Don't rule out John Reid

DEFENCE Secretary John Reid publicly may have ruled himself out of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, but that's not to say he couldn't be persuaded to have a crack at it when the Prime Minister eventually steps down.

DEFENCE Secretary John Reid publicly may have ruled himself out of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, but that's not to say he couldn't be persuaded to have a crack at it when the Prime Minister eventually steps down.

The amazing renaissance of the Conservatives in the weeks since David Cameron took over and propelled them into an opinion poll lead has set alarm bells ringing at the image the dour Chancellor would present to the electorate in contrast to the bright young Tory.

Those with long memories will remember the successful Labour election advert “Yesterday's Men” depicting prominent Tories and comparing them with Harold Wilson's team - perhaps the Conservatives might usually resurrect the idea for the next General Election.

Although most Labour insiders and commentators assume no one would be suicidal enough to challenge Mr Brown, there's little love lost between the highly personable Mr Reid and the Chancellor. And certain Blairites, who shudder at a Brown premiership, ask what right has Mr Brown to expect he will be anointed unopposed.


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Consider the two Scots. John Reid is 58 and hails from Coatbridge in the greater Glasgow area, representing Airdrie and Shotts in Parliament. The son of a postman and a factory worker, he gained an MA in history at Stirling University, is a former Chairman of the Labour Party and has held a string of top jobs in the Cabinet including the Scotland, Health and Defence Secretaries.

The Chancellor's father was a Presbyterian minister. Now 54, Mr Brown gained an MA at Edinburgh University, married late in life, is MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and has been Chancellor for the entire period of the current Labour government.

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Crucially, Dr Reid is seen as Tony Blair's enforcer, ready to mix it with the media and the opposition, and is forever popping up on the airwaves and in television studios to defend unpopular Government policies.

This week, he was let loose again, proclaiming that 2006 would be a “potentially defining” year for New Labour, warning that the party must keep to the political centre ground to overcome the threat from David Cameron's Conservatives - a strong hint that Gordon Brown could invoke memories of the bad old days of the Labour Party as he appeals to the hard left to shore up support for the party.

Mr Reid compared this year to those 20 years ago when Neil Kinnock tackled Militant and ten years ago when Tony Blair ditched Clause Four. “A decade on, we face another potentially defining year.

“Drawing up dividing lines with the Conservatives is not a sufficient task. The new Tory leadership wants to claim the mantle of reformers and plant their flag on that middle ground.

“They want to caricature Labour as opposed to reform, socially divisive, looking to the past and shifting to the Left. They are hoping we will play to their game plan. We would be politically mad to do so.'

The Blairite loyalist warned: “We will be watched and we will be judged. The electorate has not forgotten the lessons of history or the promises of New Labour.

“We shouldn't either. Those who forget the lessons of history end up with plenty of spare time to practise sharpening up their memory.”

MERLYN Rees, one of the most unassuming yet influential figures in the Labour governments of 1964-70 and 1974-79, died yesterday aged 85. He held two of the toughest jobs in the Cabinet - Northern Ireland Secretary and then Home Secretary.

Merlyn Rees spent the great bulk of his 30 years in the House of Commons on the front bench, either in government or opposition and was a leading campaigner to prosecute alleged Nazi war criminals living in Britain.

After stepping down as an MP in 1992, he continued to be active in the House of Lords right into his 80s, even though he developed Parkinson's disease. He last spoke in the house in mid-December in a debate on terrorism.

News of his death was greeted with sadness on both sides of the political divide.

Former Chancellor Lord Healey, who as Denis Healey served alongside Rees in both the Wilson and Callaghan Cabinets, said: “He is a loss to the Labour Party and the country. He was of invaluable assistance to Jim Callaghan, who was a very close friend of his.”

The leader of the Irish Republic's opposition Fine Gael party, Enda Kenny, hailed the key role played by the then Mr Rees in trying to secure Unionist acceptance of the power-sharing principles set out in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.

“While these efforts did not bear fruit at the time, many of the principles of the Sunningdale model were subsequently replicated in the Good Friday Agreement,”' he said.

Lord Merlyn-Rees was vice-chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, whose chairman Lord Janner paid tribute to his work. “Merlyn Rees was my leader, my ally, and my friend. He was a main architect of the War Crimes Act.

“Politically, publicly and personally I shall miss him much - and as a wise founder of the Holocaust Educational Trust we salute his memory.”

IT will cost £2.4m to redesign road crossings, £2million to bridge the railway line to London, £500,000 to cross the River Brain and £180,000 to re-route electricity cables if the southern route of the A120 Braintree to Marks Tey trunk road upgrade is approved, Braintree Tory MP Brooks Newmark has been told by roads minister Dr Stephen Ladyman.

AT the request of Southend MP David Amess, the Department for Constitutional Affairs has placed in the House of Commons Library a list of the cases tried by each of the Crown court judges sitting at Chelmsford Crown Court in each of the past five years.

THE Department of Trade and Industry was unable to answer a question from Bury St Edmunds Tory MP David Ruffley on how many new business start-ups there were in the East of England, Suffolk, and the Bury St Edmunds constituency in each of the past five years.

Minister of State Alun > Michael instead gave the number of VAT registrations with the following health warning: “VAT registrations do not capture all start-up activity.”

A further difficulty arose because Whitehall takes no account of the eccentricities of parliamentary constituency boundaries and Mr Ruffley had to make do with figures for St Edmundsbury local authority, much of which is in the constituency of neighbouring MP Richard Spring. In 2004, there were 17,580 VAT registrations in the East of England, of which 2,050 were in the whole of Suffolk and 345 in St Edmundsbury.

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