Left gives Brown shopping list for his premiership

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Indy Politics

Left-wing Labour MPs and unions have hit Gordon Brown with a range of demands for policy changes, anticipating that he will take over the premiership from Tony Blair.

Signals that the Prime Minister will step down in 2007 and quit as an MP at the next election have fuelled the campaign by Labour MPs for radical changes in the Government's direction.

The most controversial of the demands from the unions and the Campaign Group of Labour MPs is the repeal of the remaining trade union laws brought in by Margaret Thatcher to curb militant strike action. That will be launched at the TUC conference in September and followed up by a backbench Bill in Parliament in the new year.

One leading member of the Campaign Group said: "We all know that Blair is going to go. We are in the process of laying down key markers as to what we want. We have a lot of trade union links which we have been developing over a number of years. We have got contacts through the party as well. We will be campaigning with the unions and the party to ensure that Brown and his people know exactly what we want.

"While he is the clear heir-apparent, he will want a smooth transition. He won't want a challenge and he will not want to alienate unions. This is the key period of pressure on him for the left."

The left-wing shopping list includes a commitment to return the train operating companies to public ownership; the revival of council house building by local authorities; clearing the £650m in deficits by NHS trusts; and a commitment not to attack Iran and a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Three general secretaries of the main transport unions - Bob Crow of the RMT, Keith Norman of Aslef and Gerry Doherty of the TSSA - will lead the calls for the return of the railways to public ownership at a fringe meeting of the TUC chaired by the former environment minister Michael Meacher.

The most difficult demand for Mr Brown is likely to be the repeal of the employment laws introduced by the Tories. The unions have long campaigned for their repeal, but they have renewed hope that Mr Brown will be more inclined to act than Mr Blair, who resisted pressure for the legislation to be wiped off the statute book when he became leader in 1994.

The unions claim the law forces them to carry out costly ballots to renew the collection of the political levy, and they say the statutory ban on secondary picketing prevents them from carrying out strikes. An RMT spokesman said:"When we were in dispute with Stagecoach in Devon, they bussed managers and non-union staff from their subsidiaries around the country to drive the buses. If we were to have done that against the company's subsidiaries, we would have been deemed to be acting unlawfully."

Mr Brown will be anxious to avoid being cast as "old Labour" if he takes over from Mr Blair and he is unlikely to bow to the pressure from the left wing. John McDonnell, the chairman of the Campaign Group, said: "From the left perspective, we want to prevent the implementation of some of the worst features of Blair's last round of legislation, whilst setting out the parameters of our own agenda for the succession."