PM's fury at Hain over pamphlet

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Indy Politics

Peter Hain has been personally reprimanded by Tony Blair for undermining his efforts to reconnect with Labour's grassroots.

Mr Hain, the Leader of the House, caused ill-disguised fury in Downing Street with an attack on the party's "censored" policymaking and efforts to manipulate internal elections.

In a pamphlet published last week, Mr Hain said that Labour's national policy forum, which is supposed to give activists a voice in shaping the party's election manifesto, was losing credibility among members. He called on Mr Blair to address concerns that the forums were a sham or risk seeing the party "become divided and unable to renew itself in office". Mr Blair, however, chose to reprimand his minister after last Thursday's Cabinet meeting.

"The feeling is that Peter called this one wrong," a senior No 10 official said yesterday. "His critique of internal party democracy is at least three years out of date."

Ian McCartney, the party chairman, was also infuriated by the pamphlet, published by the Catalyst think-tank.

In an implicit rebuff, he told delegates at Labour's spring conference in Manchester yesterday that the party's manifesto would have "sweat and toil of party members running through every page".

Mr Blair has admitted that there was insufficient consultation with party members and MPs over issues such as top-up fees and foundation hospitals. In his speech to the conference yesterday he gave a clear hint of greater involvement of MPs and party members in a range of new policies due in the summer.

The Prime Minister's efforts to rally his troops ahead of local council and European elections in June were "not helped" by Mr Hain's intervention, aides said.

However, Mr Hain's office said it had cleared his pamphlet "line by line" with both No 10 and Mr McCartney.

The tensions over party machinery and grassroots control will come into sharp focus if, as expected, Labour suffers in the June elections. Despite the optimistic messages from Mr Blair and Gordon Brown from the platform, the mood among delegates was far less upbeat.

In contrast to the Conservatives' growing professionalism, Labour's electoral machine looks ponderous and ill-coordinated, a fact admitted by Sir Jeremy Beecham, the head of the Local Government Association.

At a private meeting of the Association of Labour Councillors he castigated delegates for failing to tell the party's leadership of their campaign plans. Just four out of 160 councils had submitted their plans to Labour's HQ.

* Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, took a sideswipe at the French ban on the wearing of the hijab in schools during his speech to delegates yesterday. Celebrating Britain's "multi-faith" character, he said that respect should extend to the "young woman who chooses to express her religious beliefs by wearing a headscarf for school".

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