Blair faces conference defeat as activists force Iraq debate

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair faces a humiliating defeat over Iraq at next week's Labour Party conference - although desperate attempts are being made to keep the issue off the agenda.

Senior party figures have been forced to concede that the subject is a legitimate candidate for debate at the assembly. After clearing the first hurdle, delegates are expected to vote to include the issue on the agenda in a ballot tomorrow.

A clear majority of delegates will be expected to vote for a resolution highly critical of the invasion and of the new Iraqi regime. It will also urge the withdrawal of British forces.

The issue is unlikely to be debated before Thursday, but the prospect of defeat for Mr Blair will dominate the conference.

To add to the Prime Minister's discomfort, delegates are also expected to support the re-nationalisation of the railways.

Other propositions critical of the Government which are expected to be debated include opposition to the de facto privatisation of council houses, a call to reduce the voting age to 16 and a call for direct elections to the House of Lords.

The annual assembly in Brighton is likely to give the Prime Minister his roughest ride since Labour took power in 1997. The party's high command is expected to engage in arm-twisting in an attempt to keep any proposition on Iraq off the agenda - or attempt to neuter its impact by drawing up a compromise statement. Party officials will plead for a show of unity at what is likely to be the last Labour conference before a general election next year.

One motion from Leeds constituency Labour Party, which will be incorporated into a "composite" resolution, recounts restrictions on civil liberties under the new Iraqi regime and points out that the death penalty has been introduced. "Conference also notes that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, despite its doubtful legality in international law, was originally justified on the basis of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It is now clear that at the time of the US-led military action, Iraq did not possess such weapons."

Other motions - more to the liking of the Government - will express concern about the security situation but call for support for policies aimed at rebuilding the country.