Mole defends letter to Blair
IPSWICH MP Chris Mole last night defended his decision to sign a letter to Tony Blair urging him to step down now, and insisted he had “no regrets.”Mr Mole was one of 17 normally ultra loyal Blairite MPs who shook Labour by demanding that Mr Blair should step aside for the good of the party.
By Graham Dines
IPSWICH MP Chris Mole last night defended his decision to sign a letter to Tony Blair urging him to step down now, and insisted he had “no regrets.”
Mr Mole was one of 17 normally ultra loyal Blairite MPs who shook Labour nearly three weeks ago by demanding that Mr Blair should step aside for the good of the party.
“It was a difficult decision to sign the letter because I am instinctively loyal to the party,” said Mr Mole.
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“But my fear was that the leadership was becoming insulated from the real sentiments of the party and the electorate. I don't necessarily blame the Prime Minister for that, but the people surrounding him.
“If what I have achieved - by Tony now saying as a result of the letter that this is his last party conference - is to get senior colleagues now pulling in the same direction, without the divisive arguments over personalities, then it will have been worthwhile.”
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Mr Mole, speaking on the opening day of Labour's annual conference in Manchester, said he will throw his support behind Gordon Brown, but even so he does not want a coronation for the Chancellor. “I want to see a proper and orderly transition of power, but that does mean I want there to be a contest for the leadership.
“However, the risk anyone faces in challenging is that they might damage their long-term credibility if they are defeated heavily. I suspect many of the Cabinet whose names have been linked with a challenge are likely to settle for contesting the deputy leadership when John Prescott stands down, so that they are in a strong position to fight for leadership when Gordon goes.”
Mr Mole added: “I hope this week that we have a positive conference, discussing policy, because that is what the country expects of the party in power.
“And that's what I mean by a proper and orderly transition of power - the British people want to see policies and programmes put before the Labour movement so that a real choice can be made.”
Meanwhile, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday tried to steer Labour activists away from their long running feud, praising each other for the part they had played in catapulting the party to three election successes.
On the opening day of the annual conference in Manchester, they seemed determined to out do other in the gushing stakes.
In television interviews for separate programmes, the Prime Minister described his Chancellor as “a great servant of the country and the party” while Mr Brown insisted Mr Blair had been “a great Prime Minister and a great leader of the Labour Party.”
The appearances were meant to signal an end to hostilities between their supporters as the Prime Minister prepares to make his farewell appearance as Labour leader. Significantly, although praising Mr Brown as a “fantastic Chancellor,” Mr Blair refused to endorse his fellow architect of New Labour as his successor, saying he would not “play the game.”
Mr Brown, clear favourite to succeed when the Prime Minister does quit, hinted at his frustration with the way Mr Blair was handling his departure date.
He said there was “undoubted uncertainty” about Tony Blair's position. The country was dealing with “a unique situation - a Prime Minister that says he's not going to stand at the next election as a leader of his party.”
The Prime Minister, still clearly angry at the way the rebel MPs forced his hand, said: “The last two weeks the Labour Party went AWOL from the British public, it looked in on itself. The public out there are angry about that. They want us to govern.”
Today, the Chancellor will make his pitch for the support of the rank-and-file in the looming contest with a speech outlining his vision to decentralise government, including removing ministerial interference in the day-to-day running of the National Health Service.