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Smith to push one-member votes

JOHN SMITH, the Labour leader, will re-state today his determination to achieve one-member one-vote in party democracy in the face of a growing split in party and union ranks. His move comes as it emerged that less than half of the party constituencies consulted on ways of changing Labour's links with the unions have endorsed the one-member principle.

Although a majority backs some form of change, the lack of a big vote for his favoured position is a setback for Mr Smith, who was rebuffed at last week's Transport & General Workers' Union conference in Bournemouth.

The consultation process, which ended on Friday, showed around 40 per cent of local parties endorsing one-member one-vote, with more than 10 per cent backing a compromise scheme - acceptable to Mr Smith - whereby payers of the political levy to their unions become party members by paying an additional sum.

But the figures are open to different interpretations and are likely to intensify an increasingly fierce debate. Modernisers may attack the extent of union influence in the exercise, while arguing that one-member one-vote is the most popular available option. Protectors of the union link will contend that Mr Smith has been undermined by the figures.

In BBC TV's On the Record today, Mr Smith will fuel the row by repeating his commitment to one- member one-vote. In Labour Party News tomorrow, he argues: 'It is the members of local parties who must take responsibility for running their constituency and local candidates. The best way to achieve this is for every member to have a vote in our elections and for every vote to count the same. That is why I am determined to ensure that we make one-member one-vote the guiding principle for elections within our party.'

Gordon Brown, Shadow Chancellor, in a statement yesterdaysaid: 'Labour is the party of change in British society and the party which wants to change Britain must be prepared to change ourselves.'

Barry Sheerman, front bench spokesman for the disabled, said trade union leaders should accept the inevitability of one-member one-vote, adding that they 'do enormous harm to themselves, their members and the image they project by the kind of belligerent display seen this week in Bournemouth, which would have been more appropriate in Jurassic Park'.

David Blunkett, Opposition health spokesman, said he was 'optimistic that there is a solution that will unite people like me, John Prescott and Clare Short and that, hopefully, we will persuade other people to come on board'.