Votes point to double defeat for Beckett

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THE FIRST evidence from voting in the Labour Party leadership contest puts Tony Blair well in the lead with John Prescott poised to become his deputy.

Privately declared results at a number of Labour clubs in the West Midlands give Mr Blair a two-to-one majority over his rivals, the acting leader Margaret Beckett and Mr Prescott, shadow employment secretary. In the two-horse race for the deputy leadership, Mr Prescott enjoyed a similar margin over Mrs Beckett.

The Prescott camp also said yesterday that 14 of the 106 MPs who nominated Mrs Beckett for the deputy leadership had switched sides, giving him a clear lead in the parliamentary party, which accounts for one-third of Labour's electoral college.

The result of Labour's first 'one member, one vote' election involving more than four million voters will be declared on 21 July, when the new leader and deputy will be presented to a special conference in London.

Mrs Beckett, who was elected deputy leader to John Smith two years ago, and has been acting leader since his death on 12 May, is standing for both positions. If she fails to gain either, she will automatically lose her place in the Shadow Cabinet.

Her campaign team claimed yesterday that Mr Prescott realised he was trailing in third place in the battle for the leadership and had decided to concentrate on the deputy's post. But Mr Prescott rejected this saying he was still running for the top job.

'I stood for both and I am still very much in the running. As far as I am aware I am doing far better in the leadership stakes than Margaret Beckett. I am running very close.'

He considered there was a mild form of dirty trickery behind the rumours. 'It sounds to me as if they are more concerned about the position than I am,' Mr Prescott said at the Durham Miners' Gala.

At a leadership hustings meeting in Sheffield yesterday, Mr Blair derided the Tories for being 'riven with disunity'.

'The Government have lost the trust of the British people, not just because of their deceit over issues like tax and crime, not merely because they are fundamentally divided but because the division inside their party is leading to paralysis of policy-making inside government and the country knows it.

'One part of the party is pro-Europe; the other half is anti-Europe. One part is now mysteriously talking of social fabric, community values and full employment; the other half is dismissive of them.

'One day they are denouncing the territory on which Labour stands as extreme socialism; the next day they are trying to occupy it.

'People know every policy issue, every policy detail will be determined not by the country's interests but by what the factions of the Tory party will tolerate as the price of peace.'

Mr Prescott pledged that if elected Labour leader he would restore the Durham Miners' Gala to its position as one of Britain's top political events.

He was speaking after the cash-strapped event's future for the next two years was guaranteed by a pounds 60,000 donation from a New Zealand-born millionaire, Michael Watt.