Blair faces vote of no-confidence over war

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Indy Politics

Labour activists are circulating a resolution of no confidence in Tony Blair for next month's annual party conference because of a loss of trust in him over the war over Iraq.

The renewed calls for Mr Blair to be replaced threatens to revive the doubts about his leadership and underlines growing dissatisfaction among grass-roots party workers.

Yesterday, Lord Hattersley, the former Labour deputy leader, raised the stakes by calling on John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister to persuade Tony Blair - whom he described as a "cuckoo in the nest" - to leave. "Threats may have to take the place of persuasion. But saving the party is John Prescott's obligation,'' said Lord Hattersley in The Guardian.

Two supporters of Labour's modernisation also called for Mr Blair to be replaced and for the party to shift to the left. "We were never uncritical Blairites but we did think that Blair would open up spaces to renew social democracy. We were wrong," said Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson, editors of the centre-left journal, Renewal. "That promise of a new politics has receded and it is obvious there is no point waiting for a better Blair. The stakes are simply too high to accept that there is no alternative .... What is at stake is ... the viability of the party."

One cabinet minister last night claimed calls for Mr Blair to go were being co-ordinated: "It looks as though they were working together on this."

Mr Blair came through a "wobble" after the June elections when colleagues thought there was a possibility he might decide to quit. A senior trade union figure told The Independent last night that Mr Prescott told a recent closed meeting of the party's policy forum: "We have gone past the point where Tony Blair might step aside before the next election."

That will give further impetus to those behind the resolution which is being circulated around constituency Labour parties across the country including Orpington in Kent and Calder Valley in Yorkshire.

"There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with Tony Blair - party workers are refusing to turn out and canvass," said a leading Labour member in the Yorkshire seat. "They wouldn't turn out last year, and they wouldn't go on the knocker at the local and European elections.''

There is growing concern that grassroots disillusion over the war on Iraq and the radical reforms to education and health is threatening to "hollow out" the party in town halls and constituencies. It is estimated that 25,000 have left the party in the past six months, and the membership total has halved to 208,000 from the peak when Mr Blair became Prime Minister, and is still believed to be falling.

Christine McCafferty, the Labour MP for Calder Valley, led calls for Mr Blair to consider resigning after Labour's defeats in the local elections in June.

She said then: "If the Prime Minister were to hold his hands up and say 'I got it wrong', then maybe people would be willing to trust again. But if he doesn't, then many voters will think it is time to have a new leader."

Mark Seddon, editor of the left-wing Tribune magazine, said there were 59 Labour MPs who would support a resolution for a change of leader at the party conference - more than 20 short of the total required to trigger a full debate.