Labour adds newcomers to election team for poll fight

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Indy Politics
Two Labour women MPs who have been in the Commons for only 16 months were promoted yesterday to the lowest rung of Tony Blair's government- in-waiting.

Margaret Hodge (Barking) and Judith Church (Dagenham), elected in by- elections last June, were among a batch of 10 "moderniser" MPs announced as new members of the "Leadership Campaign Team" - a holding pen invented last year for promising backbenchers.

The final appointments in the reshuffled opposition following last week's Shadow Cabinet elections were announced by John Prescott, the deputy Labour leader, and will be attached to frontbench teams.

But they will also be allocated to groups of marginal seats to raise the tempo of the party's "key seats initiative", headed by Peter Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool, who was last week appointed to an election campaign role in Mr Prescott's team.

Ms Hodge, the former leader of Islington council, has yet to shake off the political effects of the scandal of abuse in the borough's children's homes, but is close to Mr Blair and defended him from attack by Labour MPs on his decision to send his son to a grant-maintained school. She is attached to Jack Straw's home affairs team.

Ms Church, another ally of Mr Blair's as the Manufacturing Science Finance union representative on the party's national executive, will cover "youth" and is responsible to Mo Mowlam, Labour's Northern Ireland spokeswoman.

The other new appointments, all from the 1992 intake apart from Martyn Jones (1987), are: Anne Campbell, Angela Eagle, John Heppell, Keith Hill, John Hutton, David Jamieson and Ken Purchase. Eight members of the existing team were promoted to frontbench posts last week, and 11 were retained.

Mr Mandelson yesterday said the party's effort in its 90 target seats would be stepped up. He set a target for 80 per cent of the electorate in these "key seats" to be contacted, by leaflet, telephone or in person, over the next year.