Blair to face his MPs head on to shore up faltering authority

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister will appear at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) for the second time in recent weeks to face critics who say he has become too distant from his own party.

He will face anger over his refusal to slow down the pace of his reforms on education, health, and welfare, and for insisting that the case for 90-day detention for suspected terrorists was "compelling", which appeared to put him at odds with Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, who is consulting MPs over the issue this weekend. One senior minister said: "I have never known anxiety like this before. He could get a rough ride."

One Labour MP, David Winnick, will re-table his rebel amendment to the Terrorism Bill proposing a 28-day limit. He said fellow backbenchers were "disappointed" the Prime Minister appeared to have pre-empted those discussions. "There is disappointment that, having heard what Charles Clarke said, we seem to be back on 90 days," he said. "We can only hope that is not the way in which the Government will go forward."

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, was to speak at Monday's PLP meeting to defend her White Paper on education, but whips have privately told Labour MPs that Mr Blair will be there instead. Allies of the Chancellor said he had asked friends not to "rock the boat". Mr Brown was in Hull last night where he was expected to meet the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, whose constituency is in the city.

Mr Blair, facing a series of Labour revolts in the Commons in the next few months, has provoked another rebellion by planning to curb the influence of party activists and the trade unions. He wants to end what he has called the "masochism" of the annual conference.

Angela Eagle, the youngest minister in the original Blair administration eight years ago, has issued an appeal to party members to join her in a campaign for party reforms that protect the power of activists. "I do think the party needs modernising, but what we don't need is to end up with a leadership at the top, a fan club at the bottom, and nothing in the middle," she said.

Ominously for Mr Blair, Ms Eagle's campaign is backed by fellow Labour MP Jon Cruddas, one of the principal organisers of the party's 1997 election campaign who, from 1997-2001, was the Prime Minister's personal adviser on relations with the party and the unions. One senior MP said: "This is New Labour against Blairism."

Interviewed on tomorrow's Sunday programme on GMTV, Mr Cruddas warns the Prime Minister not to rely on the votes of Tory MPs to force his reforms through Parliament. He says: "It is going to be very difficult for a Labour Government to sustain itself and develop when it is relying on Conservative support to get through primary policy. That is not a sustainable coalition."

Last month's Labour conference was the first at which its ruling national executive was prevented from voting on major issues facing the conference when it was thought likely Mr Blair would find himself in a minority. Ms Eagle said: "Why should the Labour conference not be seen as a sensible place of debate that does not always agree with everything that the Government is contemplating?"

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