Blair faces motion at conference to resign

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Indy Politics

Grassroots members of the Labour Party in Brent East want to oust Tony Blair as Prime Minister because of the party's surprise defeat in last week's by-election.

Labour sources said yesterday that the party in Brent, north London, would table an emergency motion at Labour's annual conference in Bournemouth next week calling for a leadership contest. Some members have complained that the Labour campaign was "taken over" by figures from the party's national headquarters.

When Labour is in power, a leadership contest can be triggered only by the conference voting for one by a simple majority on a card vote. Other local parties are also expected to submit emergency motions calling for a leadership election.

The Labour hierarchy is expected to ensure that the motion is not debated. The trade unions hold 50 per cent of the conference votes and, while some have been critical of Mr Blair, there is little stomach for a divisive leadership contest. "People may want a different leader and different policies, but very few want six months of self-flagellation," said one left-winger. "It would be mutually assured destruction."

Yesterday, Labour's national executive committee (NEC) held a preliminary inquest into the party's disastrous result in Brent East. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was blamed by some NEC members for saying three days before polling that Labour could lose and the contest was "neck and neck". His comments were quoted in a leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats, helping the party to convince sceptical voters they could win.

Mr Blair told the meeting that, while there was no room for complacency, the contest at the next general election would be between Labour and the Tories, not Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Brent showed that the Tories did not have the right policies, he said.

The Prime Minister made clear that he would issue a "no retreat" message in his address to the conference, the most tricky he has faced since becoming Labour leader in 1994. He acknowledged that the Government was having a "difficult time". But he said members had to "hold our nerve" and "keep our eye on the ball" by tackling the issues that mattered most to the voters - the economy, public services, crime and asylum-seekers.

Mr Blair faces the prospect of a series of embarrassing defeats at the conference. The unions are to table hostile motions on public services and foundation hospitals; manufacturing industry; pensions and employment laws. Constituency parties are hoping to secure urgent debates on the Iraq war and the Government's plans for university top-up fees.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, insisted last night that his party could win the next general election.

He told a Carlton Club dinner in London that the party was in its best position for 11 years. He said: "Already, people are sick and tired of Labour."