Anti-war Labour MPs began a campaign yesterday to flood the party with applications from new members opposed to military action against Iraq. Existing members are also being asked to sign a protest letter hinting that Tony Blair should step down when they renew their subscriptions.
More than 15,000 party membership forms pledging applicants to "build the anti-war movement within the Labour Party" are being sent to activists as part of a grass-roots campaign to press the Prime Minister to step back from the brink of war.
The membership form, published under the slogan "Reclaim the Labour Party as the party for peace" promises that applicants will "work to return a Labour Government that uses diplomacy and development rather than bombs in the search for conflict resolution". Present members are being urged to sign a model letter of protest to David Triesman, the general secretary. The letter declares: "I am extremely angry at the Government's wretched support for President Bush's warmongering approach to international relations. I was tempted to resign my membership of the party but have decided that it is not me who ought to go."
The membership campaign has been drawn up by the pressure group Labour Against the War, which hopes to build local membership on the back of widespread public opposition to military action.
Hundreds of local party activists and trade unionists are expected to attend a confer-ence next month to set up by the organisation, a campaigning group backed by MPs and members of the party's ruling national executive.
Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South and chairman of Labour Against the War, said: "Membership is down to 180,000 and sinking, and a war would send it spiralling even further."
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