Blair loyalists urge PM to distance himself from Bush and right wing

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Indy Politics

The former Cabinet ministers Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers today warn Tony Blair he has become dangerously close to President George Bush and needs a more traditional Labour agenda.

The two loyal Blairites, who have been asked by the Prime Minister to produce ideas for Labour's general election manifesto, have joined forces to tell Mr Blair he must change direction to regain the lost momentum after a year devoted largely to Iraq.

They have urged Mr Blair to press ahead with his New Labour reforms and to reject calls by ministers, including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, for a period of "consolidation." But they have advised the Prime Minister his closeness to President Bush on foreign affairs may give the voters the idea he is pursuing a "right-wing Republican" agenda on domestic issues.

Mr Milburn, who resigned as Health Secretary in June to spend more time with his family, re-enters the political debate today with a call for the Government "to be both more Labour and more New Labour." While pursuing more reforms, he writes in The Guardian, Labour must not lose sight of its traditional values, and must persuade people that the Government's policies adapt them to today's world.

Mr Milburn says that while New Labour has defined what it is against, it must now define exactly what it is for.

In a similar piece in The Independent, Mr Byers warns Mr Blair must "regain momentum" and New Labour is "entering its third, potentially most difficult phase" as it tries to renew itself while in office.

Mr Byers, who resigned as Transport Secretary last year after a civil war in his department, dismisses calls by trade union leaders and left-wing activists for a return to Old Labour policies.

But, on the eve of Labour's conference in Bournemouth, he urges Mr Blair to trust and listen to his party more. "Discipline and unity must not be used as an excuse to stifle debate ... There needs to be more open debate that should start from the top."

Mr Milburn and Mr Byers are close friends and political allies, who both entered the Commons in 1992 and were seen as potential future leaders until their careers stalled.

In a warning shot from inside the Cabinet, Peter Hain urges Mr Blair not to support American neo-Conservatives in future conflicts and makes a coded attack on President Bush for his "axis of evil" speech.

In today's New Statesman magazine, the Leader of the Commons says: "I don't know anybody serious in government who thinks we can replicate Syria or Iran or North Korea with what happened in Iraq ... If some of the wilder exponents, some of the extremists, were to be curbed in terms of their axis-of-evil type of fantasies, that would be a good thing."