Left-wingers rally behind Prescott to demand Blair quits over Iraq

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Indy Politics

Demands for Tony Blair to quit over his support for US President George W Bush in the Middle East are to be taken to Labour's annual conference next month in a direct challenge to his leadership by left-wing Labour campaigners.

An emergency resolution will be sent to all constituency Labour parties calling for Mr Blair to quit because of his "disgraceful" policy in Iraq, and for a leadership election within two months of the conference.

Mr Blair will seek to shrug off the challenge, but it has been tabled by leaders of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, who successfully backed four candidates elected to the National Executive of the party, including the veteran anti-war campaigner Walter Wolfgang.

The calls for Mr Blair to go will be boosted by the burst of support for John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, since the The Independent disclosed that he said President Bush's performance on the Middle East road map was "crap".

Mr Prescott is worried the remark may damage him, but there has been support for his words about Mr Bush to a private meeting of MPs. "I think he could get a standing ovation now," said one of his close friends. "He's said what a lot of us have been thinking."

The call for a new leader is also intended as a spur to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to force Mr Blair out.

"So far, Gordon has been too afraid to strike. He has got to demonstrate that he is ready for the leadership by helping the party to get rid of Blair," said one NEC member.

The group want Mr Prescott to stay on as deputy to let Mr Brown secure the leadership, before a contest for the deputy's position. "Alan Johnson [the Education Secretary] is Blairite. He won't win the deputy job. Peter Hain [the Northern Ireland and Wales Secretary] could do better. Reid [the Home Secretary] could throw his hat in. He has got a lot going for him at the moment, but we don't want some Blairite getting the deputy leadership. We want the Blairites totally destroyed, utterly obliterated," he added.

Mr Blair will have served as leader for ten years next May, but a motion for the Labour conference in Manchester, tabled by Mole Valley Constituency Labour Party (CLP), seeks to prevent any leader and deputy from serving more than ten years.

Others are calling for the the practice of sending nomination forms to MPs for the leadership every year to be reinstated to reinforce the threat to ditch a future leader who became out of step with the party.

The conference may also trigger a row over the official Labour submission to the inquiry into party funding by Sir Hayden Phillips. Most members oppose state funding of the parties but support restrictions on general election spending.

The leadership is expected to come out against state funding, but there could be protests over suspicions that the Blairites want to use the review to break the party's historic link with the trade unions.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the NEC, yesterday revealed that donations to Labour had "disappeared" since the row over "cash for peerages".

Sir Jeremy said the party was considering asking the Phillips inquiry to provide more cash for Mr Blair's security. The Home Office provided £3.7m last year to cover policing at the conference, but Labour paid for Mr Blair's security at other party events.

The electoral commission will next week criticise Labour and the Tories for failing to disclose donations.

They include £72,000-worth of donations made to Tory target seats by Bearwood Corporate Services Limited, used by Lord Ashcroft to back candidates who personally won his support at the last election.