Leading article: Blair unleashes the party heresy-hunters

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LONG BEFORE he was elected leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair was at the forefront of plans to introduce democracy into its mechanisms. So successful has he been that it is barely credible today that as recently as 1993 the trade unions controlled almost 90 per cent of conference votes, and the idea of one member, one vote provoked heated debate. Yet it seems from his latest plan that Mr Blair, champion of party democracy, believed one thing when it suited him and another now that he is in control.

On Tuesday, the party's national executive committee approved a system under which the Chief Whip will notify each MP's constituency party of their member's voting record - in particular, "unauthorised absences" and occasions when he or she has voted against the Government. The official explanation is that this will enable party members to identify those MPs with a poor attendance record when it comes to reselection. Perhaps. But you do not have to be Machiavelli to recognise the not-so-light touch of Blairite centralisation at work once again. Does anyone really imagine that this is other than an attempt to identify heretics - those souls who are not fully sold on the Blairite project?

This is of a piece with the expected refusal of the NEC to allow Ken Livingstone's name to go forward into any selection contest for the party's candidate for Mayor of London. Democracy means that sometimes the result is inconvenient. You cannot pick and choose the results.

Meanwhile, the much-pilloried public services minister, David Clark, has come up with a rather more sensible plan for yearly reports. His proposal that each Commons select committee takes annual evidence from its relevant ministers on their progress over the past year and plans for the next, and that they offer marks out of ten, is precisely the sort of thing New Labour should be about. It smacks of a genuine attempt at openness and at demystifying the mechanics of government.

The leadership's desire to run a well-oiled machine is admirable. Labour's old habits were not admirable; they were chaotic. But there is a fine line between sensible discipline and rigid, unthinking control.

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