Grassroots rebellion over Blair plans for health and education

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will face a Labour grassroots rebellion at a party policy-making meeting later this month over his plans to extend choice in health and education.

Tony Blair will face a Labour grassroots rebellion at a party policy-making meeting later this month over his plans to extend choice in health and education.

Ordinary Labour members will join with the trade unions at a session of the party's national policy forum on 23-24 July which will discuss the contents of the manifesto for the general election expected next May.

Despite repeated promises by the Labour leadership to give the party a real say over the manifesto, there is anger at grassroots level that the main government policies on health and education announced in the past two weeks have not been debated by the party - including the creation of 200 city academy schools funded partly by private sponsors.

One prominent activist said yesterday: "We spent three years developing an education policy which resulted in a paper where the term 'city academy' was not mentioned once in its 31 pages. Then we have a five-year plan sprung on us where a big expansion of such academies is a cornerstone of the future of British education. Does Blair do this deliberately or unwittingly, and which is worse?"

The concern is shown in a long list of amendments to policy documents approved by the leadership, which has been passed to The Independent. One calls for the Blair buzzword of "choice" to be dropped in favour of a pledge to provide "excellent healthcare and first-class education".

Another calls for an end to the selection of pupils by specialist schools on the basis of "aptitude" - a ban that supporters say would simplify admission procedures and increase parental choice.

The revolt could force Mr Blair to fine-tune the five-year plans in an attempt to placate the party - although he is unlikely to sanction big changes. Even if the rebel amendments are defeated at the forum's private meeting, they could win enough support to ensure they are debated at the party's conference in Brighton in September. That would mean a public showdown.

Opposition to Mr Blair's leadership is reaching a new intensity, with union leaders warning for the first time that the party is in danger of losing the next election unless there is a severe change in direction.

Tony Woodley, head of the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G), one of Labour's biggest financial donors, will tell the Prime Minister today that he is "not on the same planet'' as the electorate and that the Conservatives will form the next government if he refuses to acknowledge the disillusionment of working people.

Kevin Curran, leader of the GMB general union, another major party affiliate, said there was a "real possibility'' of the party losing the election if New Labour continued to control policy.

The party's high command has been deeply disturbed by the GMB's decision to withhold £750,000 from Labour's election campaign and the likelihood that the T&G will follow suit.

Speaking today at the Durham Miners' Gala, Mr Woodley will express his "disgust'' that Mr Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had blocked improvements to British workers' rights compared with their continental counterparts. Mr Woodley will say: "Labour needs to acknowledge that working men and women are disappointed and disillusioned. If we don't change, millions of voters just won't vote - which could let the Tories in. This must not be allowed to happen.''

He warned that the "big four'' unions were now acting together to change Labour policy. He said it was essential that Labour was reclaimed for the party's fundamental values.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "The current disaffection will cost the party. When it becomes difficult to enthuse your activists to go out to campaign, the party organisation begins to flounder, people lose confidence and support crumbles.''

He said activists had been "turned off'' by the direction of the Government. "The party can ill afford to alienate their natural supporters who do all the legwork at election time.''

He said the private finance initiative and the use of private companies generally to deliver public services had been deeply unpopular.