Smith criticised for failing to give a clear lead

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Indy Politics
INTERNAL criticism of John Smith's leadership and Labour's pace of change came out into the open yesterday with attacks on the party's lack of a clear economic policy and direction.

The Labour Co-ordinating Committee, the constituency pressure group, has accused the party of being 'laid back to the point of indolence' after its fourth election defeat, warning that 'a firm lead' is needed, not just from Mr Smith but from the national executive and Shadow Cabinet 'to continue modernisation'.

The criticisms, coming after Neil Kinnock's advice at the weekend that Mr Smith needed to get cracking on changes, led Bryan Gould, the defeated contender for the leadership, to say it was 'pointless to pretend there is not some degree of concern about what is seen as a lack of direction, and perhaps even a lack of vision'.

The attacks brought an angry defence from John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman, who accused Mr Smith's critics of trying to pre-empt key decisions on the trade union link and electoral reform because they did not like the recommendations likely to emerge next year from review groups on those issues.

Tensions in the party are rising over Maastricht, electoral reform, the union link and economic policy as Mr Smith sticks to his policy of playing Labour's campaign along on the grounds that an election is still a long way off.

Backbench worries - shared by some in the Shadow Cabinet - about the delay in the working party on trade union links and in establishing Labour's tax and benefits review through the Commission on Social Justice - are reflected in the LCC's paper. It warns that if the union vote is kept in parliamentary selections, Mr Smith will be put in 'a highly embarassing position'.

Peter Hain, MP for Neath and secretary of the Tribune group, said on BBC radio's World at One yesterday: 'We are fine in attacking the shortcomings and shambles of Norman Lamont's policies and the Prime Minister's economic programme, but we are not offering a clear and distinct alternative'.

On Maastricht, he said, there was concern 'that we are not going for the jugular and taking every opportunity to defeat the Government where we can'.