Smith gives Europe rebels a deadline

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Indy Politics
JOHN SMITH yesterday gave his Shadow Cabinet rebels over Europe and the pound one more week - with a warning that they will be required to endorse and support the party line once it is decided after the French referendum.

The warning came amid mounting anger among some of his colleagues at the continued public challenge to party policy by Bryan Gould and others speaking well outside their portfolios. Some backbenchers are worried at what they see as Mr Smith's lack of firm leadership, while others say the rebels should be told to be silent or lose their posts.

Gerald Kaufman, who recently stood down as shadow Foreign Secretary and is still a national executive member, said: 'A number of my colleagues seem unaware of God's golden gift of silence. Collective responsibility is even more important in opposition than government.'

Senior party officials made it clear Mr Smith would not back devaluation or a referendum on Maastricht - moves Mr Gould and others have sought.

Those seeking to change Labour's stance yesterday pulled away from a direct confrontation after a plea from the Labour leader for the issues to be settled next week - after France votes. David Blunkett, the health spokesman, withdrew amendments to Agenda for Change, the party's new policy outline, which would have left Labour not ruling out a sterling realignment.

Mr Blunkett said after the NEC meeting: 'It seemed sensible to heal the wounds . . . to have a breathing space and assess the policies and discuss them a week on Wednesday.'

Mr Gould went along with that, although in media interviews yesterday he continued to argue that a realignment of the pound was desirable.

Dennis Skinner who, with Tony Benn, saw amendments they had tabled - including a Maastricht referendum and leaving the ERM - defeated 18-2 and 20-2, was deeply cynical. Most of the dissidents were seeking national executive election this month, he said. 'They had a chance to vote with us today, and it was just like the NEC before.' As soon as the elections were over, 'they will all fall into line'. He added that the leadership hoped that the French referendum would get it off the hook.

Mr Smith said that Labour would take formal decisions after the French vote which would have an important bearing on the future. 'People will then, of course, be collectively bound by the decision which we arrive at. I do not think there will be a case of any of my colleagues not accepting the collective responsibility they have been living with for years.'