Labour was for, and it should provide a socialist alternative, one 'that is not centralised or statist, but empowering'. He concluded that it may be an 'irritating paradox' that Labour's activists are 'lethargically disenchanted at the very time when the party has a dynamic new leadership' and is way ahead in the polls. But Labour's abandonment of its radicalism had been costly, and activists wanted an 'unapologetic, agenda-setting Labour Party'.