Labour fails to whip up support for 2000

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Only 32 Labour MPs - less than one-tenth of the Government's backbench strength - have so far backed a Whitehall-inspired Commons motion of confidence in the millennium celebrations.

A backbench motion tabled in the House last Thursday by Diana Organ, the new MP for Forest of Dean, was closely modelled on a press statement issued on the same day by Chris Smith, Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Mr Smith's parliamentary private secretary, Alice Mahon, has been one of the MPs going around the Commons, asking MPs to sign the motion.

But it is known that a number of Labour MPs have refused to support it, even though it has been put down as a simple statement of opinion, and is not debatable. There are 329 backbench Labour MPs who are not ministers or whips and are entitled to sign Commons motions, and 32 signatures is a poor showing for a policy that has been so strongly picked up by Tony Blair.

Another Commons motion, also tabled last Thursday and also featuring Mrs Organ as a sponsor, has so far been signed by 167 MPs - sending greetings and best wishes to Mukhtar Pakpahan, the imprisoned leader of an independent Indonesian trade union.

The fact that the "Millennium Experience" attracts less support than Mr Pakpahan will embarrass ministers, including Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio, who have been trying to whip up enthusiasm for the celebrations. The Commons motion was part of that exercise. The motion notes that the celebrations go beyond Greenwich to benefit the whole country, including the pounds 200m Millennium Awards scheme, which "will help individuals fulfil personal goals".

In a press notice, also issued last Thursday, Mr Smith said that the awards scheme would "help individuals fulfil personal goals and put something back into their communities."