Vote-winners in the background

John Rentoul looks at the 'young fixers' whose behind-the-scenes manoeuvres secured platform success
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Indy Politics
Despite the muttering about how out-of-touch the leader's office is, how the "inner sanctum" does not understand the Labour Party, this week's unseen conference fixers have secured a remarkable unbroken series of successful votes - the first time the platform has not suffered defeat on a single vote.

Tony Blair insists that the relationship between leadership and membership has changed - gone are the days when the conference ritually passed defiant resolutions which the National Executive Committee ignored.

The planning for this week's conference started in January, and more recently Mr Blair himself and David Blunkett, his education spokesman, have met hundreds of local party delegates. At party rallies last month in Dudley, West Midlands, and Crawley, West Sussex, local delegates were called in afterwards to chat to the leader.

But in Brighton the vital work of lobbying delegates and collecting information was carried out by a team of young fixers, who keep themselves out of the limelight, including:

t Jon Cruddas, 33, chief assistant to Tom Sawyer, party general secretary. He once wrote a doctoral thesis on the analytical basis of historical materialism, but more recently was a key figure in the arm-twisting operation which delivered the result on one member, one vote for John Smith at the 1993 Labour conference.

t Pat McFadden, 30, a policy adviser in the leader's office. One of only two staff inherited from John Smith, he was responsible with Dr Cruddas for canvassing the trade unions.

t Sally Morgan, in the leader's office, responsible for liaison with the party organisation. She proved her worth in the 1992 election campaign, when she organised the effort in marginal seats which delivered a higher swing to Labour than in safe seats. She is the vital link with the NEC.

t Phil Wilson, 36, one of Mr Blair's closest allies in his Sedgefield constituency, the enthusiast for the mass membership party there, who has a brief to carry the recruitment gospel all over the country.

t Margaret McDonagh, who has replaced Ms Morgan as "key seats co-ordinator" at Labour HQ. This week she was drafted in to help Mr Wilson persuade constituency delegates.

Their greatest triumph was the defeat yesterday of the call to scrap Trident - although one source stressed they were not engaged in bullying: "We can't persuade people unless they want to be persuaded."

By contrast with the rigorous organisation of the party machine, the left failed to marshal its forces. On the one issue on which the leadership could have been defeated, the annual call to cut defence spending to the west European average level, three local parties failed to "composite" their similar motions. While a composite motion would have been debated, as single motions they fell.

The fixers' only real failure came at the start of the week when the leadership was forced to accept a motion which committed it to renationalising the railways - which Mr Blair has since been trying to "interpret" away. And they were embarrassed when party officials were forced yesterday to correct the published results of a vote taken on Tuesday. The vote, the most important of 25 rulebook revisions, gives the leadership the power to call ballots of party membership on policy issues.

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