Opposition to Blair caves in

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The Independent Online
OPPOSITION to Tony Blair's attempt to scrap Labour's Clause IV, with its commitment to public ownership, is already crumbling.

Yesterday, the head of the biggest affiliated union, which voted to retain Clause IV in a conference debate on Thursday, publicly backed the Labour leader's proposal to reform the party constitution. So did Robin Cook, the leading Shadow Cabinet sceptic.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, has welcomed the review. 'It gives this generation a chance - the first in over 70 years - to establish Labour's aims and values for the next century. They must reflect values which include full equality for women and black people and the growing importance of international solidarity.'

The motion to retain Clause IV was only narrowly carried, against the leadership's wishes, by delegates at the Blackpool conference. If the TGWU had switched its votes, the resolution would have been defeated and Mr Blair spared embarrassment.

Mr Cook, the shadow trade and industry minister, was thought to be lukewarm about the attempt to ditch Clause IV. He was consulted only on Tuesday, hours before Mr Blair made his speech saying that the party 'requires a modern constitution that says what we are in terms that the public cannot misunderstand'.

However, Mr Cook patched up his differences with Mr Blair after a drink in the latter's hotel room in Blackpool on Thursday. Yesterday, he announced that he would play a full part 'in developing a new statement of Labour's objectives for a new century'.

Leaders of two other unions, both of which voted against Clause IV on Thursday, called for the new formula to be produced quickly. John Edmonds, leader of the GMB union, the second-largest affiliate, wanted it 'well before December'. Richard Rosser, leader of the rail union TSSA, said that at present the party had nothing to argue for. 'There is a vacuum,' he said.

The new statement of aims is likely to be ready for the national executive on 23 November. It could then go out to constituency parties and affiliates.

The idea of putting the new Clause IV to a 'consultative' ballot of Labour's 300,000 members was said yesterday to be 'in the ether' although no decision has been taken.

But Peter Hain, chairman of the Tribune group, dismissed the idea as 'the tactic of every banana republic dictator to get a yes vote for what he wants'. He wants a special conference to discuss amendments. But party sources said that would be too expensive.

Mr Hain, initially hostile to reform, said: 'I think the majority mood is - let's seize the opportunity provided by this debate and consultation and achieve a clear commitment to public ownership, but not of the old state-socialist nationalisa-

tion model.'

Mr Blair is planning his next moves. These will include:

a push for reform of working practices in the House of Commons;

a 'twin track' approach to Europe, critical of Brussels bureaucracy but strongly backing European unity;

the appointment of a Labour spokesperson on 'the information superhighway'; and

a higher profile for the spokesperson on young people.