Mandelson appeals to preserve party's union ties

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Peter Mandelson has warned Tony Blair not to destroy Labour's character by severing links with the trade unions and seeking to create a "big-tent party of the centre left".

The former Northern Ireland secretary, who played a pivotal role in Labour's modernisation, claims the creation of a "hegemonic" political force modelled on the Democratic party of the United States could "destroy the character of the Labour Party".

Mr Mandelson's warning will be seen by many at Westminster as an attempt to rebuild his ties with Labour's traditional wing. The MP for Hartlepool is widely credited with reducing the power of the trade unions over the Labour leadership.

But in an article for The Progressive Century, a book on the future of the centre-left in Britain, he warns the Labour leadership not to sever its "umbilical cord" with the reformed trade union movement. "New Labour has now demonstrated conclusively that we govern in the interests of the country as a whole and that there is no question of reverting to the practices of the 1970s," he writes. "As a result my view today is that retaining the trade union link in its reformed state strengthens the Labour Party."

Mr Mandelson expresses doubts that Labour could be transformed into a party similar to the American Democrats. He says Labour should be looking instead to maintain a "progressive dialogue" with other centre-left parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, to stop the Tories dominating 21st-century politics.

"One alternative solution to 'the progressive dilemma' is the miraculous emergence of a hegemonic 'big-tent party of the centre left' modelled on the US Democrats," Mr Mandelson writes. "Apart from the fact that I have no idea how in practice this miracle could be brought about, it would destroy the character of the Labour Party, and this is not a direction for New Labour that I would support."

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