Blair plan to host Allawi angers party opponents

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was facing a backlash over his "autocratic" leadership last night after senior party figures confirmed that he plans to bring Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, to next month's Labour Party annual conference.

Tony Blair was facing a backlash over his "autocratic" leadership last night after senior party figures confirmed that he plans to bring Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, to next month's Labour Party annual conference.

Mr Blair was expected to try to side-step a row over Iraq at the conference, which will be the launch-pad for Labour's general election campaign. However, Mr Blair has decided to face the critics in his party head on by putting Mr Allawi centre stage.

That prospect provoked a furious outburst from party activists, who accused him of refusing to learn the lessons from the war on Iraq. It also raised fresh questions about his intention to fight the election.

"It is such a calculated insult to the party that I wonder whether he wants to quit before the election," said Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax and a leading critic of the war on Iraq.

"It is autocratic and shows that Mr Blair is increasingly isolated from his own party. Allawi has ordered a foreign occupying force to attack his own people in one of the holiest cities in the Middle East. There will be big protests about this," she said.

A senior Labour figure confirmed to The Independent that Mr Blair would like to bring Mr Allawi to the conference as a VIP guest to show support for the interim government. However, the protests may make it impossible for it to go ahead.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, yesterday urged Mr Blair to show contrition at the conference by disowning President George Bush's principle of pre-emptive strikes.

Mr Cook said the conference was an opportunity to start to heal the divisions within the party caused by Iraq - but only if Mr Blair demonstrated that he had learned its lessons.

Interviewed on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Cook said: "I think it is very important that Tony Blair makes it clear that the particular events that surrounded Iraq, the decision he took on Iraq, will not happen again.

"Tony Blair has said that he intends to continue to the next election and beyond ... We want to make sure that we have a united party that can fight the next election. Tony Blair has his part to play in achieving that unity.

"Nobody is going to seriously challenge Tony for the leadership, but as he himself might put it, leadership has responsibilities as well as rights," he said.

Gaye Johnston, the secretary of Save the Labour Party, said if the reports about the invitation to Mr Allawi were true it was "yet another indicator that Tony Blair holds the conference in contempt".

She said: "Tony Blair seems prepared to cynically use this event as a propaganda vehicle for himself and President Bush without checking the acceptability of this invitation even with Labour's National Executive Committee.

"Save the Labour Party has evidence that many people have left the party over Tony Blair's Iraq policy. This invitation will prompt many more to quit."

She claimed that party membership was already down to 190,000 - about 18,000 less than party estimates. "If Blair takes this action Labour will be lucky to have 100,000 to work in the next general election campaign," said Ms Johnston.

Activists at a private meeting on Saturday of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy agreed to press for an emergency resolution calling for the party to be given the opportunity to have Mr Blair to be replaced.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, last night also criticised Mr Blair over the "scandal'' of a fall in the clear-up rate by the police which has left nearly one million crimes unsolved. He said official figures showed that unsolved violent crimes had risen from 207,997 in 1998-9 to 590,442 last year.

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