How Blair's new intake could be more New Labour than ever

New research reveals the changing face of Labour MPs after the next election, reports Andy McSmith
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Indy Politics

New Labour - the concept invented 10 years ago by Tony Blair - will live on after he has quit at the end of the next Parliament, if the advice given privately to the Prime Minister is accurate.

New Labour - the concept invented 10 years ago by Tony Blair - will live on after he has quit at the end of the next Parliament, if the advice given privately to the Prime Minister is accurate.

Mr Blair has confidently predicted in private that the new MPs chosen at the next election will be even more "New Labour" than those already in Parliament. He also claims to have more support among MPs elected in the 1990s than the longer-serving ones who were in the Commons when the Conservatives were in power.

While Labour MPs elected in the 1980s are only "50-50" New Labour, according to what the Prime Minister has been told by his advisers, a "significant majority" of the post-1997 intake are "with us" - while two-thirds of those who are in line to inherit safe Labour seats next year are Blairite MPs in the making.

The Independent on Sunday's own analysis suggests that his claim is true in one sense - the newer MPs are more receptive to Blairite ideas for reforming the public services. But that is not true of Iraq, the issue that has done more than any other to divide the Labour Party.

Opposition to the Iraq war, heightened by last week's decision to redirect British troops into US-controlled areas, has spread across the Labour backbenches. The figures suggest it is just as strong among Labour MPs elected in 1997 or more recently as among their more experienced colleagues.

According to Mr Blair, his majority will be reinforced when about three dozen Labour MPs stand down at next year's election and are replaced by a new squad of predominantly women MPs, among whom Blairites are said to outnumber potential rebels by two to one.

The most obvious gain for the Blairites was the emergence of Maggie Jones, policy director of the public service union, Unison, as Labour candidate for the safe Welsh seat of Blaenau Gwent. This was the seat represented by Aneurin Bevan and then Michael Foot.

The current MP, 60-year-old Llew Smith, has been a persistent left-wing rebel. Ms Jones's success was much helped by the Labour leadership's insistence on having a women-only shortlist.

But not all the local selections have gone the way that Mr Blair might have liked. When the veteran rebel Alice Mahon announced her retirement, the Halifax Labour Party narrowly voted to select her like-minded researcher, Linda Riordain.

An interviewing panel from Labour's national executive over-ruled the choice on the grounds that Ms Riordain had an inadequate grasp of party policy - which cynics interpreted as meaning that she knew what party policy was, but had the temerity to disagree. She was reinstated when the case went to a full meeting of the national executive.

In Tooting, the party selected a prominent civil rights lawyer, Sadiq Khan, who has been a vociferous critic of the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Blaydon Labour Party selected an ex-miner, Dave Anderson, who has publicly opposed Blairite proposals to reform the NHS. Normanton chose Ed Balls, who worked for years as Gordon Brown's right-hand man.

But most of the new candidates are local activists with limited experience of politics outside the constituencies they will represent. Experience suggests most of them will be loyal to the Prime Minister when they first arrive in the Commons, although that loyalty may wear off in time.

One factor that might spoil Mr Blair's calculation is that every opinion poll suggests Labour will lose seats at the next election. There are 187 Labour MPs whose parliamentary careers date back to when the Tories were in power, and 223 who made their first appearance in 1997 or later - but the larger, newer group includes almost all the Labour MPs with small majorities, whose seats will be at risk.

The voting records of the Labour MPs in the 50 most marginal seats show that a clear majority are Blairite loyalists, while the most persistent rebels tend to be MPs who need have no fear about their re-election prospects.

Mr Blair's other problem is the way the Iraq war has damaged his standing even among those who admire what he and his government have done on the domestic front.

Additional research by Aidan Muller