New Labour chairman to dispel 'control freak' image

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Charles Clarke, the new chair of the Labour Party, sought to reassure Labour MPs and party members yesterday that Tony Blair wanted to shed his image as a "control freak" by giving them more influence over the Government.

Mr Clarke said his appointment, marking the first time Labour has had a Tory-style party chairman in the Cabinet, signalled Mr Blair's determination to have a "constructive dialogue" with Labour MPs, MEPs, councillors, trade unions and party members.

He outlined his new role at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday, at which Paul Flynn, the Newport West MP, questioned Mr Blair's right to appoint him. Critics have accused the Prime Minister of flouting Labour's rule book, which says that a member of the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) will chair meetings of the NEC and the party's annual conference. Some trade unions have threatened to provoke a row over the appointment at Brighton in October.

The Minister without Portfolio, whose salary is paid by the Labour Party, sought to head off the rebellion by saying there was no dispute about his role between him and Maggie Jones, who chairs the NEC this year. He said the Labour leadership would not amend the rules to confirm his appointment, saying this would generate "more heat than light".