Tribune MPs press for debate

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Indy Politics
LABOUR MPs in the 100-member 'soft-left' Tribune Group have served notice on Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, that they will not be silenced on the sensitive topic of economic policy.

They decided to throw down the gauntlet after a 40-strong meeting on Wednesday night revealed growing impatience over what many MPs see as a stifling by the high command of debate on important issues.

The catalyst for the discontent is a Tribune pamphlet urging a one-off pounds 10bn to pounds 15bn increase in public spending over a full year geared to investment and production. Such a statement is anathema to Mr Brown and many of his frontbench colleagues.

The pamphlet, by two backbenchers, Roger Berry and Peter Hain, argues the extra money is needed because the 1.25 per cent economic growth predicted by the Treasury is insufficient to turn the tide of unemployment.

It also questions Labour's former policy on the exchange rate mechanism, saying that its support last year for a high pound while calling for lower interest rates was not credible.

An earlier draft of the pamphlet, leaked to a newspaper two months ago, was reworked after complaints that it was over-critical. The second draft will be published before the summer recess, despite fresh criticisms from 'moderates' and a further leak to a newspaper last Sunday.

Some of the MPs claim Mr Brown has concentrated too heavily on creating an image of Labour as 'economically competent' in the run-up to the next election. The picture is complicated because Mr Brown, Tony Blair and other moderate front- benchers belong to the group.

But strident backbenchers such as Derek Fatchett and Gavin Strang argued strongly on Wednesday for the right to debate key aspects of the economy. Others have complained that the only form of debate appears to be via organised leaks to the press.