Kinnock will press for Social Chapter: Appointment upsets Conservative anti-Europeans. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
A DELIGHTED Neil Kinnock pledged to continue to press for Britain to adopt the Social Chapter after being named as Britain's new European Commissioner.

The long-rumoured appointment was finally ratified by a unanimous Cabinet on Thursday, but brought predictable opposition from backbench Tory Euro- sceptics, fearing more interventionist and 'federalist' policies from Brussels.

Defending his stance on the chapter, Mr Kinnock said a mixture of 'efficiency and social justice' marked out the most successful economies. 'It actually is a modest way of defining basic standards for workforces. There are several countries and many employers in Europe who take strong objection to the possibility that our exception from the Social Chapter could lead to Britain being a place for social dumping and giving unfair advantage.'

Amid many Labour goodwill messages, Tony Blair, the party leader, said: 'He will be a great asset both to Britain and to Europe and I wish him every success.'

Mr Kinnock will join his wife Glenys, elected six weeks ago to the European Parliament, at the heart of the Brussels political machine in January, replacing the out-going Labour commissioner Bruce Millan. The appointment - basic salary pounds 103,534 plus generous allowances - will make the Kinnocks one of the most famous socialist couples.

As an MEP, Mrs Kinnock will take part in the European Parliament's new power to vet her husband before he is confirmed. She said: 'Anybody who can lead the Labour Party can do almost anything in the world.'

Mr Kinnock will step down after 24 years as an MP, creating a by-election in the rock-solid Labour seat of Islwyn, south Wales, where he secured a 24,728 majority in the 1992 election.

John Major agreed to block the appointment of Mr Kinnock to the post after his 1992 election defeat on the insistence of Conservative Central Office, which warned it would appear hypocritical, and of Government whips fearing revolts over the Maastricht Bill.

Mr Major now has a firmer grip on the party following the vetoing of the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene as commission president. Although some Cabinet members opposed the appointment until relatively recently, Mr Major would have found it increasingly difficult to block the popular nominee of the main British opposition party.

Mr Kinnock, who will be the junior British commissioner, may prove to be only a marginally greater challenge to the Euro- sceptics than Sir Leon Brittan, the trade commissioner whom critics accuse of 'going native'. Mr Kinnock may not end up with a front-line social, economic or environmental job. Mr Millan, who has charge of regional affairs, has a low profile. Overseas aid has been mooted as a possibility for Mr Kinnock, but portfolios are still being negotiated. Mr Kinnock denied he would cause trouble for the Government, but could do so by arguing against its position in commission discussions.

One effect of the exit of Mr Kinnock, the arch party 'moderniser', could be the election of a figure from the traditional Labour left to the National Executive Committee. Mr Kinnock's departure and the election of Tony Blair and John Prescott as leader and deputy will spawn three vacancies for this autumn's elections to the seven- strong constituency section.

A new rule means two of the seven must be female, compared with last year's quota of one. Marjorie Mowlam, the heritage spokeswoman, is tipped for the newly created post. Another moderniser, Jack Straw, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, is well-placed to capture one of the other two vacancies.

The third of the freed vacancies is likely to involve a three-cornered fight between Chris Smith, environmental protection spokesman, the left-leaning Dawn Primarolo, a health spokeswoman, and Peter Hain, chairman of Tribune, the left-wing newspaper.

Labour has demanded an investigation into the conduct of Board of Trade President Michael Heseltine and his department over the Lord Archer affair.

Tim Sainsbury, 62, the former minister for industry, announced that he would leave the Commons at the next election.