Blair warns his team against complacency

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Labour MPs should consider the general election campaign already begun and prepare to fight to govern for a decade, Tony Blair urged yesterday in a valedictory end-of-session message to his rank and file.

The Labour leader also secured a comfortable endorsement of his move to put the management of the parliamentary party under his control.

Critics in the Labour ranks were quick to point out, however, that more than 40 per cent of MPs stayed away from the key vote, or abstained.

One said: "He got the patronage vote, but there is a strong undercurrent of concern, and not just from the [left-wing] Campaign Group, about what the party's mission is."

Speaking 48 hours before the first anniversary of his election as party leader on 21 July last year, Mr Blair warned the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting that any hint of complacency in the run-up to the election risked a fifth Tory victory through the back door.

MPs were also treated to a high-decibel reminder of their responsibilities from the deputy leader, John Prescott, who bellowed out instructions for as many MPs as possible to campaign in the Littleborough & Saddleworth by-election.

Mr Blair's grip on the parliamentary party was strengthened when the MPs present backed by 132 votes to 26 his plans to personally select the Labour Chief Whip from the shadow cabinet, abolishing the traditional faction-ridden elections for senior whips' office jobs.