Labour politicians slip quietly into Boston

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The Independent US

A team of Labour politicians and advisers will slip quietly into the Democratic party convention in Boston this week hoping to reforge the once-strong links between Labour and its traditional ally in the United States.

A team of Labour politicians and advisers will slip quietly into the Democratic party convention in Boston this week hoping to reforge the once-strong links between Labour and its traditional ally in the United States.

But the British Government is desperate not to offend President George Bush by allowing Labour to get too close to John Kerry, his Democratic opponent. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has warned ministers and their political advisers to keep their distance from the Kerry campaign.

This has dissuaded some of the Labour advisers who have worked on the last two Democratic campaigns from offering their services this summer.

The Labour visitors to the Boston convention will not be part of an official delegation but there in a personal capacity. Some are even travelling at their own expense and combining a little work with their summer holidays.

The distancing operation has perplexed some Democrats and Labour advisers, who believe that Tony Blair is being unduly sensitive about preserving his relationship with President Bush. "It's completely over the top," one Labour MP said yesterday.

The operation is a far cry from the days when Philip Gould, Mr Blair's personal pollster, worked on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. After Mr Blair became Labour leader in 1994, the two parties developed a shared modernising agenda as they sought to appeal to middle-class voters. New Democrats helped to spawn New Labour.

Some Labour figures admit privately that the party's relationship with the Democrats has been strained by Mr Blair's praise for President Bush.

One of those heading for Boston said: "Most Labour people understand that the relationship must operate at two levels. There is the president-prime minister relationship, which continues whichever party is in power. Then there are the links between the two parties which operate more on the basis of personal friendships."

The edict from Mr Straw not to take sides in the presidential election surprised Labour advisers. They pointed out that when President Bush visited London last November, Karl Rove, a leading Bush strategist, met Liam Fox, the joint Conservative Party chairman, to pass on tips on how to defeat Mr Blair at the general election.

Although not travelling to Boston, it is believed that Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, has opened links with Mr Kerry's team in recent weeks and may visit the campaign later this summer.

Labour members are divided over whether a Bush or Kerry win in November would be best for Mr Blair. Some believe a Bush defeat would leave the Prime Minister more vulnerable to an "Iraq effect". Others insist that a Kerry win would allow Mr Blair to "draw a line" under Iraq and make a fresh start with a new president who would be a much more natural soulmate on issues such as the UN and the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions.

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