Beckett hint on her future causes anger: Defeat may end Shadow Cabinet role

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

MARGARET BECKETT angered colleagues yesterday by hinting that she may not seek re-election to the Shadow Cabinet if she fails to win the leadership or the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

Her doubts about serving in a Shadow Cabinet led by Tony Blair caused dismay among her front-bench colleagues. 'She won't do herself any favours by saying she is going to sulk and take her bat away,' one senior colleague said.

Left-wing Campaign Group MPs saw her remarks as confirmation that she is prepared to act as a focus on the backbench for a leftwing agenda on the economy, which the left fears Mr Blair will fail to deliver.

Mrs Beckett was asked whether she would still want a place in the Shadow Cabinet if she failed to win either post. 'I don't know . . . I would have to think about that over the summer,' she said in the Daily Mirror. Her friends said that she was not admitting defeat. Her standing has been enhanced by her hard-hitting clashes with John Major at Prime Minister's questions, and she has told aides preparing for the twice-weekly sessions that she feels she has his 'measure'. A party source said: 'She got under Major's skin by treating him with disdain.'

Shadow Cabinet colleagues who support Mr Blair for the leadership but nominated her for the deputy leadership were increasingly concerned about the left-wing tone of her campaign.

But her supporters protested, at an ill-attended meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, at the sniping against her. 'There is a different story against her every day,' one MP complained.

John Prescott, Labour's employment spokesman, was challenged on BBC radio about the risk of being squeezed between Mrs Beckett's appeal to the left and Mr Blair's appeal to modernisers over scrapping Tory trade union laws. 'I just want to put the case I believe in. It is one I developed in 1985. It was controversial at the time because the unions wanted to keep the immunities system . . . I wanted to develop a new framework. Whether it is left, right or centre, I just happen to think it is better for them.'

Mr Prescott, who led the campaign for private finance for public transport, called for local authorities to be allowed to run council estates as publicly-owned commercial housing. 'It should be possible to allow local authorities to borrow against their housing stock which the guaranteed revenue from rent incomes would finance,' he told a conference of the National Federation of Housing Associations.

Today, Mr Blair will set out his own 'new left' agenda. The centrepiece will be a 'contract' between individuals and society on the themes of opportunity, security and responsibility.