Blair deaf to cries from the heartland

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Tony Blair has rejected calls to put all his efforts into winning back disaffected voters in Labour strongholds, telling MPs to stop talking about the party's "heartlands".

Tony Blair has rejected calls to put all his efforts into winning back disaffected voters in Labour strongholds, telling MPs to stop talking about the party's "heartlands".

The Prime Minister insisted Labour should not settle for identifying itself with Scottish and Northern industrial towns but should see as "theirs" seats in so-called Middle England. The message was: identify with Wimbledon as much as you do with Wigan.

In a meeting with senior Labour MPs and ministerial aides before Parliament's summer recess, Mr Blair brushed aside MPs' worries that New Labour was seen to have turned its back on core voters living in staunch Labour seats.

He told them he would not be deflected from his campaign to retain the support of the voters who defected to New Labour in 1997, delivering the Government's landslide.

Mr Blair has already suffered the embarrassment of a ministerial resignation over the issue when Peter Kilfoyle, the MP for Liverpool Walton, resigned as defence minister in January, saying he wanted to face fresh challenges "particularly within the regions and the heartlands of Labour".

He intervened during the Budget debate - his first speech from the backbenches - to accuse the Government of "strident moralising" directed at less fortunate people and to raise fears that Labour was losing touch with its traditional supporters in the North by concentrating on voters in Middle England.

MPs in "New Labour" seats, which were won against the odds in 1997, believe it is in the heartlands that the real battle may be fought next time around.

George Turner, the MP for North West Norfolk, said: "If support for the party shifts it won't necessarily be along the old lines. In seats like mine the Labour vote is holding up better than in some of the seats we have held over the years. You are more likely to be feeling you have been let down if you have stuck with the party through thick and thin."

Derek Wyatt, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said: "There is some of the core vote which is deeply unhappy... What you learn in government is that you should have done all the difficult things in the first nine months. That is what we should have done - fox hunting, regional assemblies - the things traditional Labour voters wanted us to do."

MPs widely perceive traditional Labour seats with moderate majorities as at risk, particularly from the threat of a low turnout caused by disaffected Labour supporters staying at home.

Some of the MPs at the meeting with Mr Blair repeated these fears to the Prime Minister. But he remained determined to meet his early pledge: "We were elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour."

He told them not to fall for the "Tory trap" of using language, such as "heartlands" and "core vote", which would deny them the backing of the new supporters which came over to Labour in the run-up to the last election.

Comments