The two main candidates for the leadership of Labour's biggest affiliate traded personal attacks yesterday as relations with the party emerged publicly as the most important issue in the election campaign.
Jack Dromey, the Labour leader's private choice to take over as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, yesterday rounded on the incumbent for constantly opposing Tony Blair. In reply, Bill Morris, general secretary, cast doubt on Mr Dromey's loyalty to the union and said he had forfeited the membership's trust.
Until now the increasingly acrimonious election had been fought through non-attributable briefings rather than public confrontation. The clash came on the eve of the deadline for nominations. It is understood nominations are running around 2-1 in favour of the general secretary, but this will not necessarily guarantee him victory.
Mr Dromey said that the present general secretary was threatening the election chances of the Labour Party. He had opposed John Smith, Mr Blair's predecessor, over one member, one vote in the party. He had challenged Mr Blair over his reform of the pro-nationalisation Clause IV and at the party conference in October "we face the prospect of Bill Morris versus Tony Blair on economic policy". This was thought to be a reference to Mr Morris's support for a national minimum wage struck at pounds 4 an hour.
Speaking to union members in Chester, Mr Dromey said T&G members were crying out for a Blair-led Labour government. He indicated that under Mr Morris the union was no longer taken seriously by senior Labour politicians. If Mr Morris is elected, the attack will make it difficult for Mr Dromey to remain as head of the union's Public Services Division.
Mr Morris said that when Mr Dromey launched his campaign to take over the union, he promised "he would not attack me personally, that he would not attack the union, and that he would not make the Labour Party a campaign issue. He has broken all three promises".
Mr Dromey said that under the present leadership the union was the subject of "drift and sectarianism". The choice in the election was between the disastrous decline of the union in the last decade or the prospect of a thriving and democratic union.
Mr Morris said T&G members would deplore the speech. "It is the desperate speech of a defeated candidate who has run out of ideas, of support and apparently any loyalty to the organisation he works for."
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