Anti-reform MEPs split on front-page broadside

LABOUR'S CLAUSE IV WRANGLE: Modernisers and traditionalists marshal for ces for April showdown over key tenet in constitution
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Tony Blair will use a Brussels address to Labour MEPs today to quell mounting opposition over his Clause IV plans, amid a split in the European party over yesterday's front-page newspaper advertisement opposing his proposed rewrite of the "common ownership" provision.

The Labour leader will signal his intention to press on, leaving MEPs in no doubt that there are better ways to debate than through advertisements.

The ad in yesterday's Guardian said 32 out of 62 Labour MEPs had called for Clause IV, part 4, to be "perhaps added to, but not replaced".

The row overshadowed a £500-a-head Labour conference and dinner in Brussels, a long-planned attempt to project New Labour to business people. Four of an original 31 signatories to a similar statement last autumn, published as ads in the left-wing Tribuneand Morning Star but largely ignored by the mainstream media, dissociated themselves from yesterday's advertisement. A fifth declared herself unhappy over its timing. All five insisted they had not known it would be published on the same day as the conference.

Alan Donnelly (Tyne and Wear), Stephen Hughes (Durham) and Hugh McMahon (Strathclyde) wrote an angry letter to Alex Falconer (Mid-Scotland and Fife), co-drafter of the advertisement. David Bowe (Cleveland and Yorkshire North) also dissociated himself from the venture.

Much of their anger was directed at an accompanying press release by Mr Falconer which spoke of a group of MEPs in a "broadside attack" on the Blair proposals. Mr Bowe said: "It is mischief-making, publishing it today." The press release "had a tone and an attitude that I just would not endorse".

An unrepentant Mr Falconer said all 32 MEPs had had the opportunity to attend a meeting on 30 December at which it was agreed that the Guardian advertisement would run during the week members returned to the Parliament after the Christmas break. The Guardian had offered 10 January and it was "coincidental" that the conference was on the same date.

Beneath the skirmishing over presentation, there was virtually no sign of dissent over the content of the advertisement. Mr Blair may be facing far stiffer opposition over Clause IV than was originally believed.

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