Labour chief: Reconnect with party or lose the next election

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Indy Politics

Ian McCartney, the Labour chairman, has warned that the Government will not "survive" and will face defeat if it fails to reconnect with the party membership.

The stark warning to Tony Blair comes as the Labour leadership tries to head off a grassroots revolt over tuition fees, Iraq and foundation hospitals at the party's annual conference in Bournemouth.

The Labour chairman acknowledges "damage has been done" by trying to sell foundation hospitals as "an improvement in the management structure of the NHS". And he says Labour must do more to relate policy to the party's "core values."

Mr McCartney, in an interview with The Independent, said that the party on the ground will "wither and die" unless it is given more involvement in the future direction of the Government.

In a plea to Tony Blair to give the Labour ranks greater say in the development of policy, Mr McCartney warns: "No government can survive, however good it is, if it has no real connection, real continuing connection and relationship with its membership in the country," he said. "There has to be a vibrant relationship."

Mr McCartney, who is also chairman of Labour's National Policy Forum, will launch two consultations this week to try to win back members' confidence and give them greater say in where the party is going.

One paper - "21st Century Party; the Next Steps" - includes plans to reorganise how local parties operate on the ground. The changes, which come after Labour's defeat in the Brent East by-election, sets out plans to head off the challenge from the Liberal Democrats and the emerging BNP - and suggests organising local parties in "clusters" to develop policies.

The chairman will also announce a revival of Labour's policy-making process, Partnership for Power, following complaints from members they are being ignored. Members have torn up their membership cards in protest at policies such as tuition fees and foundation hospitals which were not in the manifesto.