Whips secure Blair's modernisers

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The Independent Online
In the last shadow Cabinet poll before the General Election Labour MPs were under intense pressure from whips to cast all their 19 votes for the "leadership slate".

This consisted of the existing team, and included Jack Cunningham, the national heritage spokesman who missed out by seven votes last year, in place of Joan Lestor, who is retiring from Parliament.

Although Tony Blair secured the result he wanted, there was an unmistakable "Old Labour" signal in the overwhelming votes for the top three women, with "modernisers" like Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, Chris Smith, George Robertson and David Blunkett eclipsed by incumbents who also had the advantage of left-wing support.

The second place for Ann Taylor, shadow Leader of the House, was a particular rebuff to Mr Blair, as she had spoken out for a 26 per cent pay rise for MPs against his argument for restraint.

The high score for the top three was partly the result of the requirement for Labour MPs to vote for at least four women.

Mr Brown's position in the ranking was clearly affected by reaction to his plans to review child benefit for 16- to 18-year-olds.

Left-wingers accused whips of manipulating the 46 proxies, of which 36 were said to be supportive of the leadership. Following recent reforms, each MP is entitled to cast only one proxy ballot on behalf of an absent colleague - to stop the practice of whips accumulating bundles of blank proxies.

Most suspicious, in the eyes of supporters of left-wing challenger Ann Clwyd, was the decision by Blair critic George Galloway to hand his proxy vote to the deputy chief whip, Nick Brown.

One Westminster source said: "If the UN had sent observers from Malawi to Committee Room 12 they would have been forced to report back that this was not a free and fair election."

Clare Short, Labour's transport spokeswoman, last night stalked out of a television interview after she was challenged about the London Underground strike. Ms Short told the interviewer from BBC1's Newsroom South East: "I don't wish to talk about it, thank you."

When the interviewer protested that she was Labour's transport spokesperson she dropped her lapel microphone in front of the camera and walked off.

How the party cast its votes

Margaret Beckett 251

Ann Taylor 250

Clare Short 218

Gavin Strang 217

Robin Cook 214

Donald Dewar 212

Frank Dobson 211

Mo Mowlam 206

David Clark 205

Michael Meacher 205

Ron Davies 201

Jack Cunningham 190

Jack Straw 189

Gordon Brown 188

Chris Smith 188

George Robertson 182

David Blunkett 175

Tom Clarke 175

Harriet Harman 149

Not elected:

Ann Clwyd 94

Lynne Jones 66

Chris Mullin 66

Paul Flynn 61

Tony Banks 47

Dennis Canavan 42

Jeremy Corbyn 37