Labour MPs revive Tribune Group as challenge to Blair

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Labour MPs critical of Tony Blair agreed to launch a campaign yesterday to force him to change direction and listen more to his backbenchers.

At a meeting at Westminster, MPs decided to revive the moribund Tribune Group, which could become a focus for discontent about possible military action in Iraq, close co-operation with right-wing EU leaders, such as Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and plans to give the private sector a bigger role in public services.

Although Gordon Brown's Budget last month steadied the nerves of Labour MPs, many remain critical of Mr Blair's leadership and will use the group to demand more influence over government policies. It is expected to attract much wider support than the 28-strong Campaign Group of left-wing MPs.

Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow Pollok and secretary of the Tribune Group, said: "There is deep unease in the Parliamentary Labour Party about a number of issues. The hope is that Tribune will allow groupings of people and ideas to coalesce, to be more constructive about alternatives to what the present policy is. There is deep anxiety about the thrust for privatisation and there is a real concern about the way the party structure in the country has collapsed and is continuing to collapse."

Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk East and chairman of the Tribune Group, dismissed New Labour as "a series of wheezes". He said: "When we hear the party leadership defending against what has clearly been exposed as yet another wheeze, we cringe, because we know our supporters are saying, 'That is yet another piece of froth'."

Mr Connarty hoped the Tribune Group would encourage the leadership to become more responsive to concerns in the party's grass roots. The group will work closely with Labour peers, trade unionists, think-tanks, such as Catalyst, and the left-wing weekly newspaper Tribune.