Labour official forced to quit despite Blair plea

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The Labour official who organises the party's annual conference claims she has been forced to leave even though Tony and Cherie Blair intervened in an attempt to save her job.

The Labour official who organises the party's annual conference claims she has been forced to leave even though Tony and Cherie Blair intervened in an attempt to save her job.

A rebellion among staff at Labour's Millbank headquarters has broken out over the decision to scrap an agreement that allowed Jackie Bate to work from her home in South Yorkshire. She rejected the party's alternative job offer to move to Millbank or work as a fund-raiser in Wakefield because her five-year-old son goes to school in Rotherham.

Ms Bate now intends to take the party to an employment tribunal. Lawyers have advised her she has a strong chance of winning a claim for constructive unfair dismissal and a good chance of claiming sexual discrimination. The case would embarrass Labour, which prides itself on being an equal-opportunities employer and trumpets the Government's "family-friendly" policies.

Ms Bate has worked for Labour for 14 years and was highly regarded by party leaders Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Mr Blair. As well as doing the advance planning for Labour's national and regional conferences, she organised Mr Smith's funeral in 1994.

She moved to South Yorkshire after her husband, John Healey, became Labour MP for Wentworth in 1997. He is Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

The party asked Ms Bate to move to London in March, two weeks after it was informed she had suffered a miscarriage. Her treatment has infuriated many of her former colleagues, who have blamed it on the no-nonsense management style of Margaret McDonagh, the party's general secretary. She is said to oppose home working and to have "dug in her heels" even though Mr and Mrs Blair intervened on Ms Bate's behalf.

One Millbank source said yesterday: "Tony and Cherie thought it had been sorted out. But the party did not make an acceptable new offer and Jackie stopped working for the party on 28 June. It is typical of Margaret's style, and it is not an isolated case. It has caused a lot of anger in the party."

Some critics accuse Ms McDonagh of using the affair to reassert her authority at Millbank after Mr Blair ordered her to sharpen up the party's performance and sent in two of his Downing Street staff to aid its general election effort.

The case emerged in Labour documents passed to The Independent by angry Millbank workers. Ms Bate told Andrew Sharp, Labour's group head of party services: "At a time when the Labour Government is doing so much to help working mothers, it is very disappointing that the Labour Party so fails to measure up to this lead.

"I feel very hurt and angered by the way this has been handled," she added. "I have loved working for the party. It is all I have ever wanted to do... I shall really miss my work. I am extremely sad that my career with the party is ending in this way." She offered to work in a voluntary capacity on the party's election campaign.

Although her contract with the party allowed either side to scrap the home-working deal, internal management reviews found that the arrangement worked well and praised her performance. Planning for last year's annual conference was five to six months ahead of schedule.

Ms Bate refused to comment on her departure. A spokesman for the Labour Party said last night: "The party is doing everything possible to find an acceptable solution to the problems for both her and us. She is still on the payroll. We are still trying to resolve her concerns. There have been no ultimatums."

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