PM claims party will be more 'Blairite' after next election

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair believes that the Labour Party will emerge from the next election more "Blairite" than before, despite the growing number of MPs who are critics of the Iraq war.

Tony Blair believes that the Labour Party will emerge from the next election more "Blairite" than before, despite the growing number of MPs who are critics of the Iraq war.

Last week's decision to deploy the Black Watch in US-controlled areas of Iraq roused protests from Labour MPs who had previously backed the decision to go to war. Some have privately warned that if the number of British casualties rises sharply, the political situation could get "out of control".

More than 60 Labour MPs publicly backed a move initiated by the Labour rebel Alice Mahon, which would have allowed the House of Commons to vote on the deployment.

But Tony Blair has told friends that two-thirds of the new Labour MPs elected at the next general election will be Blairite. He has privately admitted that he has only 50-50 support among longer-serving Labour MPs, who entered the Commons in the 1980s, but he has claimed a "significant majority" of the newer MPs, first elected in 1997 or later, are "with us".

An analysis by The Independent on Sunday has shown that while Mr Blair is right as far as domestic policy goes, the same is not true in relation to Iraq. Half the 138 Labour MPs who voted against the decision to go to war last year were new MPs, who first entered the Commons in 1997 or later. Last week several of the new MPs, who had previously backed the war, criticised the decision to deploy British troops outside southern Iraq.

The Labour Party has also embarked on a major expansion of its election machine, in anticipation of the general election which is thought to be less than a year away.

The party's National Communications Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne is being expanded from 40 to more than 100 staff, and the number of full-time party organisers is rising from 40 to 80.

Fraser Kemp, the government Whip who ran Labour's recent by-election campaign in Hartlepool, has been appointed vice chairman of Labour's general election planning group, which is headed by Tony Blair's leading Cabinet ally, Alan Milburn.

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