Class of '92 to cut teeth in whips' office

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Indy Politics
The traditional hold of working- class MPs on the Labour whips' office will be broken on Monday when Tony Blair announces a new-look team including a clutch of 'modernisers' from the 1992 intake.

There were signs, however, that the sea-change will not be accomplished without controversy, as the party sought to keep the lid on objections from some MPs and complaints of lack of consultation within the whips' office.

The abrupt dropping of an announcement expected today was a further indication of unrest.

While the complete list of new faces will not now be revealed until Monday, Peter Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool and the party's former spin doctor, is a certainty.

Meanwhile, Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich, Barbara Roche, Hornsey and Wood Green and former PPS to Margaret Beckett when deputy leader, Stephen Byers, Wallsend, Geoff Hoon, Ashfield, and Estelle Morris, Birmingham Yardley, have been tipped strongly. These five MPs would have been contenders for frontbench posts in health, home affairs, industry or employment, Treasury and education.

But Mr Blair made no appointments among the 1992 intake in his reshuffle. He is adopting the Tory practice of requiring new talent to undergo a spell of bloodying in the whips' office, helping to organise ambushes of the Government and speakers for debates.

While appointees from the 1992 intake will be effectively silenced during their period of office, they will have been clearly earmarked as material for further promotion. Their presence will also be a first step in changing the image of the whips' office. But Mr Blair will seek to retain a balance by also appointing Eric Clarke, Midlothian, and George Mudie, Leeds East, from the traditionalist wing of the party.

Even so, the announcement of the new line-up is bound to herald a clash of cultures.

Mr Mandelson, the party's director of campaigns and communications between 1985 and 1990, is a key ally of Mr Blair and Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, but a target of constant criticism from the left. But his appointment will rank as the the first rung of the promotion ladder.

Mrs Roche has been heavily tipped in spite of having supported Mrs Beckett in her bids for the party leadership and deputy leadership. But Mrs Roche is judged to have performed well in assisting Mrs Beckett with Prime Minister's questions during her spell as acting leader following the death of John Smith.

Two existing whips are expected to leave their posts along with Eric Illsley, Barnsley Central, and Peter Kilfoyle, Liverpool Walton, who have been given frontbench jobs. Without further exits that would leave a larger than normal whips' office. But the 1992 intake is also expected to play a quasi-campaigning role alongside traditional whips' duties.

The next source of controversy in the Parliamentary Labour Party will turn on whether a challenger can be found to contest Ray Powell, MP for Ogmore, in the forthcoming election of the pairing whip.

(Photographs omitted)

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