Blair faces conference rebellion privatisation

Andrew Grice@IndyPolitics
Thursday 09 September 1999 23:02

TONY BLAIR is facing a grassroots rebellion at Labour's annual conference later this month, when activists will try to defeat him over privatisation, fox-hunting and electoral reform.

Activists will try to embarrass the Prime Minister by strengthening the new Clause 4 of Labour's constitution, which he pushed through in 1995 when he ditched the party's commitment to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange".

The rebels want to rewrite New Labour's version of Clause 4, which speaks of "a dynamic economy" combining "the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition" with partnership and co-operation.

A statement, drawn up by the Calder Valley constituency party, calls for "a framework of society which provides for the best balance of private and public ownership, with sufficient public control of the economy".

Frank McManus, one of the conference delegates from Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, said: "The term `framework of society' makes it clear we are not content to abdicate the life of the nation and the world to the vagaries and money tricks of free-range capitalism."

Although the leadership plans to block the demands for a new Clause 4, it is privately worried that trades unions will back motions opposing the Government's plans for part privatisation of air traffic control and give the Post Office more commercial freedom.

Mr Blair's critics hope to secure an emergency debate on these issues. While the conference's discussions on policy are strictly controlled, there will be several debates on "topical matters", and the subjects are chosen by delegates.

Motions tabled for the Bournemouth conference reveal party members' hostility to the Government's plans for the National Air Traffic Service and the Post Office.

Unions and local parties will also join forces in an attempt to hinder Mr Blair's plans over proportional representation for the House of Commons and local authorities. A rebel motion says that the results of this year's elections under PR to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly did not represent "an enhancement of democracy".

Critics fear Mr Blair will allow PR for local elections in Scotland, fuelling the Liberal Democrats' demands for it to be used when English and Welsh councils are re-elected.

Conference delegates will also demand a total ban on hunting with hounds. This will increase the pressure on Mr Blair to implement a swift ban on fox-hunting. Some cabinet ministers want to delay the inevitable controversy until after the next general election. But Mr Blair may respond positively to the demands, in an attempt to placate the criticism on other issues.

There will also be a move in Bournemouth to kill off Mr Blair's plans to complete hismodernisation programme by abolishing the general committees of constituency Labour parties (CLPs), the traditional bastion of the left. A hostile motion warns that, "far from making all members equal", Mr Blair's plan would "institutionalise control of CLPs by small, unaccountable cliques".

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