Labour seeks to grab some of Clinton's glitter

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The Independent Online
THE LABOUR Party faces more charges of 'Clintonisation' this week as senior members of the Shadow Cabinet prepare for meetings on both sides of the Atlantic with members of the President-elect's campaign team.

Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, and Tony Blair, Shadow Home Secretary, will meet members of Bill Clinton's staff in Washington after attending a conference on links between the United States and European Community. They will be back in London for a private meeting on Friday night when Clinton campaigners will be introduced to the Labour leader's committee.

Mr Blair was at the centre of another controversy yesterday over informal suggestions that the entire Labour membership should be consulted on some issues of party policy, by-passing the trade unions. However Labour sources said the idea had been neither formally proposed nor discussed and involved considerable practical difficulties.

On Saturday, Democratic Party advisers, including Robert Kuttner and Bob Boorstin, will attend a London conference sponsored by the Transport and General Workers' Union.

The conjunction of meetings with the Clinton campaign team is likely to reawaken divisions over the direction of the party under John Smith's leadership. Last week, John Prescott, the transport spokesman, attacked those calling for Labour to broaden its appeal to middle class voters along the lines of the US Democrats.

In an article to be published this month, Philip Gould and Patricia Hewitt, advisers to Neil Kinnock at last April's general election, say that the Democrats have set a valuable precedent for Labour by shaking off an image as 'a party of the poor and the past'.

But Mr Prescott argued that the aim of the article's authors was 'to turn Labour into a social democratic party - proportional representation, homage to Maastricht, divorce from the unions.'

A number of Labour officials, including Mr Gould, the party's polling and advertising expert, went to the United States during the presidential election.

Some critics have questioned the cost of visits to the US. But Labour sources said yesterday that most were paid for privately and they dismissed reports that the 'Brit pack' of Walworth Road observers of the US election numbered about 30.

Mr Prescott, a member of the leader's committee, has been invited to Friday's meeting, to be chaired by Margaret Beckett, the deputy leader. Ms Beckett, who has visited the US since the elections, has responsibility for co-ordinating the party's examination of what can be learned from Mr Clinton's victory.

Labour strategists believe they can exploit the strains in relations between the Tories and the Clinton administration, caused by the assistance given to the Republicans by Conservative Central Office. Mr Clinton is expected to send a goodwill message to next Saturday's conference, which will be made up primarily of Labour sympathisers. Discussion over policy development in such areas as economic strategy could help Labour in outflanking the Tories, party strategists believe.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown attempted to switch attention back to the economy, calling on the Prime Minister to say 'what he will do to prevent unemployment rising above three million'.

(Photograph omitted)