Smith in optimistic mood

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The Independent Online
JOHN SMITH, the Labour leader, stunned some senior colleagues on Saturday when he suggested at a London meeting of the new National Policy Forum that the party could 'cruise home' to general election victory on the basis of Thursday's election results.

A general election would have seen Labour in power with an overall majority of 87, Mr Smith said. Citing the Conservatives' most noteworthy victory in 1992, he said: 'On these results we would cruise home in Basildon with a majority of over 7,000.'

While Mr Smith's message was calculated to stamp hard on talk of pacts with the Liberal Democrats, the fear among colleagues was that the leadership was showing signs of over-confidence.

That was a message underlined yesterday by Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, speaking on BBC radio. 'What is important is that the Labour Party carries on its own process of change,' he said.

But the indications yesterday were that the near-annihilation of the Tories at Newbury and in the county council elections would lead both the Labour and Liberal Democrat high commands to increasingly turn a blind eye to unofficial deals at grass-roots level.

Sir David Steel, the former Liberal leader, appeared to go further than other senior figures in the two parties as he called for a more 'free and easy' attitude.

'Mrs Beckett (Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader) is still rabbiting on about the Labour Party being the only alternative government,' he told BBC radio. 'I think that's a very dubious proposition.'

There were two things that put people off voting Labour, 'first, the existence of monopoly Labour power in so many local authorities of a kind which really doesn't stand examination; secondly, the fact that the party still has within it a tranche of ideologues who are extremely vocal . . .'